For years, Japanese gaming studio Square Enix has teased fans of the “Final Fantasy” series with “Final Fantasy XIII Versus.” No news, character profiles, gameplay or anything besides a single teaser trailer was ever revealed for the title until the most recent E3 conference in 2014. With a complete overhaul of the title and game itself, “XIII Versus” became “Final Fantasy XV” — better known as the end to the “Fabula Nova Crystallis” saga.
In the past few days, a plethora of news has been released on the new-generation giants for fans, who purchased “Final Fantasy Type-0 HD” for Xbox One or PS4, a demo of “XV,” dubbed “Episode Duscae.” Not only will the game follow the series basic combat style, but it will be much more open world and modern than previous titles by featuring shiny new cars and the like. A general release period has been announced for May 2016. But one bit of news has been sticking out in particular to many: Lead game director Hajime Tabata has come out and explained the specific reasoning behind the game’s all-male party cast.
“Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behavior, so that they’ll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way. The world might be ready to see the curtain lifted on what boys do when girls aren’t around, when they come out of the tent all prim and proper. That’s kind of the idea behind it… we think, male or female player, that everyone will feel a certain connection and bond with the four characters.”
At first reaction, this statement by Tabata can be viewed as sexist; however, this may not be the case. In reality, it is innocently meant to be the promotion of male intimacy, as said by Tabata himself: “The world might be ready to see the curtain lifted on what boys do when girls aren’t around…” But it doesn’t mean that the world isn’t upset about this. In fact, the Internet has been in an uproar over the event since its announcement. Worldwide, men and women have been talking about it on Twitter and other social media outlets.
This outcry isn’t to be unexpected either — it’s no secret that more than 48 percent of the world’s gaming community is female, according to Newsmax.com. Over time, women have been the target of sexism in games themselves and communities. Of course, men have been targeted as well, but females especially in games and communities through over-sexualization, poor representation and general remarks. As the image and idea of women in society has improved so has their image in games, but that doesn’t mean sexism doesn’t necessarily exist today. Through and through, gaming is a world dominated by masculinity; this statement can be considered as a representative of that.
What makes Tabata’s statement appear to be sexist is simply because he stated that an all-male cast is “more approachable,” and that men’s behavior changes in the presence of women. He also failed to truly mention the target of who this effort was for: the characters or the player. It is insinuated that Tabata meant that the cast’s choice is more accessible to the player, but there is little accuracy that lies within this statement.
“The only setting in which it would be accurate is if it were be pertaining to an actual historical event where the individuals were soldiers that were male, like a World War II setting for example. It would be odd if you had a female soldier [in that era]. This is a fantasy realm, they can do whatever they want. Now if the canon (principle, influencing idea) upholds a similar idea, then again that would be fine,” says freshman psychology major, Tennessee Fairfield. “The publishers want money, and they don’t want to dissuade players. It’s definitely ruled by men, heterosexual men. If you look at it, there are very few games that have female protagonists, and a lot of games that have protagonists that are strictly straight; those characters are villains. Or in some way looked down upon. I think it’s absolutely for money. In that respect, it is sexist. If they can somehow contrive some kind of story, part of the canon that would allow it, then maybe, maybe not.”
This is the point that’s worth being mentioned. “Final Fantasy XV” is a “AAA” title, which is possibly the biggest game in the “Final Fantasy” series to date. Not to mention, ever since the first reveal of “Final Fantasy XIII Versus” back in 2006, this makes “XV” one of the longest consecutively produced games in the series’ history. Groundbreaking titles such as this require lots of money, and the all-male party cast could be an effort to create a profit.
Fairfield goes on to mention, “I understand it, but at the same time, video games are becoming more mainstream; there are a lot more of female video gamers. I personally think that the publishers are missing a major opportunity in trying to bring in more female gamers and bringing out more encompassing games that are more thought provoking. It’s not really surprising, but if publishers, and I’m sure this would be viewed as sexist as well, but if they tried to target female gamers more, that would bring in an entirely new audience and more angles artistically. The fact that they are not only being sexist and close-minded, but restricting themselves from an entire market base is just self-destructive beyond imagination.”
However, it should be noted that Square Enix has made many titles with strong and unconventional female protagonists that have been idolized in the past. Huge titles such as “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Tomb Raider” both represent women in a particularly positive light. Lighting, the main female protagonist of “Final Fantasy XIII,” is actually very respected and adored in Japan simply because of how she was depicted in her story. Lara Croft, once a sex symbol to many gamers, was recreated as an emotionally-connective and powerful character through the retelling of her origin story in the 2013 title, “Tomb Raider.”
At the end of the day, the goal within this type of game is connection to the characters, which is something Tabata has explicitly mentioned in his motives. “Immersion can be the lifeblood of a game. You can feel dedicated to a character, dedicated to the story because you feel you are in it,” says Fairfield.
This point is exactly correct. The ability to be able to play as a male or female character can be enjoyable by any gender, but it’s the immersion that can suffer. Not necessarily because it is viewed as wrong, but simply because of the lack of ability to connect at a core level. This, in itself, is pure experience; how this is interpreted by an audience cannot be considered true sexism.
This statement should not be considered as a detriment to the company itself as it has, in the past, done what it can to be encouraging to women in the gaming world. And like women, men can experience sexism. There are rumors that a female character will appear in the party’s cast as a guest because of the public’s cries. This, at its core, is an effort to promote men and their actions together in a positive light.