I have the pleasure of being a Generation-X gamer whose first system was an NES and have owned every Nintendo and Sony console since I started gaming for my eighth birthday not with Super Mario Bros., but with the original Final Fantasy. The movies and cartoons and breakfast cereal that I grew up with aren’t a source of nostalgic enjoyment, but plain old enjoyment–if I never grew out of something, I never missed it, and neither did my friends. My life has been pretty boring and uneventful, even my coming out was fairly nonchalant when one day I started bringing home guys instead of girls to go to my room and my parents never showed any protests or surprise at the revelation, especially since I can’t think of a single characteristic that makes me any different as a gay man from a straight man. My identity was always just one of the guys who liked road trips, video games, and Beavis and Butt-Head, drinking sodas and eating pizza during marathon gaming or Netflix sessions, and board games like Settlers of Catan with my friends. So when Final Fantasy XV came out the other month, I was a bit taken aback by some of the strange Internet opinions that were going around due to the decision to make the game’s playable cast all men.
The opinion I had was that it was another game in the series that started to bore me by its eleventh iteration (which is actually Final Fantasy X-2, an all-female playable cast mind you, not the officially numbered eleventh title, an MMORPG travesty that I try not to think about). I was drawn to it because it was touted as a game that focused on male vulnerability, road tripping, guys being guys, and friendship more than the actual main overarching plot. I was immediately sold on the premise, because it reminded me of growing up and watching The Goonies or Stand By Me and our high school graduation Pacific Coast Highway trip that ended up including a trip to Las Vegas as a detour to get a taste of where we would be after we turn 21 (hint: nothing special). Those were the long trips where we would lie on the hood of Bo-Ram’s car like Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World watching stars and talking about college, girls, life, cartoons we missed, comic books, and deeper stuff about our families. Yes, I had already come out by junior year, but I could still talk about girls since I didn’t need to avoid the subject or remind everyone I’m gay–it’s not my identity, really, it’s just my sexual preference, and I haven’t had more than two boyfriends and still haven’t had sex with more than one person, my ex. Male vulnerability and boyhood to manhood, friendship, travel, and just living life being our authentic self–this is what made me want to play Final Fantasy XV, and why it now rivals Final Fantasy VI for my all-time favorite game. I was never out to escape life, because I was happy with my life, and I never needed to pretend or make believe, I just liked the immersion and inspiration of real, believable people as characters in fantastic situations, reacting as normal people would too.
The opinions I saw online were both offended and some even contrived to be offended at the lack of gender balance. The arguments against them were equally silly–as much as I dislike Final Fantasy X-2, it isn’t because of the all-female cast, it’s the play mechanics and weak story that bored me half an hour into the game and became a chore to play through. In short, I don’t see it as a mark against the game to have no playable females, I think it’s a unique and necessary theme for people to explore, because I don’t think of oppression and gender bias, I think of good movies like Stand By Me that a lot of my female friends thoroughly enjoyed–the same ones who thought the Ghostbusters: Answer The Call 2016 remake wasn’t very good not because it was women, but because it was boring. When we talk about needing to have gender balance to make it more politically correct, sometimes I see that more as a marketing tool than I do see it as a social mandate to make equal representation. In either case, I think this dialogue, while it’s good that it’s happening, to me, this seems like this isn’t the right game to have this dialogue about. If anything, it seems like the dialogue is going on and has been going on for a long time already, but that there aren’t enough contemporary and relevant examples for many people to be inspired by and contributing to the ongoing discussion.
If we look at this social or political or marketing agenda to make everything fairly balanced, I can tell firsthand that it’s very different for guys when even one woman is around, whether she’s just like one of the guys or not, just a friend, a girlfriend, or if all the guys are gay. What’s the difference between the seriously and thoughtfully-written dialogue and story of Final Fantasy XV and most movies where the main cast is almost exclusively male? A lot of them are really just the everyman or the funnyman trying to get through the circumstances of the film’s plot, and in other stories of escapism, it’s about some dark or brooding figure and some really one-dimensional badasses. In the case of Final Fantasy XV, we have characters who in one moment are annoying as hell like Prompto trying to be fun and funny, and other moments where we see that they carry a lot of complexities and vulnerabilities, such as male body image and acceptance amongst peers, dealing with the opposite sex, and competition with other males to both validate their individuality while also trying to fit in and be like everyone else. This is my story: I am just happy being one of the guys, and while I don’t have most of the interest or experiences that make my life as enthralling as most gays and coming out in their community, it does in some subtle ways still influence my core identity and being, even if my primary way of identifying myself is by being me rather than being a gay gamer and Gen-X bro.
So while Final Fantasy XV isn’t the game that will appeal to some people’s tastes, on artistic merit alone, it’s worth a shot and so much like my second favorite buddy film, Stand By Me that Florence and the Machine even cover a version of the Ben E. King song that was the leitmotif of that film. If that movie were released today, would people snub it because it doesn’t have too many females at all? Would it need to be re-written about all girls? I might actually see that because it would be a cool idea, but why criticize it if it’s a fun idea already and part of the main theme? Give it a chance for what it is and keep the dialogue ongoing about representation and gender balance, but maybe consider putting it towards a more relevant example worth criticizing.