Conversations From the ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Locker Room

Final Fantasy XV

Several months before Final Fantasy XV was released, I saw the arguments beginning: how could a video game franchise with such a long history of including women as playable characters release a game with a main cast of four men? I empathized with the outrage: women who grew up with the Final Fantasy franchise felt like it had been their safe haven for representation, and the reveal that this title would be all about Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus felt like a betrayal.

Still, I (perhaps foolishly) entered into debates where fans demanded we boycott the game, gently suggesting that we have a little faith in the Final Fantasy franchise. Although no one ‘earns the right’ to stop representing women in their games, I felt as though Final Fantasy’s history of featuring dynamic ladies (including Lightning as the protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII) meant that I should give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a video game franchise that — at least to some extent — understands the importance of gender representation. Maybe their story about a journey shared by four men was a narrative worth telling.

Although I wasn’t alone in this speculation, I felt like I was in the minority. However, when Final Fantasy XV was released, I was not disappointed.

Bear with me for a moment while I make a brief aside: it was only two months ago that we heard Donald Trump justify bragging about sexual assault by referring to it as “locker room talk.” The implication that men are permitted or expected to speak crudely about women when we are not around in order to impress their mates was a sentiment that outraged a lot of people — including athletes who are very familiar with actual locker rooms. But it’s a common narrative: in order to impress one another and be accepted, men are expected to objectify and insult women.

While some men behave in this way because it adheres to their genuine view of women, there are also followers and bystanders who engage in this narrative because it’s what they believe they must do after seeing it in every movie, on every television show, and — with people like Trump justifying it in the public political sphere — on every news program. This can lead to all sorts of strange situations, including groups of men who don’t really believe anything they’re saying, yet still make crude comments or ‘rate’ women in terms of appearance because they think that other men expect it.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s rape culture. So how do we dismantle the idea of what occurs in a boys’ locker room without first creating one?

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV is the story of Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus being thrown into a car together without any women so that we, as the audience, can see what they get up to. Do they make crude comments about the ladies they encounter on their journey, engage in toilet humor, and become otherwise disgusting creatures, as we expect that they must?

Well, sometimes. There’s a line that Gladiolus says in Lestallum about the women in the city being ‘built’ that I’m not quite sure how to interpret. He may be awkwardly expressing his attraction towards these women, or he might be surprised (or impressed) by how muscular they are. Noctis also has a strange line during a quest in Lestallum, implying that the woman he is helping must be grateful that he helped them.

There are also occasional comments from Prompto regarding his obvious crush on Cindy (which the other three tease him about), but although he clearly finds her attractive, he is also impressed by her for so many other reasons. He never seems to speak about her inappropriately — instead, he simply hopes that she’ll call or asks if they’ll be stopping by her garage in Hammerhead from time to time.

Overall, the conversations and experiences shared by these four men are flavored with everything that the patriarchy dictates isn’t typically masculine. Noctis and his friends regularly talk about their feelings, and we see Noctis cry on several occasions after emotional events.

Although other ways of coping with emotions — such as Gladiolus’ temper and Ignis’ stoicism — are also acknowledged, they are explored in ways that reveal they are unproductive methods of dealing with emotions long-term, and eventually, everybody talks about their feelings in more useful ways. This includes a scene where the four boys sit around a campfire and express their ongoing love and concern for one another.

Final Fantasy XV

There are a lot of other aspects to this narrative that could be perceived as deviations from typical masculinity. Ignis’ primary role during the group’s travels is a supportive one, cooking for the others and driving the Regalia. His enjoyment of cooking is regularly discussed, and he is always pleased when he discovers a new recipe. Prompto’s equivalent skill is photography, and he frequently asks Noctis if they can stop driving because he found a beautiful scene that he wants to capture. The supportive conversations shared between Prompto and his friends when they look over new photographs while resting at campsites demonstrates the caring relationships they have.

There’s a scene where Gladiolus encourages Noctis to train with him one morning in order to help with his inability to wake up early. And when they race each other across the beach, Gladiolus almost certainly lets Noctis win.

In battle, these friends pick each other up when they become weak and shout words of support. Outside of battle, they have sincere discussions about how they can be the better men to the women in their lives.

The ways in which Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus share their feelings, support one another, and obviously express their love are significant because these moments are often experienced while they are on the road — without the presence or influence of women. This makes it undeniable that these men do not subscribe to the toxic masculinity that supposedly fill boys’ locker rooms. This is a narrative that needs to be told, and despite its lack of playable women, this is still a feminist narrative.

Of course, that’s not to say that Final Fantasy XV is a flawless feminist masterpiece; there are definitely issues that cannot be ignored and that have already been widely discussed. Cindy’s bikini and jacket combo don’t seem particularly practical for a mechanic, Shiva’s clothing (or lack thereof) is so revealing that it had to be censored in mainland China’s release of the game, Aranea’s armor shows off a fair bit of cleavage, and the strange half-pants that some women in Lestallum wear are … confusing.

However, these scantily clad women are positioned alongside a number of characters in more practical attire, such as Lunafreya, Gentiana, Iris, and Sania.

Final Fantasy XV

There is a definitely an argument to be made that these characters do not need such revealing outfits and that this is a choice made by Square Enix for the purposes of appealing to the heteronormative gaze of cis straight men. However, there’s more going on here. All of these women are capable characters and independently successful in their areas of expertise. Aranea works as a mercenary with several men answering to her leadership, Lunafreya is particularly determined and powerful in her role as Oracle, and Sania is an established academic and researcher. Both Iris and Aranea also join the party for a short time and can battle alongside the four main characters (although Noctis is the only playable character in the title).

But perhaps it’s Cindy who interests me most, if only because her character has been discussed and criticized at length. In many ways, Cindy is a stereotype: she wears a bikini and washes your car (the Regalia). But at the same time, her character breaks this stereotype. She’s not just there to clean your car, but is a fully qualified mechanic who also repairs and modifies your vehicle, while genuinely loving the Regalia and chatting about what’s under the hood.

Cindy is completely capable in a role typically dominated by men, which can be surprising for an audience who expects her to embody the ‘dumb blonde’ character trope. Even more importantly, nobody in the game treats Cindy with disrespect due to her choice of attire. In fact, she is openly praised for her skills.

Sure, Cindy could have been designed to wear a little more clothing or to lean over the car a little less often, but regardless, her character is still making an interesting point. And part of me wonders whether her cleavage is enough to trick men who subscribe to ideals of toxic masculinity into playing a game that’s ostensibly all about men sharing their feelings and loving each other. Maybe they’ll accidentally learn something that they can take back to the locker room.

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8 Comments on “Conversations From the ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Locker Room

  1. Mind me, being a female myself I don’t agree with feminist ways but I LOVE how much thought and research was put into this article and I really appreciate it. I, myself, enjoyed Final Fantasy XV, and it was the game that actually got me into the franchise. And it sounds as if female gamers misinterpreted a lot of the comments that the characters made. Like if Gladio (who I gladly consider my “husbando”) considered women “trash” then why is extremely caring about his younger sister? Even in Brotherhood, Gladio greatly cares about Iris and would do a lot for her. And even though Noctis is engaged he still understands that Iris has a crush on him. And Prompto, even though his official description calls him a “playboy” he’s pretty respectful towards the female characters, including Cindy. I feel like any girl, woman, feminist, whatever, looks down on this game should really give it another chance and try to play it with an open mind instead of assuming that what a male character says or does is “sexist”.

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  2. I always assumed that Gladio’s comment about the women in Lestallum was meant to imply both things — he’s surprised/impressed by how muscular they are (since most of the women you run into in Lestallum are power plant workers), but also finds that attractive. (Though, judging by one of his magazine choices, he’s also into swimsuit models. >_>; )

    Anyway, with regards to FFXV’s women, one of the things I found interesting was the way the game handled its female cast’s ages. Luna, Noct’s betrothed, is four years his senior, and older than every member of his retinue. Cindy is two years older than Luna, and Aranea, at 30, is four years older than even Cindy. Meanwhile, Iris is 15, so the game outright refuses to let Noct see her crush as anything other than awkward even if you choose the nicest responses.

    Most of the female secondary and tertiary cast look older, too, even if ages haven’t been provided for them. Sania seems like someone who’s late-20s, early-30s, as one might expect from a relatively young professor. Holly, the engineer in Lestallum who gives you quests (and actually wears most of her thermal gear instead of just the pants), looks like she’d be at least late-30s, early-40s, as does Monica, the woman from the Crownsguard who’s part of Cor’s resistance group. And then there’s Camelia, the First Secretary of Accordo, who’s got to be at least 60 given her close resemblance to a certain former Secretary of State.

    [Full game spoilers ahead]

    Camelia is an interesting character in a number of ways, actually. She’s the hard-nosed realpolitik type who’d usually end up causing problems for the heroes and getting framed as a complete witch for it, but the game incentivizes empathizing with her position and lets her completely shut you down if you try to do the action hero thing and mouth off at her. And then she “betrays” you by handing over Luna, but does so in a way that allows everyone to get what they want without unnecessarily risking her own people’s safety, and she continues to be an ally afterwards.

    Getting back to the guys, I love how they’re allowed to deal with concerns that aren’t typically associated with men, like Prompto’s clear case of Imposter Syndrome and (particularly in the anime) body image issues. And then there’s Noct’s relationship with self-sacrifice, which flies in the face of the more typical image of the hero going out in a blaze of selfless glory. He’s so terrified by his destiny that he shakes uncontrollably when he tries to wear the ring bestowed on the Kings of Lucis, and even after making his peace with the inevitability of his death, he struggles with the enormity of what that entails to the very end. Noct doesn’t just cry for the loss of others like fictional men are often allowed to do; he mourns for the life he’ll never have with the people who care about him, and he’s sentimental enough to ask for a reminder of the life he did have before walking willingly to his death.

    And, honestly? I think that’s what will stick with me about this game, because it’s so much more human than the limited emotional range male characters are typically given.

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  3. I am a young woman (also a dedicated female gamer) and I have no idea why this game is generating this much controversy. It just seems laughable to me. It’s a fictional setting and creators should be allowed the room to pen as they please. The outrage culture of this generation is absurd and despicable. How about treating this like fiction and distancing yourself from the characters – the method celebrated by the most renowned and respected critics in Literature? This new over-indulgence with the idea of progression in fiction is so ludicrous and childish. It’s antithetical to the very concept of story-writing and fictional domain in general.

    Then I see comments like ‘Luna was a plot device’ and the ‘plot just kept moving, showing a disregard for the characters’ etc. and I cannot help but laugh at the sheer, unabashed stupidity of such posters. Gamers need to read a bit on narrative types and ‘devices’ used in plots, and then they will learn, that at their crux, all characters are ‘devices’. Furthermore, not all narratives follow the tradition of a ‘characterization’ based plot. There are plenty of narratives that use a completely different route. The opposite, in fact, where the plot is absolute and the characters do not matter in a way that it drags them along. The kind that was used (in a way) in Kingsglaive.

    But, I suppose, such educational ventures are so time-consuming and the pretend-play to be such an expert in ‘storytelling’ is the easiest thing to do from behind the computer screen in the world. Everyone is a seasoned warrior on this front. Also, to assume that all characters should not function as ‘devices’ to develop the main character (let it be any type) or move it forward in a particular narrative setup is such a nonsensical statement. I cannot stress this enough. Outrage culture that bloats with ignorance, I suppose, as FF games are nothing but such garish and pitifully unimaginative attempts at ‘passable’ story-telling even that I don’t even know where this ‘this game failed at writing’ even comes from.

    Regardless, decent article. It went against the grain when it comes to the feminists’ outcry on this matter. I hope female gamers mature and handle such issues with a level head rather than slink down to the gutter of gender wars that don’t belong in fiction. Treat video games like video games, and not anything more. To exalt them to a status of ‘serious issues in gender progression and politics’ is reprehensible and preposterous.

    That is all I would say.

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    • “I hope female gamers mature and handle such issues with a level head rather than slink down to the gutter of gender wars that don’t belong in fiction.”

      But now you, Agnis. You’re a special little snowflake for being better than those other female gamers. You’re already so mature, unlike those other girls.

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  4. I think the issue is that women in general have bought into just what they think the Patriarchy is. Men talk about their feelings or concerns, and can be downright poetic – around their bros/crew/fam/insert-term-here. These are four guys who have clearly known each other a long time, so they are well beyond the necessary handshake gestures between newly encountered males like strutting and gratuitous raunch. What these four show is what guys are, rather than what guys pretend to be.

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  5. I don’t know that I can agree that a story about men bonding is very revolutionary, particularly in the Final Fantasy universe. Final Fantasy has always shown us men who we perceive as effeminate or emotional. For example, Tidus from FFX. There are also cultural differences between Japan and America; it is not so shameful for men to cry or be emotional (https://gaijinmama.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/crying-and-culture/). You often see “effeminate” male characters and male characters having heart-to-hearts or crying in anime. Maybe male friendships are foreign to American audiences but they shouldn’t be foreign to Final Fantasy fans.

    Also, I’m a little tired of men’s friendships being considered some form of high art. Yes, men have friendships. Wowee. Google “movies about men and friendship” and you’ll find listicle after listicle of highly regarded films about men and boys being friends. For example, Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, Up, Good Will Hunting. These are great movies for sure, and I’m not trying to say that male friendships can’t be high art, but on the other hand the fact that they are men and friends isn’t what makes them so artful.

    What about the high art of women being friends? Will Final Fantasy X-2 be regarded as anything but a frivolous joke?

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  6. As much as I enjoyed this game, I would hesitate to describe it as a feminist story. There’s an almost stubborn refusal to keep the game male-centric. In terms of narrative, there appears to be no reason why Luna couldn’t have found and joined the party early in the game. The only reason I can conceive is that the developers wanted to arbitrarily keep the party all-male.

    (A separate issue is Kingsglaive, which is really a story that centers on Regis and Luna … yet for some reason, Nyx was the central protagonist. It feels very much like Nyx was created to be a stand-in for Noctis, when the smarter decision would have been to rewrite the story so that it’s told more from Luna’s perspective.)

    That said, I do think this game brought up some interesting discussions about gender roles, especially amongst its Western audience. IIRC, a male fan asked the developers to add a female healer to the party because they felt uncomfortable being healed by a man. There were also a lot of complaints from male fans about the lack of female eyecandy and how the men were too effeminate and pretty. So I certainly don’t believe the game is as misogynistic as others have claimed, either.

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