Final Fantasy 14 Online’s London 2023 Fan Festival was a vibrant melting pot where community members from all walks of life came together to celebrate the game they love. This beloved MMORPG from veteran developer Square Enix is known for its welcoming and diverse player base - qualities that the Fan Fest itself reflected in no uncertain terms.
Not only were visibly LGBTQ+ people enjoying the full gamut of activities available, but queer content creators were also invited on stage. Lythi, a genderfluid streamer from Germany, was given pride of place alongside the other contestants in the ‘Who Wants to be a Gillionaire’ trivia contest which was streamed around the world to thousands of viewers.
Lythi was not alone. During my time on the show floor, I ran into a range of other LGBTQ+ Twitch streamers who were also taking part in the festivities. “I’ve not felt unsafe,” said Miabyte, a transgender Twitch Ambassador from the UK. “As a trans woman existing right now, I could have [had] a lot of anxiety just using bathrooms and stuff, but in this area, I haven’t been looking over my shoulder thinking: is this person going to throw me out of the bathroom?”
The haven offered by Final Fantasy 14’s Fan Fest has been a breath of fresh air for LGBTQ+ attendees
Mia drew comparisons between the “general climate” for trans people in the UK, which has been mired by overtly transphobic comments from major political parties. She went on to describe how she’s “never had this level of anxiety” and that this time is “very very scary” for transgender people. By contrast, the haven offered by Final Fantasy 14’s Fan Fest has been a breath of fresh air for LGBTQ+ attendees of all kinds. The Fan Fest was, as Mia put it, “very welcoming."
The long march
“Many queer people gravitate towards this franchise in particular - we’ve all met for a reason”, said queer Twitch partner Joesephyr. “Final Fantasy 14 in particular, I think, has such a broad range of people [... and] it invites more of that community sentiment.”
ReadySetBen, Twitch Ambassador and member of Black Twitch UK had a slightly different story to tell. “[Initially], I was pretending not to be queer,” said the genderqueer streamer. “And then you realize that there are other people out there like myself. I think most of the people I know in Final Fantasy now, the majority… are queer.”
“Final Fantasy  as a game - it’s the queerest thing I’ve ever seen,” interjected Mia. She also spoke of the game’s androgynous, gender non-conforming characters celebrating the “very feminine looking men” who make up many of the title’s principal ensemble. “The fashion in the game as well,” she continued, “of course that’s gonna bring in so many queer people.”
To hear these streamers tell it, a queer subculture seems to be thriving amongst the online worlds of Square Enix’s MMO.
However, Ben was quick to point out that, despite the community’s LGBTQ+ friendly culture, queer representation in Final Fantasy 14 is often far from perfect. Ben celebrated how Jandelaine, a queer-coded hairdresser NPC in the game, was “the first representation” of LGBTQ+ characters that he’d ever seen in a Final Fantasy title. “It was over the top, very cliche,” they continued, “what, I suppose, they expected a queer person to look like.”
Queer representation in Final Fantasy 14 is often far from perfect
Ben also mentioned the relationship between Gaia and Ryne, two female characters from the Shadowbringers expansion whose close connection can be seen as extremely queer-coded. Though the romantic elements of their relationship never truly graduated from the realms of subtext, Ben was still optimistic in his appraisal. “I think it’s a learning curve,” they remarked. “[The game] has slowly but surely gotten better in terms of representation.”
“I think Final Fantasy 16 really helped with that a lot with the character of Dion”, added Josephyr. The close, homoromantic relationship between the noble Prince Dion and his retainer Terrance may end in tragedy, but, despite this problematic element, it marked a big step forward for Square Enix. “I don’t think that was queerbaiting,” concluded Josephyr, “it was a very faithful representation.”
Between two worlds
That said, Mia was quick to point out that there is a “societal aspect” at play when it comes to representation, courtesy of Japan’s social conservatism. After all, Final Fantasy is developed in a country where same-gender marriage remains illegal to this day. “In Japan, they are definitely going to be behind the times when it comes to, you know, progressive representation in media,” continued Mia. “It would definitely be nice to see things confirmed.”
“There’s a bit more work to do,” agreed Ben. “But, you can tell that they’re listening, which is more important. Even if it trickles down slowly, something’s still happening in the background. We’re seeing a lot more representation now because of community output.”
This is, in part, thanks to the queer communities that have left their mark on Final Fantasy 14’s social tapestry. “If you want to meet queer people, come to Fan Fest”, quipped Mia. “I was actually in a line… earlier and the two men in front of me were a gay couple in a relationship. We just started chatting about stuff - it was absolutely fantastic.”
Queer players of all kinds are here to stay
“It’s not about you”, offered Josephyr, “it’s about other people who are finding people that they can relate to - and find themselves within - to be a part of the community.” This is the magic of the MMO; by allowing different queer communities to interlink through events like Fan Fest, Square Enix is allowing these groups to gain momentum and visibility.
Though there’s still a long road ahead, talking to Mia, Ben, and Josephyr, it’s clear that LGBTQ+ representation and camaraderie is on the up, thanks, in no small part, to gatherings like Fan Fest. The acceptance and support on show at the recent London event shows that queer players of all kinds are here to stay - a fact that Square Enix will be unable to ignore as the MMO and its player base continues to grow and mature.