Welcome to another edition of “The Casual Gaymer!” This is a weekly column from AiPT! Gaming in which I’ll share my thoughts, questions, and concerns about video games and the gaming industry as a queer person with limited free time. Missed last week’s edition where I introduced the column and dived into Animal Crossing and Gender Expression? Eat up! This week, I want to dream drop into a topic not dissimilar to a scattered dream that’s like a far-off memory. A far-off memory that’s like a scattered dream. I want to line the pieces up–yours and mine.
That’s right readers, we’re talking Kingdom Hearts. More specifically the surprisingly queer connection I’ve found in the Jesse McCartney voiced, angsty blond Nobody, Roxas.
Okay, let me back up, Roxas is Sora’s Nobody introduced in Kingdom Hearts II–.
Okay, let me back up, in the Kingdom Hearts series, Nobodies are…
Okay, for the sake of brevity, at one point in the series, franchise protagonist Sora (brown hair, see below) loses his heart, but because his heart was so strong, his body was able to live on as a Nobody names Roxas (Sora’s name anagrammed with an added “X”). In Kingdom Hearts, if your heart is separated from your body, the husk left behind usually becomes a mindless monster, but because Sora is such a good, sweet boy, we get Roxas.
Why does Roxas look different if he was created from Sora’s body? How did Sora get his heart back? How many Xehanorts are there? Did Goofy really die? Long story. Power of friendship. At least thirteen. No, but they sure made you think he did. All these questions require more time than I’d like to take from you today, so for the purpose of this column, let’s focus on the fact that Roxas is a Nobody in every sense of the word. He’s not a real person. He’s a fake version of someone else. He was not meant to exist and for the interest of many parties in the series should please stop existing soon, thanks.
When I first played Kingdom Hearts II upon it’s US release in 2005, I had similar feelings about Roxas. To me, he was some nobody who starred in the annoyingly long tutorial that I just wanted to go away so I could play the real game as Sora. Upon revisiting the series in the lead up to Kingdom Hearts III, I was filled with a lot of questions and no, they weren’t about the story because if you just play the games or watch the cutscenes online like I did (see this columns name), they actually do a good job of hitting you over the head with exposition in a way that feels clunky but makes clear why there are two characters named Ansem and why Sora and Vanitas have the same face even though Vanitas appears chronologically first. Anyway, I had questions.
Can I enjoy these games as much as I did when I was much more invested in the Disney characters? Now that I see how underutilized and damsel-ed Kairi is, do I care about her at all? Was Cloud the first bad boy I had a crush on before I even knew I was queer? And most pressing, why–during this visit through the franchise–do I feel more for Roxas than any other character?
Like a giant boulder hurling through the air to strike Goofy down and prompt Mickey Mouse to vow bloodthirsty revenge, it hit me:
Roxas’s arc as a person who’s told by society and the people in it that he was a mistake that shouldn’t exist resonates with me as a queer person whose parents had me when they were teens and started “real” families when I was older.
Growing up queer in the new millennium with the household dynamics in which I was raised was very disorienting. Let me be clear, I recognize how much easier I had it than generations of queer people, especially with how overall progressive my high school was. I got through my K-12 years having only been called a f----t a handful of times, lost a few “friends” to whom I was dead after coming out, and told by a couple of the friends I kept that being gay was okay and all, but they just don’t agree with gay marriage. All in all, virtually unscathed and I mean that. But therein lies the disorientation. The constant back and forth of friends who supported me, but religious institutions who (still) claim I’m damned. The feeling of having a mother who loves and supports me unconditionally but living in a household where I felt–no matter how immature an outlook this is–replaced by my new half-siblings. The feeling of knowing there were other queer people in the world but feeling alone and like the way I felt was wrong no matter how much I knew it wasn’t.
Roxas has plenty of friends in the Kingdom Hearts games, be they fellow people who “should not exist” in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days or “real” people who don’t know he’s a Nobody in Kingdom Hearts II. However, his existence or lack thereof plagues him regardless of how supported he is, because he exists in a world that tells him that on a fundamental level, he is wrong. It didn’t matter if I was with fellow queer people, or people who held their “Ally” flag high yet will never know the lived experience of a queer person. Every now and then in the middle of class or at dinner with my half-siblings, the questions would crawl up like a Heartless from my shadow on the floor: “What if everyone’s just being tolerant and I really am an abomination? What if my mom only loves me out of obligation and I’m a nuisance in the way of her “real” family? What if there really is a Hell and I’m bound for it when I die?”
Revisiting the scene where Roxas returns to Sora and lets himself be reabsorbed so Sora’s memories and heart can be recompleted–long story–was unexpectedly heartbreaking. With the newfound queer connection I had with Roxas, it hurt to see a character have to lose their personhood for the sake of the “real” or “normal” character. I couldn’t resent Sora because he’s my perfect, idiot son, but I felt for Roxas in a way I never thought I would. How many times have I thought about my straight friends and thought what Roxas says when he sees Sora sleeping blissfully away as he wrestles with the meaninglessness of his existence?
As an adult, I’m happy to say I’ve worked through the feeling of being “replaced” when I was younger and instead of feeling lonely or anxious about the world’s attitude toward queer people, I like to think I’ve channeled those feelings into a nice, productive rage. Now that Kingdom Hearts III has finally been released, all ask is justice for Roxas. Allegedly, Roxas still exists in Sora’s heart, just as Naminé exists in Kairi’s–long story!–and all I ask of Kingdom Hearts III is that they both end up happy even if it’s just in the version of Twilight Town that exists in Ansem’s computer as data. No, not Ansem the Heartless, final boss of the first Kingdom Hearts, Ansem the Wise who was researching the Heartless and the darkness in people’s hearts. Hey, I said the series wasn’t as confusing as people think. That doesn’t mean it isn’t silly as hell.
Whoo! This edition was maybe darker and more existential than I thought it would be, but hey, if that ain’t the queer experience in a nutshell. If you want to find out more about Roxas’s story and the worlds of Kingdom Hearts, good luck. You either have ten games to play through, hundreds of hours of cutscenes to watch, or many a Wiki page to skim. I think in the end, even without the naivete and yet to be crushed optimism of my youth, I think the series is a fascinating amalgamation of IP and mechanics that, like a Nobody, shouldn’t exist, but makes the world better for it. Got a little dark again there, so I’ll leave you with this bit of high academic queer studies: did you know “Xemnas” can be anagrammed to “Man sex?” Gawrsh!