Confessions Of A Final Fantasy Addict

Illustration for article titled Confessions Of A Final Fantasy Addict

When I was a kid, I sometimes took weekend trips to my grandparents' house in Queens. I told my parents it was to "visit" and "spend time with them," but really it was so I could binge on JRPGs.

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I get a little wistful thinking about those mini-vacations: I'd lug a big backpack with my PlayStation and some Calvin & Hobbes comics, then shut myself in the guest room for 14-hour sessions with games like Legend of Legaia and Xenogears, only stopping for the occasional Nickelodeon break. (Meals did not require a break.) On Sunday afternoons, bleary-eyed and exhausted, I'd spend the drive home planning out when I could go back to that fantasy world of unlimited video game time. It was wonderful.

These days, life is a little bit different—the gaming is always unlimited, but now I have to pay for nonsense like "food" and "living expenses" and "spending time with people." I have a job, and a relationship, and friendships that can't be maintained just by showing up at school every day. It's harder to get away with binge gaming, and consequently, it's harder to play through the 50-hour epics that dominated so much of my prepubescent life.

And while gaming might have evolved into more of a mainstream hobby than it ever has been, there are still all those stigmas attached. To many people, World of Warcraft is still a punchline. Japanese role-playing games are not a frequent conversation topic at cocktail parties or water coolers. The box art for games like Lightning Returns or Bravely Default isn't exactly... well let's just say I wouldn't hang it on my wall.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed's Rachel Sanders wrote an article that really resonated with me. It's called "I Was A Final Fantasy Addict" and it's a very personal look, tinged with embarrassment and self-deprecation, at childhood habits left behind. Sanders used to binge on role-playing games—to the point where she wrote a GameFAQs guide about Shadow Hearts: Covenant—but she gave up that hobby in college, discarding it for more acceptable pastimes. She recently revisited geekdom to check out Bravely Default, and decided it wasn't worth the trip back.

"Bravely Default doesn't really scratch the same itch as the RPGs I used to love, but I don't know that anything could," Sanders concludes. "I don't think I have that itch anymore. I have a job that challenges me. I have good books and fancy cocktails and television shows that keep me entertained... But playing the game has certainly made me feel a real nostalgia, not exactly for those old games themselves, but for how fiercely absorbed in them I was. I'm not sorry to be living a complicated, fascinating, grown-up life that I find more interesting than any all-consuming role-playing game. It's just that sometimes I miss saving the world."

Whew. It's a great piece, and you should really read the whole thing, particularly if you're an adult who grew up on games and isn't sure exactly how to fit them into your life. It's also a little depressing. Sanders concludes, in the end, that she can't have a normal, balanced life while also embracing her JRPG habit. That phrase—"a complicated, fascinating, grown-up life"—might come off as condescending, but I totally get it. RPGs, more than any gaming genre, demand your undivided attention. Sure, you can sometimes get away with some Persona 4 Golden on your daily commute or while doing laundry, but for the most part, these games are just too time-consuming, too absorbing to fit in a regular routine.

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And, hey, let's face it: they're also kind of embarrassing. Unless you only surround yourself with people who play video games, there's a stigma to the hobby that can't be cleanly wiped away with a few assurances that "yeah, adults play video games too," particularly when you're playing something like Bravely Default, which, for all of its merits, has a few more creepy perv moments than it should. Or Tales of Xillia, a solid game that I'd never want to play in front of other people, thanks in no small part to outfits like this.

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Even if you don't mind sharing your hobby with people who don't understand it, video games—particularly role-playing games—are personal, somewhat intimate experiences, and I've always found it a little uncomfortable when people watch me bumble around the latest Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, like they're observing me as I write a novel, or, err, watch porn. "Hey, this is my moment." That sort of thing.

This is pretty much a problem exclusive to RPGs. There's something inherently geekly about spending time in someone else's body. Maybe that's why our culture has declared it acceptable to binge-watch House of Cards but "bizarre" or "weird" to binge-play Ni no Kuni or World of Warcraft. "Why are you spending so much time pretending to be someone else? Don't you have better things to do?"

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It's hard to come up with a really great answer to that question, and for a gamer it might be tempting, after reading that BuzzFeed article, to get angry and defensive at the idea that video games are childish pastimes to be discarded along with the LEGO sets and action figures. It's more valuable to soak it in, though.

What to do when you, Final Fantasy addict, become an adult with friends and interests and hobbies outside of gaming? You could grow out of the genre, like Sanders did, and find other things to do during your spare time, or you could get a job writing for Kotaku and start a weekly JRPG column. Most people will wind up somewhere in between.

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In theory, it's all about balance. Gaming time in small doses on the weekends and before bed; prioritization of real people over fake people; that sort of thing. But can you really blame Sanders for leaving JRPGs behind? Can you really not relate when she ponders, guiltily, how many foreign languages she could have learned, how many books she could have read with all of those hours she devoted to the world of video games? These things creep into my head sometimes. Am I wasting my time? Is life too short for level grinding and shitty dialogue? Couldn't I be doing something more productive? Am I just chasing nostalgia, pointlessly trying to recreate the unvarnished euphoria of those childhood trips to Queens? Why am I still doing this?

I don't think I'll ever do what Sanders did. I've never felt the urge to cut video games out of my life, and as RPGs get better and better, I want to work harder to convince inexperienced players that some of these games are just as worthwhile as a good read or a Netflix binge. I just hope I've convinced myself.

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Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET. You can reach Jason at jason@kotaku.com or on Twitter at @jasonschreier.

DISCUSSION

Oh man... Jason, please bear with me here.

My father's name is Edgar. I loved him to death, and he actually passed away last year. He gave me something that I would never ever lose, and that was the courage to be myself. (This has a relevance to your article, so hear me out.)

My father gave me Final Fantasy III (or, VI) in 1994 for my 14th birthday. I got a Super Nintendo the year prior, and had a few games to go with it. I was hooked on role playing games, because they offered fantastic creatures, a wonderful story, and a form of escapism when my parents would fight. When that happened I would run to my room, lock the door, and pop on the game I was playing at the time.

As I played through Final Fantasy VI, I was introduced very early on to Edgar, king of Figaro. I chuckled to myself and thought, "that's my daddy's name!" and when I progressed through the story, I realized that while my father was not a king of a castle in the sand, they shared very similar traits. They both were very honor based, and they also had command and a way to reach people. They were both born leaders.

As the years passed and new games came out, I still made it a point to play Final Fantasy VI once a year, as a way to remember the good times I had as a 14 year old girl in my room by myself. I didn't have many friends in school. I didn't need them. I had all of these wonderful characters to call my friends. I remember the sense of wonderment in meeting new characters, taking time to learn their backstories, and then making decisions based on their personality meshing with mine (Mass Effect is a big example of this for me).

My mother didn't understand my passion for video games when I was young. She thought that it would rot my brain, that it would turn me into a video game junkie and that I would never graduate high school if I kept playing games all the time. She would constantly take my systems away so that I could focus on my schooling, even though up until senior year I had straight A's (I got a B in honors english that year). The irony of this, and I think this is the point you were trying to make, Jason, is that she would always be reading a book of some sort. She would always lose herself in books like 1984, The Fountainhead, and many of Stephen King's novels. As she couldn't understand my passion for video games, I couldn't understand her passion for books. They seemed to be so colorless to me. To this day, I cannot seem to get myself into reading a book to save my life. My kids on the other hand love to read. They spend about the same amount of time reading as they do on their video games. I gave them the freedom to do what they wanted to do with their time, and with that freedom, they seem to enjoy the decisions they make, such as "do I play the Wii U? Do I read this Goosebumps book? Both?" and through that they have been the most interesting 8 year olds that I have ever met.

I sometimes lament about not having time to play the games I want to play. I bought Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and I have played it for a total of 10 hours, and I bought the game on launch day. But that's fine though, because I'm happy with what I did with my time. I took the kids out on a picnic. I went out and had drinks with friends. I went to school, and I helped my kids with my homework.

I think the theory behind "wasted time" is rather subjective. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and all that. I think the only instance when time is wasted is when you're doing something that you're unhappy with, and even then in most cases it's a necessary evil that must be dealt with, so not really wasted time at all.

The lives we live are finite, and fleeting at times. With everything you do in life, remember that there is always time in the future. I know that my game will still be on my shelf until the end of time (or I trade it in), so there's no rush to be the first to complete it. Same with a book, or a CD that I want to listen to all the way through. The things that matter most in life will present themselves in an unavoidable way. Kids, spouses, social lives, these things matter. However, making yourself happy is just as important.

I play FFVI every year because the game reminds me of my father, and now that he's passed, I intend to play it once a year for the rest of my life because of what it meant to me all those years ago. Some games you can finish and forget about. Not this one, not ever.

TL;DR version: If what you're doing with your time is making you happy, then there is no possible way that it could be considered "wasted time".