Gaming

Cosplay, Moogles And Making History: Experiencing The ‘Final Fantasy’ Mardi Gras Float

Final Fantasy

Marching in the Final Fantasy x Sydney Gaymers float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras felt like I was helping make history. For the first time in 40 years, a video game is sponsoring a float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. For the first time ever, us members of the community-run group Sydney Gaymers don’t have to wheel wooden blocks on shaky flatbeds down the parade as they’re falling apart and giving them splinters.

For the first time ever, I felt represented and part of a community.

It’s quite significant for Final Fantasy XIV to be the game to sponsor Sydney Gaymers. It’s a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with a huge LGBTQI+ community, where players can participate in pride parades, get married to their same-sex loved ones and wear gender-neutral sexy battle gear.

From the J-Pop camp fantasy of Final Fantasy X-2 with a theme song performed by Japan’s Britney Spears, Kumi Koda, to the canonical melodramatic lesbian love between Fang and Vanille in Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy is a franchise with a history of queer-coded characters and worlds that resonate with LGBTQI+ players. Its offspring Kingdom Hearts is, while infamously a franchise that spans multiple platforms and a convoluted narrative, was incredibly formative to my love for Japanese pop culture and dumb anime aesthetics.

For these reasons, it’s no surprise that, as FFXIV Director Naoki Yoshida tells Junkee, the game’s overwhelming queer player base helped make this collaboration happen.

“When we participated in PAX Australia for the first time last year, above anyone else, the Australian FFXIV players supported us so passionately,” He explains. “And so, from half of those players being members of the Sydney Gaymers, they proposed it to us and this is how it turned out. It all started from both those people and us, the FFXIV Team, being gamers in the first place.”

Sydney Gaymers is a community-run group of like-minded queer geeks. With over 2700 members, they host monthly SideQuest events – catch-ups at local bars with machines playing Super Smash Bros, Halo and Mario Kart, and drag queen performances and raffles – geeky dance parties and board game nights. They’ve marched in the parade five times and, as a young queer person, over the last few years, has become a place I call home.

Final Fantasy Mardi Gras Float

Coming out of high school as a freshly out-of-the-closet young gay trying to come to terms with who I was and wanted to be, Oxford St intimidated me. I didn’t fit into the stereotype of a twink, wasn’t muscular enough or confident in my own body to go clubbing and didn’t have any friends who wanted to go out into the scene to experience it firsthand.

Sydney Gaymers was the first gay 18+ venue I went to at the end of high school in 2014, and the people I met that night and at later events soon became some of my best friends. It’s a rad group of individuals and marching each year is always a hoot.

This time last year we were wheeling wooden blocks on dodgy flatbeds, barely able to march as we all frantically tried to keep up with the momentum of the parade while waving at people, trying not to catch a splinter. All of the pieces were made by members of the group over many weeks of hard work. As a photographer, I was frantically running back and forth from the group, taking photos, hi-fiving people in the crowd and feeling overwhelmingly cheerful yet exhausted.

It was definitely an amateur set up, as Courtney Act hilariously shaded us on SBS’ official broadcast last year, but it felt like we had all collectively personally achieved something.

Marching under an officially sponsored float with perhaps my favourite video game franchise,  everything fell right into place. Our float featured giant inflated mascots of Final Fantasy XIV, a moogle, bomb and cactuar, sitting on a flatbed decorated in images of Final Fantasy XIV classes, dance remixes of music from the game scoring our walk. The float consisted of members of Sydney Gaymers, FFXIV players, queer journalists and cosplayers, all dressed in Final Fantasy characters, the Smash Bros roster and iconic queer-coded characters in pop culture.

It all felt extremely official and inspiring to march in celebration of being queer and representing a community that is so queer friendly. Sure, other big brands like PlayStation and Microsoft certainly celebrated equality this last weekend, but with some multiplayer communities on those platforms still a home for hate and homophobic speech in in-game chat, Final Fantasy feels like one of the few mainstream gaming communities that have developed playable spaces with queer people in mind.

Our float signified an amalgamation of years of queer geeks looking for a place to belong.

Compared to the many corporate floats with elaborately expensive displays and rows of choreographed gays in matching outfits, our float signified an amalgamation of years of queer geeks looking for a place to belong, coming together to celebrate their non-heterosexual-conforming selves and love for games and geek things.

“I’ve changed a lot just by learning of events like this one being held, and there are also many things yet to learn from the many players of the community,” Yoshida reflects. “From now on as well, I want to do what I can to design enjoyable games that allow many people to freely express themselves.”

The next Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion, Shadowbringers, will launch on 2nd July and introduces a new gunblade-wielding job, a new game plus mode and the Viera, a playable bunny race deriving from Final Fantasy XII’s own clan of female warriors. When asked if Square Enix would continue to develop opportunities for all genders and include a male Viera option, Yoshida teased to wait for a Twitch reveal at the Tokyo Fan Festival on 23-24 March.

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a friendly neighbourhood queer freelance writer reporting on pop culture, games, entertainment and the people behind them. He’s been a member of Sydney Gaymers since 2014, marched with them twice and grew up on the hyper-melodramatic camp pop fantasy aesthetic of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. He tweets @Retawes.