March 25, 2007

What Final Fantasy XI taught me about being a woman

Hello Vana’diel, goodbye real life

I don’t regret going through a MMORPG phase. It was a grand waste of my total playtime of 60 days of my life, but my life as Herbi the mithra shaped who I am today. I started playing Final Fantasy XI when I was 18. It was the spring or summer before I left for college, and my then-boyfriend got a copy of the game’s English beta version. We were both pretty obsessed with Square, so we were giddy to spend our summer in doors.

I’d never played a MMORPG before, and I was frustrated with how long everything took and how set back I was if I decided I wanted to play a different race (I picked a hume female who looked like me–good thing I’m white or I would have been sorry out of luck) or even just change jobs. I hated being a warrior, but kept playing and didn’t want to throw out the time I put into her and start over. When beta ended and retail came out, I was excited to finally have my own account so I could play with my boyfriend. I created Herbi the mithra thief, and he was a little tarutaru named Tofutie. We joined the Midgardsormr server with our other friends from beta, many of whom I continued to play with until I finally quit for good at age 20.

Sex kittens aren’t real live girls

Mithras in FFXI are a race of cat women where males are apparently a rarity. It was a joke that mithras are always played by men, and we called them manthras. A guy cross-dressing for some risk-free thrill was fine, but it was like there wasn’t supposed to be a real, live female subject behind the sex object.

People called me he sometimes, but not as often as I got called dude when I tried out World of Warcraft as a tauren and undead. (Can you imagine calling male characters “she” by default?) In our linkshells and parties, people often were surprised that I was the woman. Tofutie is one of those nice guys who goes above and beyond the rest by being a decent human being. He certainly was a lot more patient with other players than I was. He was a healer–a white mage and eventually red mage, and I switched was a paladin, the tanking class. I absolutely loved tanking, and miss it even now. “What! Tofutie is the dude?” our linkshell friends would say. “Girls don’t tank!”

I liked surprising people. I wasn’t supposed to be an actual girl playing the sex kitten. I wasn’t supposed to be blunt and crude and sexy and after all that reveal that yes, I actually was a real live woman behind the computer. That was just weird. And yes, I did like attention, but who doesn’t like to be rewarded with /praise?

Marriage is for heteros only

We’d do some casual role-playing in FFXI, but Herbi and Tofutie couldn’t get married because they were both women. Even video games have institutionalized heterosexual privileges.

Synth me a pie, bitch!

A friend and I tried to start a linkshell called FemmeFatale for girl gamers. I macro’d an advertisement and dropped it regularly by the auction house. I got mixed praise and criticism. Guys begged to join (some pretended to be women). We did let male-identified people in, which was kind of problematic because it was like a little club of “alright” guys who thought they were super special for not being misogynists or something. (I actually learned the word misogynist from another mithra thief, Nekomasa, that I admired.)

One time, a guy told me that there wasn’t a need for a linkshell for women, and that I should shut up and synth him a pie. I blacklisted him, but I was upset.

The linkshell fell apart when the leader’s in-game boyfriend said he was going to move to live near her. He was 19, she was 13. I found out her phone number and got another player to call her parents and tell them. I still think we did the right thing: no way the power dynamics in that relationship were equal


FFXI put me in situations where people used my gender against me. I used it to stay in a romantic relationship longer than I should have been, although Tofutie was a nice shield from being preyed oncourted by the creeps. And I never did reach endgame, I got too screwed over by other players. But I’d go back. I miss being Herbi and being an honestly good tank and I even miss a lot of the friends I played with. I’d go back and play again if I hadn’t quit to fill my time with studying and novel writing and bike riding and making new friends.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stopped being so reclusive, stopped dating, stopped being so unfriendly, stopped being so uninterested in school when I quit FFXI.

That’s it for my pithy conclusion.


Final Fantasy XII: Why Vaan

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Gender, Privilege, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:54 am

I recently started a thread on Final Fantasy XII on The IRIS Network forums and realized why it bugs me so much that the protagonist of FFXII is Vaan, a 17-year-old street kid: entitlement.

The story is told through the eyes of the supposed audience of the game. Even though the plot revolves around Ashe and role in international politics, we see it through a peasant kid. I really do enjoy stories about fighting imperialism told from the point of view of everyday people (hey, kind of like my life), but Vaan never justified why it deserved to be him. He’s got a grudge against the Archadian Empire because it’s their fault his brother died, but so what? Same with Penelo’s family. So of course the main character is a teenage boy. That’s taken for granted. It’s privilege that Vaan can just be the star, no questions asked, without having to prove why he is interesting enough to be the protagonist of the world’s most popular RPG franchise.


December 28, 2006

That Was It? Wrapping Up Final Fantasy XII

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Gender, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 11:42 pm

This post is rather spoilery for Final Fantasy XII, so be warned!



December 6, 2006

What I Think About Final Fantasy XII

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Personal, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 4:18 pm

I’m back in my game. I got Final Fantasy XII for my birthday, and it’s been absorbing my life.

I really like FFXII because it has the gameplay style much like an MMORPG: fast-paced battle right in the field, challenging bosses, huge maps, and freedom to explore and side-quest. It stirs some Final Fantasy XI nostalgia in me (that game was my life when I was a freshman in college). Missing from FFXII is the monthly fees and dealing with racist and sexist and heterosexist players.

I’ve been taking a bit of a mental vacation by gaming lately, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking at the game entirely uncritically. I can’t help but notice every main character is blond, and the only memorable person of color I’ve encountered was a horny old pan-Eastern man with one hand in the black-market and the other on his hookah. I know this game is coming out of Japan, so the race portrayals confuse me more-so than they do in mainstream American narratives.

Although the male characters are statistically better fighters, for the most part the license system lets you take whatever characters you want down any job path. When you’re outside of towns, you can also swap out the requisite whiny teenage protagonist, Vaan, and lead with any character you’d like. I usually play Ashe, the sword wielding princess, as my party leader.

I like playing Ashe well enough. It’s nice seeing the princess as a leader with a lust for revenge. But I also find her kind of boring, along with most the cast. Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical.


Personality-wise, Fran (left) is my favorite character, but I have a hard time taking her seriously when the camera pans across her bare butt. Yeah, Vaan’s outfit is skimpy, too, but he doesn’t have a strip of narrowing fabric pointing to his genitals. Vaan isn’t sexualized. His abs show off his fitness.

The international politic stuff was interesting for a while, but now I can’t really keep the names and places straight. I think the story needs a little something else to keep me interested, but I love the gameplay so much I’m willing to sit through the cut-scenes.


August 16, 2006

Brainstorming a List of Feminist Video Games

Filed under:Final Fantasy Series, Videogames — Lake Desire @ 9:32 am

Sorry I haven’t been around much lately, I’ve been mostly away from the internet, which is a trend that may continue for the rest of August. Maybe some other bloggers will post to entertain you all. (You know who you are.)

jfpbookworm at noticed that a Google search for “feminist video games” came up with nothing (now at least his post comes up when you search for that quoted phrase). Now he and visitors are brain-storming a list of video games with feminist elements. Head on over and opine, you all.

Final Fantasy X-2 is mentioned, and it was a game that had real promise: all three playable characters are female (how many games have only male playable casts?), and one apparently was even a lesbian. Unfortunately, the game revolves around hunting for treasure, collecting costumes, and is driven by Yuna’s narrative to her dead boyfriend. At least Payne’s sexuality remains ambiguous (as I recall), even if we don’t get an openly queer character.


December 26, 2005

Alienating Audiences

I’d never really been oblivious to the portrayal of gender in video games, but Final Fantasy X-2 was the first game that prompted articulation on being alienation as a “minority” gamer–and the first time decided to boycott a product I considered sexist. I had previously found the Final Fantasy series appealing to a diverse group of gamers, at least in my own sphere, because of their density. The games had something for everyone: storylines and complex plots, dialogue and character development, turn-based battles with room for high level achievements and character customization, and a plethora of minigames with more fun to offer than many stand-alone titles on the same consoles. Although I didn’t play any Final Fantasy games until VII, playing SNES Square RPGs with similar appeal, like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger, during adolescence kept me interested in gaming when other friends began to move on.

Final Fantasy X-2 wasn’t my first disappointment in the series (particularly my first time in Spira), but it was the first time that I felt this game is for someone other than me. I didn’t even have a chance to get excited about a role-playing game with an all female party; I remembered just how “strong” a character Yuna was from the last game. When the screenshots and production art made the forums, and I saw pictures like this (a declaration of the game’s intended audience), I thought they were a joke. A Final Fantasy game about collecting outfits? Although many thought the upcoming game looked cheap and insulting, others seemed to be missing the point. I recall reading articles and forum posts written by male gamers who were excited that more games like FFX-2 and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball were coming out with things women like, shopping and clothes, so girls can have fun gaming, too. Like they thought the game was for women.

I did eventually borrow a copy of FFX-2 and found some fun playing it. I enjoyed the battle system (even if the bosses were a little easy), but I got the most joy mocking the game itself with friends (another blog post entirely).

This tangent was prompted by a link MMOrgy (not work safe) to a discussion on the World of Warcraft forums prompted by this poster expressing feelings of alienation by not fitting into the target demographic group:

I think it’s fair to say that the female armor art is generally designed to be ’sexy’, while the male armor art is not. I assume this means that Blizzard is more interested in the demographic that likes their fantasy in a ‘Heavy Metal’ style, than the demographic that is offended by that representation of women.

I also don’t see any sign that Blizzard acknowledges that these design decisions alienate some of their potential player base. They are either oblivious, or don’t care. In either case, I can’t really continue to support them with my money.

I haven’t read many of the following 500 posts, so I can only guess if the first page is typical of the rest of the discussion/flame-war. On cue, the first reply is the Voice of Male Privilege with “You’re reading too much into things”. (Ironically, the poster asks “There are no overweight people either. Hell, a large number of minorities are missing. Is this an indictment by Blizzard for white superiority and magazine attractiveness? No.” Funny, I answer yes.) The third poster says he (I’m picking the male pronoun because the avatar is male) also cancelled his account because “i have tried to speak out about it and have been silenced by blizzard. clearly, it is time for me to stop giving them my money.” Quitting isn’t a bad way to do something about it.