Having finally gotten same-sex marriage onto the statute books in the UK, putting us in-line with countries like Uruguay, seeing the debate roll on in other countries isn’t surprising. But in a video game?
The re-launch of the much beleaguered Final Fantasy (FF) XIV, the second massively multiplayer online (MMO) instalment of the behemoth gaming franchise, is experiencing a bit of a Waterga III in a teacup. Will LGBT players be able to have same-sex marriage ceremonies for their in-game avatars?
FFXI, Square Enix’s first MMO, saw marriage introduced as an option for players. Gamers would get a bundle of nice things, and there’d be a big hoo-ha for all your friends to attend. But it was, and still is, only allowed for characters of the opposite sex. With coming out later this month, is it time for the developers to change their tune?
Developers of FFXIV have said this about the possibility of introducing same-sex marriage to the game:
“…this is an extremely controversial topic that has been under discussion in the MMO world for the past few years. First we would like to start out with opposite-sex marriage, and then consider the feedback from our players in order to make a careful decision.”
It’s a little frustrating that Square Enix are dragging their feet on the issue, but it’s hardly surprising. After all, Japan, where the company is based, isn’t a culture that’s renowned for forthrightly embracing the LGBT community. But to me, it’s a no-brainer. Same-sex marriage is slowly being adopted by legal systems around the world. America, the UK, and France, three of the five countries that the game’s languages support, already have it established. Futhermore, LGBT characters have becoming more prominent in video games of late, such as characters in Dragon Age and Mass Effect being openly gay, which has caused a bit of a racaus amongst less open minded gamers, so it won’t like they’ll be quite trailblazing LGBT representation in video games.
Also, just because the avatars are of opposite sex, does not mean the players are. There are no caveats or restrictions to what gender a player is allowed to choose as their avatar. Therefore, a same-sex couple in-game, could very likely be a heterosexual pair in real life. During my many years playing FFXI, I constantly saw straight male players play as a female character, more often than not as Mithra – the sexy, busty cat-women of the game. Female players, too, would switch genders when it came to their avatars more often than not.
FF also has a massive LGBT following across all of its franchise instalments, especially in the Western markets. Indeed, in FFXIV, there will be dedicated gamer-created groups (Free Companies and Linkshells) being set up on almost every server specifically for LGBT players to mingle and share the gaming experience. One example, which I plan on joining once the game it launched, is Phoenix Down. And if we’re really honest, Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) have always been incredibly camp, and the FF series is possibly the campest of them all. You only have to look at the males of the Miqo’te race in FFXIV to come to the conclusion that, despite all the sword swinging and shuriken throwing antics, it’s not the butchest game on the market.
But the most important point is whether players actually care. Being in a contained virtual environment, it’s hardly going to upset the “natural order” of things and piss off some omnipotent; such as in the arguments against same-sex marriage in the real world. Plus, apart from some fancy items, same-sex marriage will have just the same impact on gameplay as opposite-sex marriage: absolutely bugger all.
However, unfortunately players do bring their real life bigotry into the game. I, and many others, have experience homophobia in FFXI. But Square Enix already do a good job of tackling this as part of their bullying policing. Discrimination on the grounds of sexuality isn’t explicitly mentioned in their User Agreement, but then again neither is race, religion, or gender; it all comes under the vague term of “Offensive Language”. The game’s policing team, employed Games Masters, do a fantastic job in very broadly applying this clause to cover sexuality and everything else. So Square Enix are already behind the LGBT community in ensuring their virtual spaces are safe and welcoming. So why not afford them virtual equal marriage rights?
I’m stopping short of congratulating Square Enix on “considering” same-sex marriage, but at least it’s on the cards. Overall, the fact that it’s gained enough momentum to become an issue is a positive step forward to equality inside video games, even if we’re a long way off having it outside of them. And maybe the former might spur on the latter.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will be released on 27 August 2013. For more information about the game, visit http://eu.finalfantasyxiv.com.