I’m going to tread carefully here (as a straight-white 30 something-year-old male), but this is something that I’ve committed to writing about after the artwork for Final Fantasy XIV’s patch 5.4 (titled “Futures Rewritten”). In the artwork, two of the main characters from Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers are depicted, I won’t go into details on who they are and what their roles are within the tale, though I will say that the one in white is a key character throughout Shadowbringers whilst the latter’s story begins at the end of the original Shadowbringers content and extends into the patch content that’s been released since. Anyway, I digress, in the artwork (above) the two characters are holding hands, this has caused parts of Twitter to lose their shit. I’ve seen all sorts of derogatory abuse being thrown around, which is a huge shame and utterly ridiculous.
As things stand, we don’t know the context of their handholding, but if these two characters develop a relationship, then so fucking what and well done Square-Enix, Yoshi-P and the game’s writers for being inclusive. Some have criticised the artwork because “they’re only fifteen”, like no one in the world has questioned their sexuality until the laws of their country have stated that they’re now legally able to explore that sexuality. I don’t think for one minute that Square-Enix’s biggest franchise is going to go into the territory of x-rated content and that if any relationship develops between these two characters it’ll be totally innocent.
But that’s by the by. Why shouldn’t games be able to look at sexuality? Why can’t a Japanese MMORPG do so in a tasteful way? Why are people so afraid of something different to themselves?
That last one pisses me off.
Another example, Spider-Man. You may have noticed he’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, comic book character in existence. He’s also had two games out in recent years, 2018’s Spider-Man, starring Peter Parker and 2020’s Spider-Man Miles Morales, starring Miles Morales. Now I’m not a big Spidey fan, I’ve only really read a few older comics, I’ve seen the movies maybe once each, I’ve not played any of the games since the first PS2 outing. However, am I really pleased that Miles now has his own game? Fuck yeah. You know what makes me even happier? That my five-year-old daughter (who is white I should add) sees a young black male as “her” Spider-Man. Yes, that’s because of the Spiderverse movie, but even so, to her Spider-Man isn’t some geeky white kid, he’s a clumsy, geeky black kid.
This is why Inclusivity is important in all of our media. The saying goes that “kids don’t see race”, they absolutely do, but they’re judgement of races that are not their own aren’t clouded, same with sexuality as they grow older. It only becomes a problem because of poor education, and by that, I don’t mean at school (though there’s still room for improvement there), I mean the education that they receive from the environment that they live in. I’ll give you an example. Over the summer my eldest daughter developed a friendship with some new girls from the local area whilst she was out walking our dog. These girls were younger than her, (13, 11 and 10, she’s 16), but there’s nothing unusual there for her, she’s always found it easier to be friends with people either side of her age group rather than those in the same year at school as her.
A few weeks went by, they’d join her for socially distanced walks through the woods (when mixing of households was allowed) but she came home one day in floods of tears. She’d shared her sexual orientation with them and they’d turned around and begun throwing homophobic insults at her. Apparently, it was the 10-year old that started it and the others joined in. Now, how does a 10-year-old, in 2020, not 1980, learn to be homophobic? You might say kids will be kids, but if I’d have ever heard any of my kids use homophobic, sexist or racist slurs I would be sure to educate them on why that’s not acceptable. But these matters aren’t helped by the majority of our media being very straight and white. When there is someone of colour you can bet that Twitter is going to be an utter shitshow (and just to prove my point, the comments surrounding Sainsbury’s Christmas advert are utterly disgusting) and the likelihood of anything aimed at children that discusses same-sex relationships is going to be hard to get funding for.
So, whilst I highly doubt that there are 10-year-olds out there that are going to potentially have the story of two fifteen-year-old girls develop feelings towards each other by playing Final Fantasy XIV (because let’s face it, the game isn’t aimed at that demographic), if we’re going to normalise perfectly healthy relationships (and I’m ashamed that I even have to justify homosexuality as “perfectly healthy”) then those relationships, people whose sexual orientation isn’t “straight”, or people not constantly being judged by their skin colour, then we need to see more games, books, movies and TV shows put these characters front and centre, not as some kind of titillation, or a check box, but give portray these characters as human beings, not as tropes.