Trans Identity in Eorzea
Content Warning: Discussion of transphobia, slurs, fetishization
[This essay was funded through Patreon under the ZEAL project. ZEAL aims to provide high quality criticism of rarely discussed games and comics, and showcase the talents of exciting new writers and artists. For details and information on how to donate, please check out our Patreon.]
The game world is a place to escape; we all know this much to be true. But the ideal escape is different for everyone. Every game has a narrative of sorts, and every game has a world to experience. These worlds are countless, and their differences equally as innumerable. The level of narrative shifts and changes in each of these, whether the environment is focused on prominent storytelling or allowing the player to create their own narrative experience. Every single person, whether they know it or not, has an ideal place they want to escape to. I wanted something unique; an environment where I can recreate myself to my whims and choosing, creating my own path and future. A world that I can push against, and one that pushes back against me without being scripted or predetermined. For this, I naturally sought out the realm of online roleplaying.
From experience, I’ve found that the more creative freedom the game allows with its character creation, the easier it is to fully immerse myself in the world. Despite all of its problems, Skyrim is a splendid example of this middle ground. There are a variety of body types, skin tones, hairstyles, and combinations of facial shapes; although none of them are quite convincing, it’s still a massive step up from the misshapen effigies of Ted Cruz that are often created in Oblivion. The player is able to create a character that resembles themselves, or their ideal self, for the most part. It can never be a perfect recreation; no game will ever be able to offer infinite permutations of appearance, but for Skyrim’s audience, it is good enough. The issue here is that the narrative of Skyrim is limited. Without getting into the flaws of Todd Howard’s bug-infested Nordic wonderland, it, and similar games like the far superior Fallout: New Vegas, have the same fatal flaw that all other role playing games have; they are finite. The world of Skyrim is closed off, and stagnant. There is only one true actor, and only one person observing it. The command of the player is all-powerful, but the player can not truly influence the world around it, but only occur within it. They can break the world with mods and overleveled stats, but there is nobody else to share that experience with. Whether in the frigid land of Skyrim or the arid Mojave Desert, the player is alone.
MMO communities are their own monster, but they can be easily likened to fandom. For instance, take fans of Final Fantasy VII. That game, like many others, is finite. There is a finite amount of dialogue, events, and music tracks. A community, made of people who were touched by this experience, forms online. Their passion for the game keeps them together, but aside from rare re-releases, remake teasers, and one-time phenomena like Advent Children, there is nothing new. There are online roleplay communities, fanart communities, but the content comes from the community, and interaction does not occur within the game itself. To contrast, Final Fantasy XIV, running since 2010, just announced Shadowbringers, its latest expansion. Between gargantuan patches, there are smaller ones, evolving the base narrative of the game as well as introducing new areas, items, and cosmetics. The constant flux of content invigorates the community, allowing them to continue to grow.
Still, even when it comes to MMOs, I was drawn to Final Fantasy XIV for a very simple reason.
The first content I saw from Final Fantasy XIV was screenshots from a friend of their player character. I was stunned by how good the game looked, and how the characters looked like people rather than grotesquely cartoonish anthropomorphic bulls. I loaded up the free demo in 2015, logged onto the Cactuar server, and experienced XIV’s character creator for the first time.
At current, there are six different playable races, although it’s heavily rumored that the seventh, Viera are soon to be added. These races vary greatly in body type; Roegadyn are the largest by far with their massive shoulders and lumbering frame, whereas Lalafell are the smallest and most childlike, usually clocking in at around three feet. Each of these races has two sub-races; for instance, the Mi’qote are split into Seekers of the Sun and Keepers of the Moon. Seekers have eyes similar to a real cat, and Keepers have pronounced canines. Like most MMOs, FFXIV does suffer from absurd gender dimorphism. The Au Ra, a race of lizard-like humanoids with horns and reptilian tails, are towering, threatening, and massive when male, and default to extremely dainty and petite when selected to be female. This already gives the player 24 testbeds for character creation, before moving onto a selection between four face types, and then onto facial features, hairstyle and color, height, bust size, and voice. The character creation here is by no means perfect, but it offers far more options than the other main MMO on the market, World of Warcraft, yet doesn’t hold a candle to other MMOs like Blade and Soul and Black Desert Online.
Roleplay in an environment like Final Fantasy XIV can mean many things, but it always starts with the creation of your character. Who are they? The game itself will offer you a preset narrative; you are the Warrior of Light, destined to bring peace to the realm. You can also go off the beaten path as you play, choosing instead to spend time learning how to become the best leatherworker or fisherman in the land. It’s possible to have an immersive character experience without ever once roleplaying with another human being, and that’s what I did at first. When I first started playing Final Fantasy XIV, I thought I was still a boy. But I still wanted to be cute. So I made myself a catboy, gave myself a heart tattoo on my cheek, and made sure to paint all of my armor rose pink to match my long hair. When I logged in, I wasn’t a 5’11 boy with shaggy hair, but an adorable catboy with a fluffy tail. I didn’t know yet why I was drawn to those clearly effeminate tendencies, but they’d grow on me over time.
I spent time focused on one of XIV’s main types of play; clearing content. I never made any real efforts to clear the late game raids like The Binding Coil of Bahamut, or Odin Extreme, but getting my character’s levels up was something that appealed to me. The community I was in at the time, on the Midgardsormr server, was primarily focused on that. It was a group that I never felt I belonged with; the people who raided stuck together, and the remainder was sort of sectioned off into cliques. The server itself was rather dead. The in-game economy was overpriced and stagnant, dungeons could take hours to queue for, and there was never anybody online. I wanted to explore; not just a new community, but my sexuality and gender as well. At this time, I had changed my character around to a female Roegadyn. For some reason, experiencing the game with a feminine form made me happy; I told myself it was just because I played Monk, and it made sense for me to play the most muscular race, but I liked the way she looked. I didn’t find myself wishing I looked like her, but I knew something was up. The idea of roleplaying as her was exciting, and even more so if it could turn sexual. Still, the server was dead, and there was nobody to explore these feelings with.
Eventually, I transferred to Balmung, the most heavily populated server on the Aether data center. The change was instant; the abandoned Quicksands area immediately became flooded with horny catgirls looking for partners. I knew this, of course, as Balmung was well known for being a ‘degenerate’ server where one out of every two people was currently engaged in erotic roleplay. Still, I couldn’t easily find what I was looking for. Roegadyns have a large frame. Even the women are around six to seven feet tall, with flattened noses and broad shoulders. Nobody wanted to get it on with an Amazonian woman like that, and I frequently got called a tranny or told my character looked like a man. These things were just jokes to the people who said them, friendly ribbing along the vein of “lol ur characters ugly”, and there was no malice behind them; but they stung nonetheless. I didn’t know why it bothered me, but I changed again.
At one point, I joined a free company on Balmung. At this time, I had changed yet again, this time to a petite Midlander woman with glasses and a small bust. I don’t like the word ‘trap’. It’s a degrading word that’s been used for years that results in very real violence against trans women. But the communities I was a part of had no real idea how to support someone like me, and the culture simply didn’t have the appropriate language. In that corner of Ul’dah, there were no trans women. Just traps. I became enamored with the idea of becoming one. Most people I knew just wanted to fuck them, but I wanted to be one. I justified it with many flimsy excuses; the outfits are cuter, the male characters look gross, I just like the attention. In the back of my mind, I think I knew that I wanted to be a girl, but didn’t know how. So I’d just imitate one. The free company I was in was more than happy to accommodate; they were all for cute feminine boys. We were known as a group of horny degenerates, and though it’s strange to think of that place in such a way, the company was a fairly decent place to experiment with other people. If I wanted to play make believe and pretend I was a girl with a dick, I didn’t have to worry about STDs, having the right makeup and clothes to pull off the look, or getting smashed in the face and thrown in a ditch somewhere. The down side to this, aside from not experiencing the physical aspects of sexual play, is that it can frequently lead to fetishization. When everyone in your community knows you as just a trap, that becomes all you are. I spent hours fetishizing and sexualizing myself for the attention of others, with no real though to my growth. I began to grow stagnant yet again.
Over time, I tried to change my presentation again, but only in words. At this point, I knew that I wasn’t a guy. My identity was shifting and changing, trying out words like bigender and genderfluid, yet scared to settle on being a trans woman. To me, they were still the ‘other’, a group that I couldn’t possibly be a part of, yet I somehow knew was real. The people in that community didn’t want the change either. They were more comfortable with a trap, a femboy, something they didn’t have to bother understanding or learning to respect. “You should stay a cute boy” is something I heard often, both referred to my character and my own identity. I was in and out of various Free Companies, never really feeling like I belonged anywhere. They were all the same, in a way; groups of people who may or may not still use 4Chan, who consumed terabytes of hentai daily and could never take anything seriously. In one of those groups, I noticed that a good chunk of the leadership were trans girls. One of them asked me why I bothered roleplaying a trans woman, when I could just roleplay a cis one, or a ‘futa’ instead and not worry about having to explain it to people. Was I wrong for identifying in Eorzea the same way I did on Earth? It was easy to lapse back into the comfortable role of femboy, and for a while, I did. I was back and forth until I finally was firm in who I wanted to be. Adapting was tough. Many people rejected me, some stating they’d refuse to even gender me properly unless I started HRT or had bottom surgery. I cut out the excess, and continued to play.
I hopped back into the end-game content, and I hit it hard. I stayed up late grinding out Allagan Tomestones to meet the weekly point cap, ran the same dungeon two hundred times to unlock a now-obsolete Anima Weapon, and ran multiple Duty Roulettes daily. It was an empty, soulless experience, but I had something to work towards. Eventually, it hit me. I had no community there anymore. There was no real reason for me to log in. Nobody to share the experiences with. So again, I left. Four months ago, I left my primary character idling in her Shirogane house and made a new character on Mateus; one of the chief role play servers.
Almost immediately, I knew what I wanted. I was a trans woman; and I wanted to play one as well. I wanted to be proud of who I was, not something to nervously hide behind a pornographic label like trap or futa. I had my eyes set on the deep, lore-friendly roleplay that Mateus had to offer, and I spent hours consulting the Encyclopedia Eorzea, a beautiful hardcover lore book that I bought when I still had a steady job. I chose a female Au Ra, of the Xaela sub-race, and spent hours deciding what nomadic tribe she was from. Eventually, I decided. The Borlaaq tribe of the Azim Steppes; an all women warrior tribe, one that gives up any male children born after a year. This was perfect. My Xaela would be born, erroneously assigned the male gender and given up to a neighboring tribe, the Iriq, which are known to take in all abandoned males from the Borlaaq. She’d grow up, figure out who she was, and journey back to the Steppes in order to show the Borlaaq tribe the woman she grew up to be. Was it a messy subplot? Yes; but it helped me allay the fears I had about visiting my own family for the first time since coming out. The community I joined was another free company, one that was entirely roleplay focused. The establishment itself was a high-end brothel, ran out of a classy and established bar. Characters could walk in, mingle with other players in character, and just share each other’s company without choosing to go to any private rooms for erotic or private roleplay. It’s very interesting how drawn into this world people can get, and it intensifies by quite a lot when sexual content is thrown into the mix. This free company, for instance, does not charge for services. Any payment is assumed to have been done in character. On the other hand, there are several free companies, and free courtesans, that charge real gil in order for these services to occur. Another instance of this is on Mateus, where a couple grinded for an absurd amount of gil in order to buy out an entire housing ward on the server, in order to have a multitude of empty houses to decorate in-game. In a way, some role playing content is locked behind gil walls; I was happy to find that my new community was not.
I’m still a part of this community, and I’m happy to have found such a loving and accepting home. I have a place where I can fully express myself, the stories I want to be told, and the emotions I want to feel, and the community offers a multitude of other creators, each spinning their own stories that weave together with my own. Subplots spring up organically, allowing us to keep creative ideas alive and flowing. Final Fantasy XIV is growing still, and doesn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down. Shadowbringers is coming, and with it, a rework to the Data Center system. Players will be able to casually hop from server to server, allowing them to mingle with communities that would have once been off-limits to them. The cultures of wildly different servers like Balmung and Mateus will be able to influence each other, and there’s really no telling what the future will hold for the culture of this game.
The game still has a lot of problems, some mechanical, and some more intrinsic to the nature of MMOs, but it was indispensable to me as I figured out who I was. There were certainly other online communities similar to the ones I was originally in; erotic roleplay based Steam groups, yaoi message boards, and bizarre Tumblr circles, but nothing evolved and grew with me the way this game has. FFXIV has helped me immensely. I know it’s helped others in the same way, and I know it’ll help many in the future as well. Every patch brings with it a tide of new players, and I can’t wait to welcome them to the world of Eorzea the best way I know how; with /hug emotes and stacks of free HQ gear.