Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Final Fantasy XV's Female Cid

I apologise for not updating in January and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't due to feeling burned out on gender politics in gaming. Since I started this blog, I spent a lot of my time while writing each post seeking out information on the subject, often hunting down as many articles from the gaming media as I could on a particular subject. Even if those articles made me roll my eyes or cringe at the double standards the author happily promoted.

Now -- and I put this largely down to joining Twitter and becoming smothered by the issue -- I tend to avoid these articles and avert my gaze from the latest ridiculous statements from "pop culture critics", IGF judges and game journalists who seem to hate their own audience. I don't see a reason to read something that I know will irritate me but there'll be no point in responding because it will just be ignored. More high-profile figures than me have responded to these criticisms of gaming without any response. It didn't matter whether they were game developers, game journalists or women and minorities themselves (and obviously, there's plenty of overlap between those groups). Regardless of who they were, they were ignored, insulted, added to blocklists or dismissed for being white and male (even when they weren't, bafflingly).

It feels like each individual gamer's voice online matters less than ever before. Game journalists actively try and cultivate communities where nobody has the right to offer a dissenting opinion. Game journalism is basically one very big ivory tower, with journalists at the top bellowing what is "right" to the world while gamers are at the bottom, their criticisms going unheard.

With that said, growing discontent amongst gamers is clearly being felt by game journalists as well and it's interesting to see how it's affecting them. Take Dying Light, for example, which I know very little about other than "it's the zombie parkour game". Recently, Techland, the developer of Dying Light, chose not to feature a quote from a reviewer or game journalist on the posters for the game, instead choosing to feature a quote from Pewdiepie, the Youtube Let's Player.

Seeing game journalists' seething reactions to this shows how petrified they are about their monopoly being broken. Several different sites referred to Techland's actions as "ridiculous", "shady" and "an ethical can of worms". This is ignoring the fact that PewDiePie's endorsement is no different from a celebrity endorsement in any other medium. Authors promote their books by putting quotes from other authors on the back cover. Films sometimes feature quotes from other directors on their posters (one that stands out in my mind was a Quentin Tarantino quote for Kevin Smith's Red State). I can't even turn on my television without seeing George Clooney advertising coffee and Kevin Bacon shilling for mobile phone networks.

What gets under the skin of game journalists is that they are becoming less and less relevant. Why would a game developer seek a quote from a reviewer or website who might give a game a lower score based on the size of its female characters' breasts or other issue unrelated to the game's quality? Or who only gave it a high score because of how many incentives they were given by the developer? When there's a gamer on Youtube with 34 million subscribers as of this writing, why wouldn't you reach out to that audience and use his quotes about your game? There's no reason not to.

This is basically gaming journalists behaving like children and throwing a tantrum because their parents aren't giving them the attention they want but, just like children, they're very, very loud. It seems as if they're afraid that gamers are listening to -- shock, horror -- other gamers, giving their opinions as they play games, rather than game journalists preaching about how horrible gamers are, how all games are sexist and then recommending you buy Gone Home.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the audience that PewDiePie does. I don't, so my voice doesn't get heard as much as I'd like. Game journalists are still the dominant voice in gaming. That's frustrating. Two weeks ago, a writer called Liana Kerzner wrote a five-part series called "Why Feminist Frequency almost made me quit writing about video games". Liana goes into a lot of analysis of Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs Women series so far and, as so many have done before her, pokes huge holes in her arguments. If you've read these types of arguments before, I recommend skimming Liana's articles but they're worth reading for her perspective on the matter.

I actually disagree with Liana on quite a few things but she comes at the topic in some important ways; not just as a woman but as a woman whose voice has been ignored and as a woman with a large chest who is being stereotyped by Sarkeesian for her views on women with large breasts in video games. I was surprised by how much it resonated with me; just as Liana is frustrated over her viewpoint being ignored and people speaking for her, in spite of the fact she belongs to the group being spoken for, I feel the same way when it comes to her flawed arguments about men. The gaming press listens to Sarkeesian but does not seek out different opinions as they should and not once have they suggested that peer review may be a good thing. In short, Liana and I are quite alike; we both write ridiculously long analyses on Anita's videos but ultimately, our feelings boil down to being the same. Liana was tempted to quit writing about video games due to Feminist Frequency, which is also a big part of the reason behind my long hiatus (although mine ties into game journalism as a whole but because Feminist Frequency's influence is largely responsible for the current climate, that's a circular argument).

Liana's arguments in part four of her series ties into what I want to write about today and, honestly, something I should've written about a month-and-a-half ago. The big news that in Final Fantasy XV, Cid -- a recurring name for different characters throughout the series -- will be given to a female character for the first time.


The reaction to the latest version of Cid being female reminds me of a few other occasions when a piece of news that should have been considered a victory for female portrayals in games hasn't been welcomed as you would expect. Aliens: Colonial Marines' developer adding female characters was criticised by Carolyn Petit on Gamespot, for example. Anita Sarkeesian dismissed Princess Peach's inclusion in Super Mario Bros. 2 because it was "by accident" because it was a modified version of Japan's Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. It feels like a similar story with Final Fantasy XV.

I don't want to describe the female version of Cid as being "monumental" or "ground-breaking" for women in games but if you're a fan of the Final Fantasy series, it is significant. Having a Cid in a Final Fantasy game has been a theme since Final Fantasy II in 1988 and the size of the role each Cid plays varies depending on the game. However, they tend to have something in common; providing the protagonists with transport for getting around the world (often an airship). This seems to be the direction FFXV is heading in too, with Cid being a mechanic. It's likely that she provides -- or repairs -- the car we see the heroes travelling in during each of the gameplay trailers.

So what's the big issue with Cid?

I plan on keeping my criticism here very short; what we have here is several examples of people who care less about what a woman does and more about how a woman looks.

First of all, let's dispel the myth that Cid's design is "the typical Final Fantasy female character". Thinking about female Final Fantasy characters, your mind could go to any number of conservatively-dressed women, such as Aeris, Yuffie, Yuna, Penelo, Ashe and all of the female characters from Final Fantasy VIII, IX and XIII (unless bare midriffs or legs are considered sexualised. By Lightning Returns, some of Lightning's costumes were clearly designed with fanservice in mind but prior to that, her outfits were modest). That's without going back to the 2D era.

Even thinking about other characters, what constitutes being sexualised? Rikku was introduced in Final Fantasy X with a shot focused on her behind but she wasn't portrayed sexually throughout the rest of the game, nor was her outfit revealing. The same can be said of Lulu, who wore a dress that showed her cleavage but was far from being a sexualised character. Even though Tifa is sometimes held up as a sexualised character, you'd be hard pressed to find any examples of her being sexualised in Final Fantasy VII. I don't know if further games and movies changed that.

This is slightly off-topic but it bothers me somewhat that some people -- hopefully a vocal minority -- have stigmatised Final Fantasy with this label about women while BioWare sexualise the hell out of their female characters but receive nothing but praise for being a "progressive" developer. It doesn't make sense but by now, I've accepted that's often the case.

All-in-all, Cid's critics basically pushed aside the fact that for the first time in a Final Fantasy game, Cid is going to be female. They ignored the important point that she is working in a traditionally male-dominated profession. All they focused on was her body and her outfit. It staggers me that the critics can so unironically and harshly judge fictional women based on their breast size and their attire and then complain that there are no good female characters. When you judge women so cruelly that you think "revealing clothing = bad character" and "large breasts = zero worth", that's the type of conclusion you arrive at. The same critics have attempted to retcon Lara Croft from being a tough, intelligent, witty, independent icon of the PlayStation and most successful female video game character of all time -- the Guinness Book of World Records even says so -- into nothing but a sex object or teenage boy's fantasy.

Plus, male Final Fantasy characters are unrealistically attractive too. From around a dozen androgynous hunks to plenty of gents sporting the open-shirt look, men's bodies and clothing in the Final Fantasy series has long been as over-the-top as the women's, if not more so. Yet it gets ignored or dismissed as -- you guessed it -- a "male power fantasy". Lack of awareness and objectivity concerning male characters is always a stumbling block when these arguments are made about female characters.

Also, and this should go without saying -- in fact, many of these points should -- but there is nothing wrong with making any character attractive or giving them revealing clothing. That does not automatically make them a bad character, nor does it make them sexualised. From what we've seen so far, Cid is not sexualised.

I think with announcements of this nature, we see a significant divide between two groups of people; those who actually want to see more good female representation in games and the entitled bunch who think stomping their feet, playing the victim and demanding their own way will override a game developer's creative freedom. Final Fantasy XV's Cid is a better example of how to make a female character own a traditionally-male role than, say, Jason Aaron's female Thor, and deserves to be treated as such. She should be judged on her own merits as a character and not, as her critics want, as an object.

Besides, even if Cid was sexualised, God knows male blue collar workers have never been sexualised, right?

Finally, and I'm not going to go into this at all, if you want to see true hypocrisy, look up the reactions to the sexualised male hero of Mevius Final Fantasy, an upcoming mobile game. If you ever needed proof that gender equality is certainly not being argued for in games, go and read some of the celebrations by feminist gamers over a male character being sexualised. It doesn't come as a surprise how quickly they abandon their principles over sexualised characters when they're not the victim, nor can they deny it exists against men. Yay equality?

Leave a comment or e-mail me at themalesofgames@gmail.com. My posting may be more sporadic from now on.