Here’s the thing about writing internet content: You have to come up with ideas daily, no matter what’s happening in the world around you. That often means paying attention to the news, all of the news, and finding ways to relate it to picking up a controller and smashing buttons. Sometimes it means bouncing off the work of others, and sometimes it means participating in what we call The Discourse. Sometimes you end up finding links between subjects and reminding yourself of something you haven’t thought about in years. In this case, we’re about to take a deep dive into some of the weirder parts of the Internet, in ways that manifest within gaming spaces that are actually, deceptively popular. I’m drawing out the intro here, because I’m about to talk about a brothel market developing in a popular video game, and it’s just not easy to introduce that without coming off as a weirdo. I’m also going to connect it to Buddhism, because when video games and reality intersect, weird stuff happens.
So, here’s what happened. Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio discovered a slice of the Final Fantasy XIV subculture that would make the average normie’s head spin so hard it would fly off their shoulder and get some significant air time before tumbling to the ground. Final Fantasy XIV is the series’ most recent MMO effort, and it’s not only popular, it’s also quite dense. For example, one of the more poignant headlines of late was the game’s community experience something of a housing crisis. You see, in Final Fantasy XIV you can actually own property – and there’s only so much space available.
But a small group of players had some of that finite luxury space, and decided to do something a bit off-kilter with it. A player known as Queen Tepe on the Hyperion server actually runs a brothel in the world of Final Fantasy XIV. It started as a bit of a joke, but as the article explains, it ballooned into a serious venture and a significant portion of the game’s economy. Thousands upon thousands of gil go into the services this group of people provide, with the demand fueling an impressively elaborate system. The escorts within the game are not only professionals in the sense that they have researched and honed their erotic writing skills, but have also learned the extent of the systems within the game to enhance the experience for their patrons. It’s mind-blowing stuff, especially when you’re looking in from the outside.
But this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a story like this in gaming spaces. When it comes to people interacting with each other in online, virtual spaces, the sky really is the limit. If there’s a subculture or group of people you can think of in real life, there’s a good chance that there’s an organized effort to manifest these groups in virtual spaces, expanding the reach of these communities beyond physical borders. Take, for example, one of the most prolific spaces for online, virtual online social activity: Second Life.
When I was in college, I took courses online and eventually needed to participate in, or rather observe, an organized religious gathering. This was an online course, and I didn’t have the resources to travel around my area, so I opted for the purely online option. As it turns out, there’s an organization that makes a concerted effort to use online tools to spread Buddhism, and specifically uses Second Life to host a virtual space to house educational materials, as well as live, online lectures for Buddhist teachings. Second Life is more of a social space than a game, but the userbase is very similar to those of MMOs, and more importantly, a lot of money is tied up in Second Life users maintaining their virtual play spaces.
Just like the brothels in Final Fantasy XIV, there has to be some economic component to keep these machinations running. In the case of Final Fantasy XIV, it’s the patronage providing an influx of in-game money, motivating the virtual sex workers to keep doing their thing and honing their skills, reaping the benefits within the game. In the Second Life Buddhist scene, there’s no profit to be had. Instead, a symbiotic relationship is formed between the Buddhists who want to take advantage of social media to spread their teachings, and the value of virtual space on that specific platform. When I attended a lecture, I noticed the back area of the Buddhist server was dedicated to residential space. To pay for the server space, the Buddhists were renting out luxury property, and while I could explore the hot springs, temple architecture and religious text hosted in the Buddhist space, I could also venture behind everything and find what were essentially virtual apartments, filled with content only wealthy Second Life inhabitants could afford.
There may be a lot of space in-between a brothel system in a popular MMO and a Buddhist teaching space in a non-gaming virtual world, but the conceit is the same. As technology and gaming advance, people are finding ways to bleed real life into their gaming spaces, where the same rules don’t apply and new kinds of ways to deliver information or indulge in unconventional fantasies can be constructed. As these kinds of practices manifest themselves into games hosted by big brands and things like virtual reality become more and more prevalent, the lines between real and virtual life will continue to blur more and more and the very human constraints we faced in the past will simply cease to be.