Much has been written about female representation in video games, and not all of it has been good. The manner in which women are portrayed in video games is generally … special. Here's a fun activity: Try playing a game in the presence of a friend or family member who doesn't play games, but still takes in movies and television shows. Parade yourself in front of an in-game female character, preferably one in a title that's rated E10+ or up. Chances are you're going to hear / see some hooting, some hollering, and some pointing. If you're playing in front of your grandmother, brace yourself for questions.
Growing up, my mother handily pointed out how, er, inflated the female characters were in my favorite games. I just weakly shrugged it off said criticisms then: I had no defense. I still don't. When I was introduced to Cindy in Final Fantasy XV, I blinked, said "OK," and kept on playing.
(I did, however, take a second to cringe at Cindy's over-battered chicken-fried southern accent. Howdy, SpongeBob!)
If you're not familiar with Cindy – ha ha ha – here's what you should know. Cindy is a mechanic at Hammerhead, one of Final Fantasy XV's prominent garages / gas stations. She does her greasy, dirty work while wearing booty shorts, high-heeled boots, and a bikini top that leaves very little to the imagination and offers zero protection against the scorching desert sun. Ain't nobody need that much vitamin D, girl.
When you choose to refill your gas at Hammerhead, Cindy offers a bonus service: She wipes down your windshield while practically pressing her ripe cantaloupes against the glass. I get very upset whenever I witness this small cutscene because I once held a job as a window-washer and I personally know using a chamois as carelessly as Cindy does will just turn the Regalia's sun-baked bug-splats into a grey-and-white smear. For God's sake, Square-Enix. It's almost 2017. Let's try realism for a change.
I know I shouldn't make light of Cindy's assets. Like many female players, I want to see women get better representation in games. I want to see women who are smart, strong, complex, and know how to dress themselves for the weather outdoors (many of gaming's best women seem to get hung up on that last point even when they nail everything else). That said, I find myself unable to get mad or disturbed over Cindy, barring the fact she dresses the way she does in front of her grandfather, Cid. I think my brain shorted out after meeting The Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Or maybe I can't bring myself to feel angry because Final Fantasy XV doesn't revolve around male wish fulfillment.
Sure, parts of Final Fantasy XV are clearly male fanservice. Cindy's "fil-er-up" routine is the most obvious example, as is the game's general road trip premise. But when you break down the whole of Final Fantasy XV into smaller bits, you can clearly see soft, warm interactions between the four main characters that aren't common in any media, let alone video games. The boys talk about cooking, dare each other to take off their shirts (Noctis admits he's too scrawny), hug Chocobos, and chatter excitedly about Lady Lunafreya's wedding dress. At one point, a quest took me far afield and into territory populated by daemons. Here, in the pitch black and under the curious glare of monsters capable of eating my party alive, Ignis scolded Noctis for having a loose button on his shirt. When Noctis failed to sew the button on his own, Ignis sighed and firmly said he'd do it. The conversation was adorable from start to finish.
It's true Final Fantasy XV lacks decent female representation, but on the flipside it brews a unique chemistry between its main male characters. Each fellow has a definite feminine side that isn't mocked or scorned. Sure, Final Fantasy heroes are known for being kind of androgynous, but even the series' prettiest characters typically tamp down their softer side and try to act gruff and capable instead.
I hope the next Final Fantasy game we play has women (maybe four?) who are well-designed and competently written. For now, I'm happy to be on a road trip with four cute boys who aren't afraid to talk about cute things.