It’s the holiday season, which means I’ve been unwinding with my secret favorite game of 2018, Final Fantasy XIV, and leveling up character classes. I started leveling Blacksmith in order to make a friend a holiday gift, but I found myself propelled to higher levels thanks to unprompted charity from peers. It’s made me wonder: can I really call myself a proper blacksmith if I didn’t do it on my own?
I’m not much of a crafter in online games. I usually dabble enough to keep myself geared but never dip my toes into the markets. In the lead up to Christmas, I decided that one of my characters was going to make a sword for their in-game partner. That meant sitting down to grind out a few levels in the Blacksmith class. I poured a fair amount of time into gathering materials and crafting items until I was around level thirty. The current max level is 70, and I was pretty content to hover where I was. But when I mentioned my casual smithing in a Discord channel I lurk in—run by the players behind some of my server’s best roleplay combat tournaments—I had a slew of kind and enthusiastic players offer to show me the ropes of other crafting classes and help me level up my Blacksmith skills fast.
In order to level a crafting class, you could just sit down and make a bunch of various sundries. That’s how I was doing it. But Final Fantasy XIV also has renewable quests called “leves.” For crafting leves, you’re required to make a specific item and deliver it to an NPC. The better quality the item, the more experience points you get. Soon after I told my friends about my crafting, they set me up with “leve kits,” which are pre-made collections of high quality gear that I could deliver immediately to the necessary NPCs. Suddenly, I was awash in mythril broadswords and high quality mining equipment. I was able to do enough deliveries to leap from level 30 to level 50 in a few hours. I’m currently sitting on kits that will boost my Goldsmith and Culinarian classes similarly high. While that still leaves me a way off from the max level, it’s cut out a big chunk of my initial grind. And, if I’m being honest, I feel a little guilty.
This isn’t a knock against my friends’ generosity; it’s more about how gaming has led me to think about achievements. Surely there are players out there who did things the hard way. Are they better Blacksmiths than me? Better players? I imagine that some people would think so. Video games can be competitive, and it can often feel like collaboration is something of a dirty deed. But my experience here highlights exactly what I find so compelling about shared online worlds. My blacksmithing journey might not be as hardcore as another player’s, but the help I received and the enthusiasm I’ve been met with highlights the power of community and social spaces. This is an MMORPG. I just happened to lean more on the massively multiplayer part of it for my own journey.
I’m torn. I love how much my crafting has drawn me closer to my community and friends. I have folks offering me high quality tools and gear that have helped me produce fantastic work. I’ve gotten to know people in a new capacity outside of roleplaying, asking questions about a side of the game I’m unfamiliar with. Besides, I’ve accepted similar kinds of charity before—once, a handful of Kotaku readers helped me finish up Monster Hunter: World’s story mode. It’s fun and reaffirming, even if a tiny part of me worries I’m not “legit” enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter: I’m connecting with friends and enjoying my journey.