I think generally video games are seen as a kid’s hobby. They’ve got bright colors, immature humor, and sometimes simplistic design. Within the past 10 years or so, I think we’ve migrated a bit towards it being a more adult hobby with games like Gears of War or Call of Duty, but I think the idea of being a “gamer” is still widely seen as a childish or teenage thing. What I think people don’t get is that under this childish outward image, games often carry messages meaningful to adults too. A specific series that comes to mind for me is Final Fantasy. The games in this series pretty stereotypical as a Japanese RPG. A certain hero/heroine using some kind of over sized weapon and avant-garde clothing gets thrown into some worldwide fight against a corporation or entity and they use big, flashy magic with lots of fantastical creatures. The small glimpses of the games that are shown in trailers or preview pictures do not even come close to depicting the depth of the stories that lie within.
These stories cross a myriad of themes that reach deep into the hearts of players willing to attempt the journey. Sure, you could argue that the first few games have a very simple plot – four heroes get called on by the crystals of light to save the world from a big baddie. But as the games progressed, their stories became richer and developed much deeper meanings. Final Fantasy IV focused on evolving out of one’s own darkness to pursue a path of righteousness. Final Fantasy VII focused on self actualization and dealing with grief of lost loved ones. Final Fantasy X also focused on grief, as well as challenging the authority of religion, where as it’s sequel, X-2, focused on finding hope and evolving one’s self. Growing up with this series, these characters and stories really resonated with me. I remember being about 9 or 10 years old, alone by myself in our apartment while my parents were on a date, watching my screen in utter disbelief as one of the main protagonists was murdered in Final Fantasy VII. When I was about 13, I remember feeling very empowered playing as Squall Leonhart in Final Fantasy VIII fighting against some crazy bitch that wanted to manipulate Time and take over the world. The story also pulled at my adolescent heart strings because of the hopeless love story between Squall and Rinoa.
As I got older, my interest in the series waned a bit and the stories diluted in my mind. Around 2007, I decided to get back into the series and, being 20 years old, the stories started resonating more with me. I started feeling the pain of Zidane in Final Fantasy IX, being different than everyone else but trying his best to fit in and keep a smile on his face. Final Fantasy X is the one that really did me in. The story in Final Fantasy 10 focuses on Yuna, a summoner and priestess of Yevon, the equivalent of God in our world. Her mission is to go on a pilgrimage with her guardians, learn how to summon all of the celestial beings called Aeons, and use them in a battle against a giant beast called Sin, which, surprisingly, is a manifestation of humanity’s sin. On her journey, her innocent heart is exposed to things such as racism, tragedy, lying, and manipulation. She learns that no matter how hard she fights, in the end of our journey she, along with one of her guardians, will perform the Final Summoning and perish before Sin. This act does not even kill Sin, but rather holds it at bay for a few years before it gathers enough strength to come back and create more chaos. Tidus, the other main character, is not from her world (you can look that plot point up) and he challenges the idea of their religion. He encourages her team to change their standards and fight back against this idea, because he believes that this type of fruitless sacrifice is stupid, not noble.
With Tidus’ encouragement, Yuna’s guardians and the Aeons actually challenge Yevon. Take that in for a moment – the game’s final battle is a group of people fighting against God himself. After weakening Sin, Yuna performs the Sending, a ritual dance to send the spirits of the fallen through to the Farplane (Heaven). This Sending, due to it’s size and power, causes a chain reaction, releasing all of the Fayth (spirits) from Spira (Earth). All of these memories of those that have passed from Sin start dissipating and moving on to the Farplane, one of which is clearly depicted as none other than Tidus, Yuna’s guardian and new found love. Up to this point in the game, Tidus has helped Yuna grow so much, he has supported her no matter what the odds were against them, and because of this, the two fell deeply in love with each other. Tidus knew he was going to be sent to the Farplane upon Yuna performing her Final Sending, but in order to keep her vigilance to fight Sin, he kept this to himself. As the team realizes that Tidus is disappearing, Yuna is in total denial. She can do nothing as she watches him turn into energy and embrace his destiny.
The feelings really hit at 1:39 when the piano starts.
This is where I find the beauty and meaning in games. I played Final Fantasy X in the summer of 2007 and unfortunately, my father passed away in the spring of 2008. I had just finished my shift at work when I got a call from my mom saying that my dad’s health took a turn for the worst and he wasn’t going to make it through the night. I had my friend drive me to the hospital and my dad had been mostly unresponsive until I got there. My whole family was there trying to talk to him and say their goodbyes, and when I showed up he managed to move his eyes a little bit to show that he felt me hold his hand and heard me say my goodbye to him and that I loved him. That was the last time I saw my dad. He looked nothing like the man who raised me. The man who had a strong will, a deep voice, and a great laugh. He taught me to have a thicker skin, he pushed me to be a better person, and he always wanted the best for me. And here he was, lying in the hospital bed with tubes in his nose and mouth, his face sunken in, his eyes barely open, and ragged breathing. I watched my dad leave this world and all I could think about was this scene from Final Fantasy X. How I was powerless, like Yuna, in the face of destiny to stop him from leaving. How my dad was like Tidus saying “I’m sorry I couldn’t take you to see Zanarkand” (a promise he made to Yuna at the beginning of the game.). Despite his body giving out, I believe that my dad was conscious inside his head, scared…or maybe at peace, and thinking “I’m sorry that I couldn’t show you more of the world, my son.” Then he was gone. He accepted his fate and left us, much like Tidus leaping off of the airship to join the rest of his friends and family in the Farplane.
I must have listened to the song that plays during this scene in the game for at least 3 months after my dad passed because it was so vivid in my heart and mind. All I could do was cry and think about how much I miss him and how powerless I was, because no one can stop death. That’s one downside to being a heavy gamer – sometimes you can get a little delusional about living forever. To this day, this scene makes me cry because it’s so beautiful to me. Beautiful, yet painful because I can’t help but think of the night my dad left us. Hopefully in reading this, you can see why some people have a deeper appreciation for games past the superficial idea of “it’s a time passer!” Games have evolved from bouncing a digital ball between two paddles to deep, involved stories that cross boundaries and push people to think outside of their own worlds. I also hope that if you have a narrow view of what video games are, perhaps this can help you think of them as something else: art.
Thanks for reading!