Author’s Note: I’m well aware that this particular topic has been talked to death at this point, but I think it’s endlessly important to reiterate since it continues to be a quiet but very painful problem in a modern male’s adult life.
I remember the afternoon I was seeing off my old friend Keegan, after he spent the previous night playing video games and watching anime with me. I must have been around 11 or 12 and, without giving any thought to it, I hugged him goodbye. Not some kind of nonchalant side hug, but a real loving one, because he was my best friend and I really cherished him and his friendship. Afterwards my mother took me aside and told me that she thought that was really strange, and that maybe I made Keegan or his mother uncomfortable because of that. While the memory receded quickly, it internally fucked me emotionally up for years.
All throughout high school I made sure to only wave my friends off, or maybe do the ridiculous “quick one-armed side hug while also stepping away” motion. I only discussed personal problems on rainy nights in my car, or through one on one text conversations. It was some of the worst years of my life, but a lot of it came back to the perceived awkwardness and taboo nature of men being told to act opposite of women emotionally. Boys, and consequently men, are told to not discuss their problems because it appears inherently feminine or “worse” gay. While parents usually have good intentions when telling their sons not to hug their friends too closely, hold hands, or discuss intimate issues, it’s extremely damaging. I feel a lot of this is due to a lack of understanding and decades of ingrained teachings. But there is a movement, however small, that seeks to simply show that men can express themselves however they want. While I can’t be sure, I think Final Fantasy XV may be one such provider.
To date, I’ve played both demos of the game, watched a good number of trailers, and seen the general fan reactions of the characters through new art being posted almost daily. There’s a common thread of “brotherhood” all throughout it, and that seems to be Square Enix’s idea. While there’s some trite plot about overthrowing an evil empire, a lot of screen time is spent with Noctis and his companions Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. They’re much more intimate than the average band of male video game characters. They travel together via the same car. They set up camp together at night, laughing and eating around the fire, and even sleep in the same tent next to each other. Even during combat, they fight together as a team. When one member falls, another quickly rushes to their aid to physically pick them up and encourage them to keep going. The group does so much more than grunt at each other about anything but themselves, and it does a lot to provide a real sense of friendship and love between them.
Even if Final Fantasy never overtly states a point about the need for male intimacy, I hope it can be something like the recent anime series Prince of Stride. While the show revolves around relay runners, and was noticeably made for those interested in attractive men, it makes a point to show that men are capable, and actually desire, to talk to each other and help one another. They’re very earnest when they ask each other for advice, and always want to know what one of the friends is dealing with and how to help. In most every episode they’re incredibly expressive, swaying from hearty laughs and bad puns to shedding tears over their perceived incompetence. It’s a really beautiful show expressing how men are all individually different people with a variety of emotional states, desires, and needs.
Honestly, I hope Final Fantasy XV can produce the same kind of distinct warm feeling that Prince of Stride and other media like it do. Even though the cast’s personalities fall into pretty standard anime stereotypes, there’s always a possibility for Square Enix to explore these traits further, subverting them or seeing how they can clash or bring the group closer together.I want to see Noctis and his friends not just discuss what they’re thinking, but also how they feel about it. I want them to say they’re scared of external and internal threats alike, and cry when the situation becomes too much for them to handle alone. I want them to fight, yelling and screaming about personal problems, but still able to return to a smile in the end and say how happy they are to be in each other’s company.
More than anything though, I want them to become close, where one man can say to another that they love them as a dear friend, without the worry of being dismissed or laughed at. While it’s a lofty hope, I want Noctis, Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto to do more than just save the world. I want them to be a shining example of the virtues of male intimacy.