Currently, the controversy surrounding Russia’s anti-homosexuality “promotion” laws and the Winter Olympics in Sochi has made LGBT rights more prominently discussed globally than ever before. With it also being LGBT History Month in the UK, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the debate of whether Square Enix should allow same-sex marriage in their smash-hit MMO, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FF14), has cropped up again.
The current Valentine’s Day event, named Valentione’s Day in Eorzea, has already sparked dissent because it insists that players stick to a strict heteronormality when participating. Square Enix’s previous title, Final Fantasy XI (FF11,) has also systematically disallowed same-sex marriages, meaning the company is already under scrutiny on how it approaches its world-wide LGBT audience.
Marriage (huh, yeah)! What Is It Good For?
Examining in-game marriage in FF11, much like real life, it’s quite expensive. Players could be looking at spending anything between 20,000g to 240,000g for the venue, and then an optional 50,000g each for the bride and groom’s costumes.
The result? Apart from a gaping hole in your coffers, a few nice photos, and any additional armour you can afford to purchase, you get just each get a ring with your spouse’s name “engraved” on it. Even if you’re in it for the romance, the entire pomp and ceremony adds absolutely nothing to FF11’s gameplay: even the wedding attire and rings have stats of little use for gameplay. It’s likely that marriage in FF14 will likely be just as novel as in its predecessor.
Why Do We Need Marriage in FF14?
Given that it’ll have no real benefit or affect gameplay, it does seem a bit crazy that it’s even being considered, let alone causing so much of a stir. But introducing it to the game might be because of cultural issues that we might not have thought of.
Japan is experiencing and very interesting cultural phenomenon that sees Japanese men turn to virtual relationships rather than real ones. Investigated by the BBC in a documentary No Sex Please, We Japanese, this foible has become part of a widespread trend in celibacy that is drastically affecting Japan’s birth-rates.
So for the Japanese, in-game marriage may well be seen as a bigger deal than we may realise. Given the vast amount of Japanese players in FF14, it’s no surprise that in-game marriage is a much-anticipated feature.
Homophobic or Hetero-lazy?
“Claims from understandably upset players of Square Enix acting homophobically are just a touch too judgemental. Taking into account culture and beliefs, it’s more likely that they’re just taking the easier option of rank heteronormality.”
In Japan, although homosexuality is legal, it’s still very underground. Even in Japanese gay porn, many actors will mask their faces for fear of being identified. Therefore it’s not very surprising that a heteronormative stance seems to be the default, even though Japan’s homosexuality laws are comparably liberal. Couple this with global players who also object to same-sex marriage in-game, there’s certainly an easy call to keep things “traditional.”
Therefore, claims from understandably upset players of Square Enix acting homophobically are just a touch too judgemental. Taking into account culture and beliefs, it’s more likely that they’re just taking the lazier option of rank heteronormality. But that doesn’t make this any the less unfair on the thousands of LGBT players who regularly immerse themselves in Eorzea, and have the right to freedom of expression without draconian barriers.
An Uncomfortable Fit
This approach to “sanctifying” in-game relationships is also really at odds with the game itself. Many players of all sexualities and sexes often play a gender opposite to their real-life one. Surprisingly, this gender-bending is most prevalent in straight male gamers who choose to play the sexy cat-lady Mithras in FF11 or as titillating female Miqo’te in FF14. Therefore, many same-sex relationships in-game could actually be heteronormative in real life, and vice versa.
FF14 postures itself as a very adult game dealing with some very mature subjects such as rape, murder, refugeeism, and racism. There is also plenty of sexual innuendos in storylines, quest descriptions, and NPC banter in the English localisation. It seems ridiculous that the game can maturely approach everything apart from seeing two male characters, who may not even be male in real life, show affection towards each other in a virtual world.
All or Nothing
At present, it seems that introducing heteronormative marriage will happen in FF14. But Square Enix suggest that they will consider same-sex marriage.
“As for same-sex marriage, 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. I can’t say whether or not it will be possible at this point in time. I’d like to keep dialog open with our players as we deliberate the matter.”
But the Winter Olympics in Sochi has proven that the suppression of LGBT visibility is just as controversial a topic, and Square Enix risks facing an even bigger backlash from the LGBT community and their allies for not allowing it.
If Square Enix isn’t be prepared to align itself with the global trends regarding same-sex marriage, including its legalisation in countries such as France, the United Kingdom, the USA, and even Uruguay, then maybe it should consider scrapping the whole idea of in-game marriage completely.
For more information about FF14, visit www.finalfantasyxiv.com.