Final Fantasy 14 feels like a safe place for gender expression and queerness in a way no other MMORPG really does. Despite that, the world—and its main story—don't really acknowledge our existence in any meaningful way.
The wider game has one instance of a confirmed queer couple I could find or remember. Ah, you might think. That's nice, what are their names? "Blundering Treasure Hunter" and "Steadfast Companion". They give you a side-quest for a dungeon, that's the confirmed rep. Also—those two NPCs I mentioned vanish once you've done the quest, something I discovered while trying to get a screenshot for this piece. Though this empty, rainy picture of where they used to be kinda helps prove my point.
I've also heard whispers of a lesbian vendor in a seasonal event, but that's about it.
There are certainly queer-coded characters. Most recently, Ryne and Gaia in Shadowbringers' raid story. But while they are the gal-est of pals, with all the wink-wink nudge nudge trimmings, it's only ever platonic in the text. You could call on the ungendered way in which you're idolised by characters like G'raha Tia (and several other characters besides), but nothing's ever confirmed.
The game has a booming queer community—partially because of its design, which makes the sheer absence of gay characters even more bizarre.
That last thing isn't a mark against the game, necessarily. Aside from prolific woman-liker Thancred, your adventuring crew's romantic interests and orientations are left completely unspoken. FF14 takes a hands-off approach to romance is fine, but a touch frustrating in the wider context I'm digging into, here.
What makes this all the more strange is the fact that the game has a booming queer community—partially because of its design, which makes the sheer absence of gay characters even more bizarre. How does a company create an MMO known for its liberated gender expression so… well, straight?
Well, the game's less insistent on sexual dimorphism (major physical differences between the sexes) or rather—traditional sexual dimorphism. The worst offenders are the au ra, but elsewhere the game either doesn't indulge (lalafells) or subverts those expectations entirely, with viera women being taller than their male counterparts by default.
But what really helps, in my mind, is a lack of worry over gendered clothing and expression. For instance, men are allowed to be pretty in excess—which is a far cry from other MMORPGs.
I am tired of barrel chests
FF14 felt like the first MMO with character creation that spoke to me. I'm visibly masculine, but I like to wear makeup sometimes—I have lipstick and eyeliner on in my graduation photos, for goodness' sake. It has always been a core part of my being to scratch and gnaw at the prison of gendered expectations society tossed me in. So when it comes to games I like to beautify my lads a bit.
Take World of Warcraft, for instance. Its portrayal of gruff orcs and bearded paladins on horses just does not speak to me. Even blood elves, whose metrosexuality is the focus of several poorly-aged /joke emotes, are still pretty barrel-chested and broad-shouldered. Not to say we need trolls in high heels, but if the option isn't there, I feel disconnected from my characters. Granted: I'm sure the bears of our community feel very happy with Kul Tiran males, but still.
Contrast this to FF14 where even your basic human is lithe by default. You can throw on a beard and some scars if you'd like—but you can also keep your features soft, grow out your hair into long curls, and even put on makeup.
FF14 is notably gay in other ways, too. For example, there's no gender restriction on the in-game wedding ceremony, and patches are continuing to smash through gender-restricted clothing items. It's extremely easy to make the prettiest twink you can in the frilliest dress—and moreover, it looks good. There's been real, considered effort into making these outfits work.
This increasingly-relaxed approach to gender expression has naturally drawn players to the game: I was recently contacted by Bastion (a PR company that handles FF14-related things in the UK) after it conducted a survey in a fan server. Here's a couple of responses from the players there.
"I'm transgender and long before I realised this, I was unwittingly expressing how I wanted to present in FFXIV and other games but XIV in particular gave me style options that particularly suited my sensibilities," writes a player by the name of Tuya. Another by the name Elize writes: "It's thanks to Final Fantasy XIV that I had a safe space to explore my trans identity in the past, experimenting with gender expression and presenting myself in a specific way."
It's extremely easy to make the prettiest twink you can in the frilliest dress—and moreover, it looks good.
Obviously these are just snippets, but even dipping your head under the water of the game's bustling night club scene (yes, it actually has one of those—one of them even got in trouble because it tried to advertise on a billboard) you'll find a loud and proud underbelly of people just existing as themselves.
Even a recent voice actor for the game's newest MSQ character has said that both FF11 and FF14 helped her discover and express her gender identity. Just playing the game, catboys in maid outfits are a constant in my dungeon roulettes—which I think is great, by the way. In WoW, finding someone in drag often leads to the prickly realisation they're doing it as a joke—but in FF14, it's almost always earnest.
I want to break free
It's an utterly bizarre state of affairs. If you're a queer person playing FF14, you'll find yourself reflected in its player base—in its major cities, in its free companies, in its RP events and, yes, even in the smuttiest of billboard-buying nightclubs. But you'll scarcely see yourself reflected in the world.
Which feels sadly true to life. Maybe that's why it feels like an inherently queer game despite not being one—because if you're part of our community, chances are that's your lived experience.
If our existence isn't ignored, it's notable, and then we have to spend time talking about it.
So many of us will find spaces—our societies, our clubs, our groups of friends—where we're accepted. Where we're allowed to breathe and move as we are, dressing how we want, putting what we want on our faces. But in the wider world, we sometimes have to keep quiet for survival's sake—and even when we do poke our head above water, even among well-meaning people, it always becomes a conversation. If our existence isn't ignored, it's notable, and then we have to spend time talking about it.
I have no doubt that if Square Enix added another canonical gay or trans character to the game that we'd be seeing Twitter brawls break out like clockwork, with bad-faith actors sounding the dinner bell over the realism of queer adventurers in a world where thought can literally shape reality.
That's not to say I think there's anything malicious happening here on the developer's part—in fact, the game's director Naoki Yoshida is vocally supportive of transgressive gender expression and saddened by prejudice, as per this interview with Kotaku:
"I was heading to the office on a Saturday and I saw a situation that made me very sad. I was trying to go into the office and I was waiting at a red light. I saw a high schooler coming from the other side of the road in their school uniform. It seemed that they were biologically male at birth but they were wearing a sailor fuku, which is traditionally female attire."
He then goes on to say that: "On the other side of the road was a mother and a daughter. The daughter was perhaps 5 years old. As soon as the mother saw the high schooler, she shielded her daughter as if she didn’t want her daughter to see."
I think the unravelling of gender norms in FF14 is purposeful. But as a member of the community Square is clearly conscious of, I reserve the right to feel weird about it. The caution of it all, the deafeningly implied hetrosexuality of Eorzea. FF14's story is happy to talk about serious topics like fascism, imperialism, inherited generational trauma, wage slavery, nihilism—and it does so with surprising grace.
But it's clearly hesitant to make us a part of the fabric of its world. Yes, again—the majority of the scions don't have a stated sexuality (apart from Thancred, that handsome dog) but there are plenty of NPCs that are wives, husbands, and spouses. And aside from mister Blundering Treasure Hunter and Steadfast Companion—may their love reign eternal—we're just not there.
I hope that changes soon, because while I've been a touch harsh on the game's history I do think its liberated attitude towards gender expression means a whole lot to its playerbase. And honestly, me—my hyur isn't effeminate, but it makes me happy to see him weave magic in a beautiful dress, wading into battle with flowers in his hair whenever the mood takes me.
I just want it to stop treating canonically queer NPCs like a landmine that must be avoided—rather than the normal, uneventful fabric of any world that aims, as FF14 does, to represent a multifaceted and culturally complex humanity.