The developers of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Square-Enix’s hit online RPG, aren’t the first to make jokes at their players’ expense. Two of Blizzard’s running jokes, the Leeroy Jenkins character and “skinning a bear should aggro every bears,” are based on actual things World of Warcraft players did or said.
Final Fantasy XIV’s developers, however, have a history of making “jokes” that are more hurtful than fun. They haven’t been shy about putting in rape, workplace sexual harassment , and other things which put random female non-player characters in their place in FFXIV’s story . And their 2014 April Fools’ joke — a preview of a fictional “favour” system — made it clear that even female main characters aren’t exempt from this treatment.
The “Spoilt,” “Clingy Maiden”
That’s how the fake preview document describes Minfilia, leader of the Scions and one of the main characters in Final Fantasy XIV’s storyline. The joke was that there would supposedly be a way for players get into a Mass Effect style romantic relationship with her But it would have been one in which you can’t ever form an adventuring party with female characters and “You must not refuse any of her requests,” including frequent calls on your cellphone-like linkpearl and requests to teleport to her immediately.
Several other examples were given, which all showed male player characters romancing female NPCs. Just like the Valentione’s event taught us, with its gender-specific chocolates you need a pair to complete the quest for, there apparently aren’t any LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) in Eorzea , the world of Final Fantasy XIV.
Not just fun and games
You could say that the joke about Minfilia is funny because it’s so out of character for her. For the calm, reasonable leader of one of the most important organizations in Eorzea to suddenly become whiny and clingy in love. Sort of like the idea of Garuda, one of the Primals, being a romance option and showing a vulnerable side (another part of the joke).
But there’s a difference between not letting someone live down a silly thing that they did awhile back, and reminding someone whose life is already harder because of sexism that no, the people in charge of her favorite online game don’t see her as a person either. Because the idea of the whiny, clingy woman, and/or the one who pretends to have a career but is secretly just waiting for the right man, is not an actual person. It’s a stereotype that a lot of people assume every woman to be, no matter how they see or present themselves … even independent, competent, main characters like in FFXIV. And because of that assumption, they treat women differently, whether they do so consciously or not.
The more that stereotype is repeated, even in jest, the more it is reinforced in people’s minds, just like how repeat exposure to advertisements has been shown to affect you even if you know that the things in a particular ad are fake. That makes it hard for men to relate to women, and even harder for women to value themselves.