This essay contains minor spoilers for the storyline of Square-Enix’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. It doesn’t go too deep into specifics, but it does discuss guy NPCs (non-player characters) being creepy, and if anyone leaves comments you’ll probably see guys being creepy in the comments section too. Because if anyone makes a more inclusive game, or points out how a game makes them feel excluded, people start losing their minds and sending death threats.
So let’s start with …
What FFXIV gets right
First off, all three of the leaders of the main countries of Eorzea are female. The Admiral of Limsa Lominsa is especially awesome, even if I can’t remember or spell her name for the life of me. So right off the bat, the game’s lore establishes that women are allowed to be at all levels of Eorzea’s power structures.
Second, you’re never slut-shamed by the game itself. My Mi’qote catgirl character can wear her swimsuit both on and off the beach, and none of the NPCs treat her any differently based on what she’s wearing.
Finally, in about a month FFXIV will have both Lightning and Shantotto in it. Each of these women has kicked more tail than just about any other Final Fantasy character ever. Now they just need to bring in Prishe, the way Dissidia Duodecim did, and the game will implode from the sheer weight of their awesomeness.
Where FFXIV starts to get ugly
First, there is a lot of rape in Eorzea. You don’t ever see it on-camera, but you can be sure that if a woman is kidnapped or has a traumatic backstory, there’s rape involved somewhere. Women get threatened with rape, say they were raped, and get raped and commit suicide as part of one male NPC’s backstory. Male villains threaten you with sexual assault, and shout orders about leaving the women alive.
It’s really jarring, like it would be if an NPC emptied her chamberpot on your head while you’re walking down the streets in Oblivion. And whether it’s “realistic” or not — the way a more accurate depiction of medieval sanitation would also be — it’s also really predictable. I personally feel that the writers used rape as a lazy shorthand for drama, the way the original Star Trek used killing off guys in red shirts. Except that guys in red shirts didn’t need to worry about having PTSD flashbacks from watching Star Trek, the way that the 1 in 4 college-aged women who’ve survived rape or a rape attempt might have in Eorzea.
So Eorzean culture is rape culture
Making it less of a “final fantasy” and more of a mirror of this world. But where it really gets unpleasant is where it shows not just “villains,” but NPCs from all walks of life ignoring or trash-talking the idea of consent.
Like the Lalafell in the Drowning Wench tavern, who says he likes the place because “she’s cheap, she’s loaded with ale, and she never says no!” Or the incredibly creepy boss in the Culinarian quest line, who has you make a “gift” for a female employee which not-so-subtly insinuates that the reason she’s not friendly enough for his liking is because she is on her period.
One quest has you chase off “perverts,” then has the girls in bathing suits who gave you the quest reward you by letting you watch them bathe. “Act like a decent person and you’ll be rewarded with sex” — people who believe this are one reason many women feel unsafe.