Lately we heard a lot of hubbub about sexism in video games, with many writers dropping rivers of virtual ink on virtual paper denouncing how this or that game happens to be (according to them) a terrible affront to women.
Square Enix has been under the crosshairs of this kind of discourse lately because of a few relatively skimpy costumes appearing in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, but it’s interesting and somehow ironic to notice that they’re also behind one of the most shining examples of gender equality for gear design in video games: Final Fantasy XIV and its successor A Realm Reborn.
We’re all familiar with the disparities in gear and fashion design that appear in many games, even more so in MMORPGs. In many titles show the most skimpy and revealing armor sets are be gender locked for ladies, or even worse, they’ll simply morph depending on the gender of the character wearing them. How many times have you seen a set of full plate armor magically turning into something more akin to a plate bikini when worn by a woman?
Don’t get me wrong. If you read my articles before you probably know that I have absolutely nothing against eyecandy, fanservice or the display of skin. As a matter of fact I definitely appreciate it (up to a point), but there indeed is room for improvement.
Most of the eyecandy in video games definitely targets men (or at least people that happen to like women). Eyecandy catering to those that happen to enjoy the sight of some male skin is rare merchandise. It almost seems that most developers feel that their target audience won’t appreciate it, or worse, will react negatively.
Maybe games should take a page from the book of classical art, which celebrated the beauty of the male and female body equally without feeling shy to dislpay men’s sculpted abs, thighs and buttocks as much as it did with the curves of the ladies. When you go to the Uffizi museum in Florence and walk in front of the majestic “David” by Michelangelo, you don’t see dudes running all over the place and ripping their eyeballs off because they’re exposed to some (artistically sculpted) male flesh.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn gets very near to that ideal, as you can notice in the pictures showcased in this article and at the gallery at the bottom.
The latest example are the swimsuits released for the latest Moonfire Faire summer event, that is currently underway. In most MMORPGs, summer themed wear means that ladies are going to be clad in the skimpiest bikinis you could design without showing actual naughty bits, while the men get comfy, baggy trunks that stop just short of being actual pants.
Final Fantasy XIV‘s swimsuits are different. The bikinis provided to the ladies are still definitely sexy and revealing, but if you’re a dude and want to indulge in some healthy exhibitionism, you’re in luck, as the male swimsuits are just as revealing in design, featuring some slinky speedos that leave very little to the imagination. Eyecandy is provided for both genders, and that’s almost heartwarming.
Of course that’s not the only example. The Coliseum gear sets feature a similar concept. There’s a plate set and a cloth set, and they’re both very revealing. After all they’re based on gladiatorial armor, which had the purpose of entertaining and showing off more than protecting. The best thing? The metal set doesn’t suddenly turn into a full plate armor when worn by a male character, while the cloth set doesn’t magically grow fabric in the relevant places, becoming a nicely covering tunic. They’re eyecandy gear sets, and they retain their eyecandy function regardless of the gender of the character wearing them.
This refreshing gender agnosticism when gear is involved is actually a tradition carrying over from Final Fantasy XI; many of the subligar and harness sets in the eleven year old (but quite innovative for gender parity in gear design) MMORPG showcase an equally revealing design on male and female characters. Of course those appear in Final Fantasy XIV as well, with their full ration of bare midriffs and exposed thighs, and yes, they do so regardless of gender.
The positive example set by Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn doesn’t stop at gender equality in offering fanservice and eyecandy–it also extends to choice. You most definitely don’t need to show any skin if you don’t want to. Whether your character is male or female, you have a myriad of extremely covering options, ranging from full armor that’ll make you look like a walking tin can, to head-to-toe hooded tunics that will wrap you up like a gift on Christmas.
Ultimately Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn sets a perfect example of the fact that you don’t need to exclude or marginalize eyecandy in order to avoid disparities between genders. With plenty fanservice for everyone, a wardrobe that rivals the scope and variety of a fashion week in Milan, and 99% of the gear sets featuring the same design when worn by both genders, it champions freedom of choice in what to wear and what to show, and does so in a very refreshing way.
Maybe those that feel like crusading against sexism in games should correct their aim: instead of mindlessly attacking any kind of fanservice, they should advocate a more even distribution of it. Freedom of choice and variety in style are important values, and should be preserved instead of choked in order to attack a completely different issue.