Gender-locked species are an enduring fantasy trope, and it’s not hard to understand why; it’s an easy way to make a species seem interesting. Part of it seems grounded in myth. Think about creatures that are explicitly female. There are tales of strong, women who keep men out of sight. We have heard about strong, rugged male creatures who reproduce asexually. Sometimes, these ideas creep into video games, and it sucks. I am specifically talking about the idea of genderlocked species in MMORPGS.
The most recent example of this comes as a result of a recent announcement for the popular MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV. A while back, it was revealed that Viera, a sort of bunny/human hybrid that originated in Final Fantasy XII, would make its appearance. A Viera named Fran appeared in the game’s story. This was cool, because both Fran and Viera have been in Final Fantasy games before, and lore did say there were male Viera who remained in their villages. The fear? That is would be a female-exclusive character in the MMO.
There was hope, initially. Final Fantasy XIV's predecessor was Final Fantasy XI. That installment has two genderlocked species. One is the mighty Galka, who are male-only characters. The second is a race of cat people called Mithra. In terms of lore, there was no such thing as female Galka. There were male Mithra, but you couldn’t play as them; they were the ones kept out of sight. When Final Fantasy XIV came out, cat men were available as something called Miqote, and galka female were available in the form of Roegadyn. They weren’t exactly the same as Mithra or Galka, but they seemed to hint at a changing philosophy.
Unfortunately, the recent announcement let people down. There will, at this point, be no male Viera for people to play as. Instead, a separate option is available. They are called Hrothgar and they look like the Ronso from Final Fantasy X. Now, I’m not saying that isn’t cool, because Ronso are super rad. I’m just saying that the lack of options sucks.
The thing is that identity is very much a part of the experience for MMORPG players. We pick character classes and species that resonate with us. Sometimes, these species even come with different player stats. In Final Fantasy XI, the deft and nimble Mithra always spoke me, but I was 15 and wanted to play a male that I could relate to. I now play a Miqote in Final Fantasy XIV. Based on Twitter and Reddit, I could already tell that there are people very upset that there aren’t female Ronso or male Viera; the design speaks to them, but not the gender.
This situation also sometimes applies to classes, and sometimes there are lore or in-universe reasons for these decisions. As a result, there are people who eagerly defend these design decisions. The trouble with that argument, as I see it, is that the designers are also the ones who write the lore. Not only can they avoid the issue in the first place, but they can retcon or add different revelatory discoveries to solve the problem. Final Fantasy XIV takes place across different worlds. It may have these satisfying character options one day; it’s a shame it doesn’t yet.
There are tons of examples of this across video games, but it isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of recently. A game called Path of Exile does have something similar, though. “The big scary barbarian,” as my friend Lucas put it, is male only. Witches are ladies.
Gender-locking is not the biggest deal in the world, perhaps, but a little bit more effort goes a long way. I understand not having these options in single player, story-centric games but when customization and roleplay are at the crux of a game’s appeal, options go a long way.