Final Fantasy XIV has been my way of connecting with a community over the past month. After leaving friends in an anticlimactic pandemic goodbye, it’s been a queer lifeline as much as it has been a game. I’m not going to write this piece as a sort of queer glorification of the game. Let me be clear, Final Fantasy XIV is not a queer game. It is a binary-gendered, imperial product. However, I have had a lot of my trans identity validated by playing the game with others online. Despite all the problems with Final Fantasy XIV, I still manage to find peace in playing it.
In a lot of ways, this peace isn’t unique to Final Fantasy XIV. MMOs are designed to make communities a part of their value. They use the internet to access underserved niches and demographics, and then profit off of connecting those niches. We can’t really escape these corporate moderated ways of existing with one another. The market’s reach pervades everything, even if we attempt to disconnect. So now we log into our discords and join a party to find a way to bond with others.
Emotes, free companies, guilds, PvP rankings, and raids are all designed to enrich social groups that are associated, and possibly exclusive to, the MMO. Along with this associated community, these games also ask for monthly subscriptions and large amounts of time dedicated to building a character, and new content is released almost infinitely if it continues to make money. MMOs are perhaps some of the most dangerous social media spaces to partake in because they are designed to penetrate their players in so many different ways.
With every online space comes the design of aesthetics and functions that attract a specific playerbase. World of Warcraft was popular due to the enduring appeal of fantasy aesthetics in pop culture and the post 9/11 fascination of the nostalgic, fantasy utopia. As Lev Grossman pointed out in his article “Feeding On Fantasy” published just a year after the tragedy, many audiences desired a nostalgic escape from a world that terrified them. A world where you aren’t restricted to travel by your appearance. A world where the only danger is a slight inconvenience of tedious travel. A word offered by World of Warcraft. Governments quickly squandered this dream as corporations happily handed over information on their playerbase.
Final Fantasy XIV exists almost two decades after that moment. It exists in a world after the rise and fall of Tumblr. It exists in an era of post-cringe. Rather than a hope to escape from the world, it is the Millennial/Zoomer absurdist fantasy playground. Another place to express oneself in the world, not somewhere separate.
Go forth, live your dream as a travelling nude trumpet dragon lady. Go roleplay domme sex with your partner in the free company garden.
No one cares to make fun of you for being weird, because we are all weird and depressed.
When I came back to FFXIV after a few years, I had changed a lot. Specifically, I had discovered my trans identity. My character had not. He was a small lalafell with a pair of mischievous eyes and a purple moustache. I could hear his cheering voice from the years before. On top of this, many of the friends Trisk once had were not the same people I wanted to surround myself with now. Trisk needed her own transition.
Just like all the money I have to spend on doctor’s visits, new clothing, and prescriptions every year, Square Enix blocks the path to feeling comfortable with financial barriers. On the Final Fantasy XIV online store stacks of “Phials of Fantasia” line the page. The icon shows a Hyur (human) male on the left side, with a rainbow arrow pointing to a Miqo’te (catperson) female shimming on the right side. Below, a price of $10.00 USD is advertised. It isn’t even subtle. They know who the audience of these vials are.
Along with this, there is a price for players to apply for a server change of $18.00 USD. The server change is important because different servers foster different playerbases. For example, Faerie is known as the server with the strongest LGBTQIA+ presence in the game…for obvious reasons. I was in Famfrit but I was alone there. With queer friends on other servers, I saw the price not only as a gateway for a fresh start, but also to feeling like I belong somewhere.
Due to the poor binary standards of character creators, Trisk Hantalith is a tall Viera with pink hair and orange highlights which engulfs her round smiling face. Trisk is the girl I play when I get online, and for most of the players on Jenova, the only identity they know me as. I occasionally am asked to join a discord or some voice chat, but I reject most offers for the sake of protecting any dangers of transphobia penetrating my peace.
Trisk Hantalith is a girl. All her clothes are modeled to fit her much-too-skinny character model. Her voice is high pitched with some low undertones. All of her emotes are cute and feminine.
It’s so easy to be Trisk. I don’t have to wait for changes to take place. I don’t have to repeat cycles of failure. I don’t feel like I am escaping into Trisk, but I do feel like I am allowing myself to dream.
Currently I am staying at my father’s house in Ohio while my home is possibly burning in California. The familiarity of the walls and the memories lying in bed are creeping reminders of a different life I lived. A life that the former family which still remains sees fondly. Every few nights I walk into the TV room to find my father sharing old pictures with his girlfriend despite my explicit remark that it hurts me. Even playing Final Fantasy XIV, anyone could walk into the room at any moment and destroy my peace.
It certainly isn’t an escape, but it helps me feel better.
Despite enjoying games, I find discussing them to be particularly exhausting most of the time. Discussing how to be the most efficient, what achievements have been gained, how certain parts of the game function. I know, as a games writer you would think this is what I would enjoy discussing. However, in many multiplayer spaces, this type of language is typically entangled with dangerous or toxic vernacular. After so many years of feeling alienated by the latter, I immediately find myself escaping into my own head whenever I hear a hint of anyone speaking so insularly about games.
Over the years this type of communication has made it hard for me to have any desire to play multiplayer games. Most communities are dominated by this form of discussion, and I often found disconnection or discomfort when attempting to breach any intimacy or personal topics. However, these are what make games so enjoyable for me and why I am invested in them. I don’t play multiplayer games to talk more about games, I play them to form personal relationships. With multiplayer games, I want to create connections and experience emotions together.
The clock on my microwave reads 2:10 AM as one of my best friends is venting to me and another over Discord. “Me and my ex-boyfriend broke up a year ago, but it feels like we actually emotionally broke up last night. I’m not really sure what to do—Oh let’s head north, I see a FATE up there.”
We aren’t just on a call, we are also doing what is called FATE grinding in Final Fantasy XIV. It’s when players gather in a group on a map and then complete location-based quests back to back in order to gather a lot of experience. It’s tedious, but it’s mind-numbing and perfect for chatting with friends.
My best friend, Prince, was the first queer person I ever knew. He came out to me in high school before I even had an understanding of the concept. Now hundreds of miles away we log in every couple nights to play together and talk about what is happening in our lives.
Austin, another close friend, chimes in as we mount our chocobos, “I’m so sorry to hear that Prince. It sounds like you have already done the best you could in this situation.” Our birds run down a hill with two rabbit girls and a tiny lalafel pugilist bumping on their backs. It’s silent for a moment as we ride—a comforting silence of support. The trio of bird claws pat against the desert ground of northern Thanalan in a flurry.
After we reach the next FATE I spea. “I’m not sure you need to do anything right at this moment. I think you need to just take time and let yourself heal.” I genuinely believed that is what my friend needed at the time, but I think some of my time in the game was also seeping into my advice.
It’s this type of experience that repeats every time that I log on to the game. A friend invites me to a party, we talk about gay stuff, and we show care about each other’s lives and well being. It may not sound that important, but in videogame spaces these situations are rarely cultivated the way FFXIV has done for me thus far.
In my first week back to the game, a friend of a friend invites me to join their free company. From what I understand its all queer members, and they also invite me to their “So Long Het Bowser” cross-server chat channel. On my second night as a member, I propose we all play a friendly bracket of Triple Triad. There isn’t really any stakes to the game. It isn’t really even a hard game. But it’s such a mindless activity that it is meaningful for people to choose to do it together. We aren’t playing for the game’s sake, it’s just an activity for us to spend together when we know so little about each other.
We playfully joke about rivalries and who the best player is, even though the game relies on who has collected the best cards. Here the foundation of my relationships with these other players begins to form. One of the male presenting mi’qote blows a kiss at the end of the night. I type ”/blush” in the pink general text I have set and Trisk reddens with embarrassment. I’m too awkward and full of bodily dysphoria to perform these actions myself. I feel my heart swell in the gender euphoria of the performance. The thrill of the flirtatious embodiment.
Gendered performances become the norm with the queer members I become acquainted with. Me and a female mi’qote member discuss how cute each other’s outfits are each time we see each other. A very friendly member claims that despite only knowing me for a certain amount of time he would die for me. It’s very cute and sweet.
I’m not sure I will play Final Fantasy XIV forever. One of my biggest flaws is that I am terrible with social commitments, possibly even worse with games. But it’s the game I needed right now, at this moment in my life. It’s made me consider that maybe I don’t need a favorite game of all time, or one game that I always return to. I just need people who care about each other and a game that is able to nurture those connections.
Waverly is a trans game artist and freelance writer. She has written at Uppercut, Into The Spine, and Fanbyte. You can find her on Twitter @hotelbones.