Gender Equality and Final Fantasy

2014-02-15 20.29.07
Cloud Strife casting Cure in the Steam version of FFVII.

Final Fantasy is my all-time favorite fandom. I have played almost every single game (XI, XIII and XIV being the ones I have yet to play). It has always been my dream to cosplay a Final Fantasy character at a convention, a dream I am finally achieving this year. The character I have chosen is Tifa Lockhart from Final Fantasy VII. I haven’t played this high school, so I decided to pick up the game again and reconnect with Tifa’s character. (I downloaded the game on Steam and am happy to report that my new piece of crap laptop handles the game very well)

From the very beginning, I started to think about who I wanted Tifa to be. When I first played the game, I had no idea of the fate that would befall Aerith (or Aeris in the English version). I took an interest in her character, connecting her personality with that of a healer. As I played through the game, she became a key component to my fighters. I always had her there to heal everyone else. Then….. then….. well, let’s just say the story progressed. Tifa became my next healer.  I associated female characters with healers, as opposed to fighters, even though Tifa’s character is familiar with martial arts.

I don’t want to be a healer. I don’t want to dress up as a character that sits on the sideline casting cure while everyone else brandishes swords at the enemy. This time, Tifa is going to be kick ass and one of the male characters will take the role of healer. Even though I love this plan, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve switched the gender roles of my characters.

Final Fantasy has it’s issues in terms of diversity. In the first few games, the graphics weren’t good enough to show gender. It was more or less assumed that characters who had dresses were women and everyone else was men. The original playable characters were known as the Warriors of Light. There were ‘jobs’ these characters could have. Of them, only the white mage (who practices primarily healing a defensive magic) was assumed female. The other jobs were assumed to be female. It is important to know that these gender roles are implied, but not explicitly said.

Having played many Final Fantasy games before I picked up VII, I was familiar with these assumed gender roles. When I first picked up this game, I immediately assumed the women would be healers. I didn’t think anything of it. Now I do.

Why, when it comes to games and many other aspects of our culture, are women associated with healers and men with fighters? Is it just in our biology? Is it in our history of men fighting wars while the women and children wait at home?

I’m done with that. I am done playing these games assuming that the women have to heal and then men have to fight. When I go back and replay the older games, I can give my characters a female name and still have them be fighters, ninjas and knights. One of the greatest things about these characters is the freedom you have to make the characters your own. They still come with their own personality and play their role in the story, but you can decide what  role they play in battle. My women are going to kick ass and the big man with all the muscles is going to cast cure (only because there are rarely men without big muscles in video games).

It’s time I respected Tifa Lockhart for the true fighter she is.

Do you see a trend in the roles men and women play in the media we create like games, books and movies? Is there a role you have yet to see a man or women play in fiction stories that you’d like to see? Do you think the gender roles we assign men and women in stories has more to do with biological assumptions about what the genders can handle, or society standards? Any Final Fantasy fans out there?

Have you see Vampire Academy, yet? GO SEE THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!

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19 thoughts on “Gender Equality and Final Fantasy”

  1. I am so fucking annoyed, I wrote out this long comment and suddenly my screen rebooted and I lost it dammit! So here is the short version;

    I mostly agrees with you;

    I’m 100% supportive of gender equality; but I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing scientific classifications, let me explain;

    There’s nothing wrong with thinking, ‘men are generally bigger than women’…because statistically, the average male is indeed bigger than the average female…. but if someone thinks, “ALL men are stronger, and All men are bigger… then females” then that would obviously be incorrect because its not true.

    Where gender equality runs amuck in my mind is where we bend the rules, case in point firefighters;

    I believe women should have the right to become a firefighter if that is what they want….. but does that mean we should have two different tests (one for men and one for women) where the test is easier for women? One of the debates among firefighters is the way women get to carry a lighter pack in order to pass the test. And many people complain that is unfair because the men’s test is designed to make sure that the guy is able to carry ‘an average weight human’ in order to pull them out of a building.

    I believe that there ARE women out there that could pass the same test that the men have to pass. And those women should have the right to be firefighters……. but I don’t believe we should have an easier weighted test for women who can’t carry the heavier pack. This doesn’t make me against gender equality; but rather it makes me support gender equality granted everyone takes the same tests.

    I suspect that video games are similar to other art forms in the Western World in that they have typically portrayed women as the damsel in distress or in the case you are making ‘as the healer’ or more classically speaking ‘as the nurturer’. I don’t think there is anything wrong with viewing women as nurturer’s as long as we don’t make the mistake of saying “ALL women are nurturer’s, and NO men are nurturer’s” that would of course be fundamentally wrong.

    I know a lot of young women who are much more mentally tough, and kick-ass, and I know a lot of guys who are, for lack of a better word, ‘wimpy’…… there are a number of females that I know who I wouldn’t mind have next to me if a fight were to break out because they would kick the shit out of people and protect me to their dying breath…… and I know guys who would chicken out and run-a-way……

    1. I agree with all you’ve said. My last roommates girlfriend was a personal trainer and would often tell me that women can physically do the same thing as a man. Biologically, if a man and a woman sit on a couch and do nothing, the woman will have stronger endurance muscles (like for long distance running) and the man would have better strength muscles. However, if both the man and the woman weight train, they will be able to lift the same amount of weight. Women don’t bulk up as much, but that doesn’t mean their muscles are any weaker than the larger male equivalent.

      All this is to say that I agree. Whether it be for fighter fighters or army personnel, all genders should be required to pass the exact same test. The way I see it, requiring less of a woman further promote female stereotypes that women are weaker and can’t do as much as men.

      Which isn’t to say there is anything wrong with a woman being nurturing or playing a different role in society. Within society, it’s about allowing women to have a choice. Within art and media, it’s about showing the diversity of choices women make.

      I think what struck me most about Tifa is that she is a fighter. That’s her role and her character. Everything about her is a fighter. But, in high school, I choose to work against that personality and make her the healer in my group because that made more sense to me that the time. Despite her personality and skills, it made more sense to me that she would stay within the gender roles. Now, that seems backwards. If she was designed to be a fighter, a fighter she will be.

      1. So are you saying that as you’ve matured more you are now beginning to see in yourself more ‘fighter’ personality traits; aka 1) you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself, 2) you’re willing to say what you’re thinking, etc…. Because all that sounds similar to the various things you’ve written with regard to how you are maturing as a person; all good things 🙂

        1. I wasn’t thinking that, but that could be true as well. Perhaps I saw myself in these female characters and so I put them on the sidelines, which is where I thought I would be. Now, I think differently of myself and, when I see myself in these characters, I see a different part of their personality.

  2. I have a lot of experience with that feeling of discomfort in switching gender roles. At first it always feels weird. And then it doesn’t. Just keep at it and your brain wiring will change.

  3. Hmm having played a lot of games, final fantasy included, I have to say that I’ve never played a healer.

    I’m either an archer or melee fighter.

    1. I don’t know that I’ve every played anything in the sense that I created my own character and choose their job. In the older Final Fantasy games, you played as multiple characters at once and you didn’t always get to decide what their strengths were. For example, sometimes each character uses a specific kind of weapon. If one character can only equip swords and the other can only equip staffs, it goes without saying that the sword will cause more physical damage than the staff. You can’t really build that staff user into a fighter. They’re made for magic.

      That wasn’t always true for the female characters, though. It was just me and what I as a child saw as normal. I didn’t think to myself that women should use healing magic. I though, this man can cause more damage but I need someone to heal me. Go female character!

      ..and there are, of course, a handful of strong female fighters. Terra and Celes from FFVI are on top of my favorites list. They managed to be kick ass fighters as well as compassionate people. If I was better at sewing, I’d cosplay as one of them.

      1. Yes, terra is pretty awesome. I picked up her now recently 😀

        No I didn’t mean in just final fantasy. Although I love how diverse the female characters were in X.

        In most RPGs I’ve played I’ve always had fighters. I guess it’s never been a gender thing for me. I just thought playing a healer was boring!

        1. Oh, I misunderstood you. Then I have to agree. When I can choose, I always choose to go as a fighter. I have a fascination with swords, so I want a sword. I don’t typically play games where I create my own unique character, though. I’ve played games like Mortal Kombat… but the diversity of character to choose from is still a bit limited. Luckily, however, I can choose a kick as woman if I want to without also having to choose some kind of built in handicap.

          Now that I think about it… since I’m not a big fan of MMORPGs, I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game where I created my own character….

          1. Sorry, bring on greyhound and on phone means I’m not explaining things in great detail!

            But I hear you with the sword fascination! I love snacking things in Balder’s gate for ex.

            1. Have you ever been to a Renaissance fair? I went to one once and they had a huge tent dedicated to swords. They even had many models from video games. I could have spent all day in that tent.

    1. It didn’t even dawn on me until I started replay FFVII that I had automatically placed the female characters in the role of healer. That’s a hugely important role (when I first played, I originally had Aries as my healer and was devastated… when… when something unfortunate happened). I haven’t played through XIII yet (but I just bought it), but from what I see of the characters, Hope seems like the healing type. I mean, his name is hope.

      1. The Final Fantasy series has been pretty good about letting you mix up traditional gender roles. XIII’s one of my favourites. It takes a little bit of time to open up, but the characters, battle system, and music are some if the best in the series :).

  4. Final Fantasy has been up and down for associating roles in my opinion. Generally early in the series up to Final Fantasy IV you didn’t really have much distinction from “mages are women” and “fighters are men.” You had some good characters like Rydia in Final Fantasy IV which were powerful and had some amazing abilities but they were still mages. In most cases still part if not full healers.

    Final Fantasy III/V broke that giving you the option to develop any of the four characters into whichever classes you liked/wanted.

    But it wasn’t until Final Fantasy VI that we started to see a good number of female fighters/non-healers. Terra and Celes. Relm to a certain degree as she wasn’t a mage as much as a painter. Final Fantasy VII introduced Tifa as a more fighting orientated character and Yuffie who is (as far as one can understand) a ninja/fighter.

    Oddly enough I didn’t actually have a specified healer in Final Fantasy VII besides Cloud as he was the only guy I would take everywhere. Final Fantasy VIII had some interesting characters and some very prominent female characters (including a female end boss) and Final Fantasy IX brought in the lancer whose name eludes me now.

    All of that taken into account it doesn’t surprise me. Only really in games where you can create your own characters does that distinction every really end. For instance, with Mass Effect, there are several female characters who are assigned fighter/engineer-type roles which really are quite good. In fact, if you had a Shepard who was non-combat it would be a great benefit to take Ashley as she’s pretty cool.

    Also, in The Elder Scrolls there are various races which actually completely reverse the gender roles and it’s more a case of racial roles. As Argonians tend to be good thieves, Nords tend to be good fighters, Imperials tend to be good diplomats etc. You’ll see that as you enter the world and fight female bandits clad in full plate armour wielding battle axes to the shamans of Nord villages (honorific title) who are greatly skilled warriors.

    Unfortunately Final Fantasy amongst other JRPGs are still living in the older way of doing things. Despite Lightning being the main character, and Hope being a good healer- Vanille is the best healer for the abilities she unlocks and when. Equally while Fang is a great Sentinel, Snow pretty much blows her out of the water due to his amazing skills and massive health pool. Even as far as Final Fantasy XIV the character creation screen favours certain genders/races towards magic or healing.

    It does fascinate me slightly as games like Diablo (made many many years ago) had three classes. The Warrior, the Sorcerer, and the Rogue. The first two were male and the last one was female. Yet in Diablo II, the two best/pure melee classes (Paladin/Barbarian) are both male. While the best magic class is female. Although, you do have the Necromancer who is male. But, really, the Sorceress (female) could unload an awful lot more magical damage and the Necromancer was more a minion/summoner class. Up to Diablo III where the strongest/toughest physical classes (Barbarian, Monk, and Crusader) all are default represented as men. While the pure mage (Wizard) is default represented as a woman.

    So it kind of seems they’re going backwards. I personally liked the idea of a male Sorcerer. Spices it up. Then again, I’ve had a plate armour wearing two-handed axe wielding female in Dragon Age. A female scientific and energy weapons genius in Fallout: New Vegas. A full on female brawler and melee weapons expert in Fallout 3. …So I guess I just make whatever appeals to me at the time. 😛

    Interesting post, either way.

    1. At least things are changing in some places. The gaming industry will be slow to change just because they don’t want to venture too far from what sells. But, I really do think the industry has gotten better. I do miss the games where I could turn my characters into whatever I wanted them to be, like FFIII. I’m okay with XIII for now. I haven’t finished it yet, but the characters in terms of personality seem pretty balanced out. Some of the girls are girly, some aren’t. Some of the boys are tough, other’s have a softer side.

  5. Oh, I agree that they’re changing. Slowly but surely. But, I think the success of games like Mass Effect has kind of forced them to change as there were so many positive reviews about the stories and characters therein. So they are probably getting the message that the more you flesh it out- the better. Twice fold if you’re being realistic/creative with it.

    I’ve got my own personal reasons to dislike Final Fantasy XIII. It’s a good game and it’s fun but I grew up with a very different Final Fantasy and this… well, it’s sad, as I’m used to managing my entire party. Not relying on the AI to pick the best options for me. (Didn’t like that about XII either.)

    You’d probably enjoy Mass Effect if you’ve not played it before. Not sure if the first is on console but if you can pick it up cheap- give it a go. 🙂

    1. I haven’t played Mass Effect, but I think I might have it on the PS2…. I’m not really sure.

      FFXIII sucks on all levels, especially when put up against the 90s Final Fantasys. I could list them off, but I’m trying to stay positive. I hope the series can be saved.

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