The first historical and cultural contribution to the rise of the term red mage is the ancient lore of magic which has permeated so many myths and legends in every culture since time immemorial. Magic has been attributed with the qualities of light and darkness across the ages as well, which eventually gave rise to the terms “black magic” and “white magic”.
The next step in understanding the emergence of the “red mage” is the development of a tabletop fantasy game which arrived on the scene in 1974, “Dungeons and Dragons”. It’s become more mainstream in recent years, as it has gained even more exposure through the Netflix series “Stranger Things”, in which the lore of the game is very central to the plot. However, If the show is your only exposure to the game, then you only have a slight clue about how players in the game take on an archetypal character, such as a wizard, archer, or fighter. Even in the original release of dungeons and dragons, these classes were much more diverse and detailed than just the simplified concepts of magic users, muscle-men, and agile characters. Throughout the game you make choices to specialize your character, which results in you acquiring a “subclass”. Since its inception, players have had the ability to follow a purist path, or spread their knowledge and abilities across a gamut of specialties, the latter option being the crux of a red mage.
However, it wasn’t until 87′ that the term “red mage” made a distinct appearance in the world of fantasy and gaming. That year a game was released which was heavily based on the concepts of D&D, and was essentially the digitized version of it, albeit with its own lore and landscape. It featured six classes which you could choose from for your four party members. In the later half of the game, these classes could be upgraded, but they were essentially the same, not really venturing too far into another class to be considered as having a “sub-type”. One of these six classes had the familiar heir of previously imagined fantasy characters, wielding magic in the heat of battle to tip the advantage in their favor, or to give aid to the wounded and fallen. It may have been the first time ever, at least on such a large platform, to go by the name of “red mage”. At the time of writing this, I still don’t have an absolute explanation to the reason for why “red” was chosen. Since some think of red mages as being primarily magic users who learn from both of the main schools of magic, “black” and “white”, that a more fitting name would be “gray mage”. The red mage is trained in physical combat as well though, and is often in the thick of the fray, not hiding behind the cover of allies and casting spells from the edge of battle (although if the situation calls for it, a red mage can pivot their roles in battle to adjust for changing situations). Being involved directly in the melee means that the red mage is no stranger to blood. This is what many speculate the choice of color to originate from. “Red” symbolizes the physical aspect, the fighter, and “mage” of course represents the use of magic. This archetypal character continues to appear across different stories and games, although often going by different names. Within the Final Fantasy universe, the red mage has also continued to develop in its own way.