Playing as a Woman in Final Fantasy XIV

Wed, 27 Apr 2022

Playing Final Fantasy XIV is one of the ways I like to relax and be quasi-sociable after work. I’m part of a gaming clan (or “free company” to use the game’s term) and I frequently help out other players with dungeon crawls and raids. I often play with random players in pick-up groups (PUGs). And then there are the people who hang out in towns and use the game as a fancy chatroom.

While passing through a town, a nearby player said something like, “I’m pretty sure that at least half of the girls around me are actually guys.” They pointed to me as the exception because my character0’s outfit wasn’t as revealing as is typical for women’s armor in MMORPGs. They then asked, “Why can’t guys play as guys?”

Naturally, an argument ensued. I didn’t get involved because arguing on the internet is generally an exercise in playing stupid games to win stupid prizes. Besides, it was funnier to point this person out to my wife and chuckle over how they don’t realize I’m also a man “pretending to be a woman”.

I don’t do it for attention.

I don’t do it so that people will give me free stuff.

I don’t even do it as some kind of sexual fetish or because I’m secretly transgender.

I do it because my wife loves to play with the character creators in the RPGs I play, and she likes to design my characters. She tends to create female characters, and I’m fine with that. I’ve been playing games with female protagonists since Metroid in the 1980s, and Final Fantasy XIV isn’t the first FF I’ve played with a female protagonist:

Tradition aside, there is the fact that there is simply no point in trying to create an avatar that looks like me. I do not resemble any of the idealized male figures provided by RPG character creators, so if I’m going to have an avatar that doesn’t look like me, why should I limit myself to the gender I was assigned at birth?

I don’t think I’m weird for doing this. Not when a Quantic Foundry2 survey suggests that 1 in every 3 men polled claims to prefer to play a female character in video games3.

Some might argue morality, but I see nothing wrong with pretending to be a woman in MMORPGs. Not when I pretend to be a man in real life. My masculinity is as performative3 as it is conditional. I pretend to be a “real man” when out in public the same reason I pretend that I’m not autistic. I do it to get what I want out of life, because being myself in the wrong setting is a losing strategy.

Is this deceitful? Perhaps, but if you want a world where people don’t lie to you about who they really are, maybe you should work to create a world where people aren’t punished for such honesty.