I started playing Final Fantasy XIV during the pandemic. I have been a long time fan of the series, and had been considering the game for some time, but was put off by the MMO aspect of the game. Part of why I enjoyed the other games in the series is how they offer complex fantasy worlds for me to get lost in, on my own time, without having to share it and worry about other people. Little did I know that the multiplayer aspect would be part of why I felt even more immersed into the Final Fantasy 14’s world of Eorzea.
As soon as I started, I got caught up in the intricate character creation system. You see, I am a non-binary transgender person, and for me character creation in videogames has always been an important part of the experience in every game that allows it. Even before I understood my gender identity the way I do today, I always preferred to play characters from a different gender than the one I was assigned at birth. For my character in Final Fantasy XIV, I decided to go with a white mage woman Miqo’te, a race of humanoids with some cat-like physical features. Effectively a magical cat girl.
Final Fantasy XIV offered many character customization options, different races and hair colors. While there are only two genders available for the player characters, most outfits can be worn by the different body types. The most recent character option added is the masculine variant of the Viera race, a humanoid race which until then was composed mostly of tall women with tall bunny ears.
For those like myself who might want to enjoy something a bit more fluid, the game has a highly marketed potion called Fantasia, which allows you to completely change your character’s physical characteristics, from hairstyle and skin color, to gender and fantasy race. Fantasia potions are available in the game marketplace (the first one is given for free, but unfortunately the player must use real money if they want to get more potions).
Fluidity plays a big part in Final Fantasy XIV, even from a mechanics point of view. Unlike most other RPG games, where the player has to pick a choice of class and mostly stick within its confines while playing with that character, FFXIV allows the player to quickly change between all the available classes with a single character, all that it takes is to change your equipment. Gender is performative, and so are FFXIV jobs and classes. Want to be a wizard? Just pick up a staff and a pointy hat! And don’t worry; if you get tired you can change into your miner outfit with just a couple of clicks.
While I have played as different genders and gender nonconforming characters in other games, the multiplayer nature of an online game turns it into a uniquely different experience. It feels more real, in a way. The fact that I am in a “public” space, where other people can see me and interact with me, makes my experience more validated than when I play a single player game only I can see.
Dressing up in a gender nonconforming way in the meatspace is a mixed experience for me, there is joy in expressing myself as I want, but there is also fear. Most of the time I don’t get anything worse than a few bad looks, but there is always a degree of recognition of my otherness, and my worst experiences still bring me a degree of trauma. In the game however, no one bats an eye. My existence in that space, as that body, is implicitly accepted by my in-game friends, random party members and passersby in the busy areas of the game. Other players, even in their silence, are collaborating with my fantasy and joy. My effective invisibility makes me feel recognised in the way I want to be.
As an immigrant my access to healthcare is nebulous at time, compounded to that, Finland is a country known for its human rights violations when it comes to the treatment of transgender people. This all means that my options for medically transitioning into a body I feel more comfortable in are very limited for the foreseeable future. In the face of that reality, Final Fantasy offered me a fantastic escape into a world where I could have direct control over my body and presentation.
In a one month period, from last December to January, I spent 244 hours inside FF14. That averages to about 8 hours a day. Much of that was during the Winter holidays. But on the other days my routine would go as such: I would wake up, have coffee, go to work (remotely) and then log into my best life and have a genuinely good time being who I wanted to be until I fell asleep and restarted the cycle again. I realize that is not a sustainable or in any way healthy way to live, but the loneliness of the holidays and the Finnish winter’s darkness didn’t really help.
Since then I made some progress towards my transition, while Finnish law still keeps medical transition mostly a pipe dream. I have started doing smaller changes I have control over, and started being more open about my pronouns. To me, coming out as transgender is a process that often feels scary, but also inevitable. While this would’ve eventually happened regardless, the joy I felt when being accepted as just another magic catgirl in the lands of Eorzea is part of the reason I recognise that.
After January I got a bit burned out of the game, and haven’t really been playing it that much. But the recent patch sounds really interesting, even adding a whole new region for player owned houses and roleplaying possibilities. It’s been a long break, but I’m excited to get back into the skin of Dis’Yacky the Miqo’te. I’ll even try to pace myself this time.
Based on Final Fantasy XIV
Pictures of the game: Screenshots, taken by the author.