Confessions Of A Final Fantasy Addict

Confessions Of A Final Fantasy Addict

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

I get a little wistful thinking about those mini-holidays: 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.

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.

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?”

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.

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.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.


  • Some of my best gaming memories are from playing final fantasy. Sitting on the couch with my wife on a cold wet day. I would do the grinding, she would do the quests. Even getting stuck on one of the puzzles is tinged with nostalgia. Logging on to Gamefaqs and trying to work out what colour crystal went where. I hated those puzzles. But yeah, the games were a big time investment. And I’m just going to come out and say it – I thought 12 was the greatest one.

    • Indeed, FFXII was definitely one of the greatest ones. It would even be my number 1 (FFXI took that spot. Job System, lore, characters and storyline’s are great), but… I just really didn’t like some of the main characters 🙁

      • Pretty much this, if the game had convinced you that you were playing as Balthier or Basch instead of Vaan then you could relate to the characters more, but we got pegged with playing as Vaan2-D2 and C3-Penelo. Also Star Wars and while personally I would have had Vaan as Luke, the whiny farm boy who wants to be like the spaceship flying smuggler and ben kenobi as basch, this image sums it up pretty well too.
        That said it does rank top 3 FF games I have played, I just wish it had been on hardware that could have done the game justice. Played it on emulator not long back and had it running at a silky smooth frame rate and high resolution, it was glorious to behold.

    • I loved 12. It was the closest Final Fantasy ever got to the game that hooked me – Secret of Mana. Right now I am enjoying FFVI on my phone during commutes, break times and waiting in the front of girly shops for my partner to some out. There is always a way.

    • I thought *most* of FFXII was great, really good exploring and the monster hunting etc. All that was good.

      I did think it was missing a minigame however (blitzball, the card games from 8 and 9 for example).
      I also disliked Vaan and Ashe (I thought both had as much personality as a wet cardboard box, having the leads of Balthier and Fran would have been much better).
      I found the gambit system pretty cool, as it still had the options of ‘hands on turn based’ if you wanted to do that but it was great for setting up auto healing / status curing in particular.
      However can’t say I was a huge fan of the whole levelling up system. I felt that it made all your characters way too similar, ie everyone could have pretty much the same skills/armor/weapons very early on.
      Personally I much prefer the system from FFIX where each character has their ‘defined’ role, rather than being able to make every character do everything.
      FFX I thought was OK at this, as while you could eventually give every character the same skills, it took a very long time and patience to achieve this, since they started in very different spots on the sphere grid, hence they had a more defined role in the team.

      But my fave is still IX, regardless 😉

      Personally my rankings are 9->6->7->10->12->8, but really, apart from 8, they are pretty interchangeable in their ranking. 8 was filled with way too much teenage whiney angst I thought, but it still had some good things for sure.

  • i don’t like this train of thought, it seems to be telling me i should change for no reason other than to appeal to others. i enjoy lego and video games, i’m 37 and married to a non gamer and i am the friend that plays the video games and has a toy collection and despite the majority of them not being even vaguely interested in these things, my friends have never looked down on me for any of this. i think these people need new friends.

    • I read it more as changing as a natural progression- some people do it and then when they try to revisit earlier (more RPG-obsessed) parts of their life, they’re left with a weird awkwardness and navel-gaze on what was and could have been.

  • enjoying torturing puppies would be a guilty pleasure, enjoying RPGs is simply a pleasure. what’s to feel guilty about?

  • Adults have to put the Lego away too, better tell the kids the trip to the Lego store is cancelled if I can’t play with it neither can they. Better sell the Vita and Persona as well. It all comes down to balance in the end. Though I do wish some developers would realize adults that catch public transport play there games and design the art accordingly.

  • I know how you feel (and also the linked article). RPGs don’t satisfy the way they used to. I played through FFVIII again a year or two ago. It wasn’t the story I wanted. It’s like listening to the music you liked when you were a teenager, the media is the same but I’ve moved on. The beautiful story of an angsty young outsider who saves the girl and conveniently the world in the process doesn’t appeal as much as it used to. I’m not an angsty kid anymore!

    Dark Souls is immersive and deep enough to justify the binging but lacks the connectivity of Persona or Final Fantasy. Alan Wake provided that balance for me, but few games have done so since.

    I still get that moment of joy when I feel the sniffles coming on though.

  • Wait, so because video games isn’t “acceptable” in the “adult” world, I must stop enjoying myself because I’m no longer in school? Because I’m a full time programmer, I can’t just spend a night playing ROME II or pull out my NDS for some pokemon? And my fiance, a nurse who saves lives on a regular basis, and has for many years, is she not allowed to enjoy the lego we bought just for her? And what of the way she turns into a six year old kid when I take her to the zoo? And when we watch anime together?

    Don’t give me this “It’s not acceptable so I can’t enjoy it inside a balanced life” bullshit. We, as people, don’t have to conform to have a balanced life. We enjoy what we enjoy and we don’t have to hide it. That doesn’t make us weird, or unbalanced, it means that we’re people who have mutlifaceted personalities with hobbies and joys that aren’t dictated by society

  • This is pretty much a problem exclusive to RPGs. No, it’s not. It’s a problem exclusive to games maybe, though books and movies are the same. Most games asks you to be someone else. To live in someone else’s shoes and make decisions and take action according to their philosophies and life style. Even multi-player games are personal experiences, it’s you trying to fit into a world filled with other people who have their own expectations of you. An analogy for life where you will be chastised for your mistakes, praised for your achievements and expected to play your role for the good of those in your tribe, on your team, in your army.

  • The gist of the issue appears in the sentence “more acceptable pastimes” obviously meaning “socially acceptable”. Once you have decided that you must change what you like or do in order to conform to a cultural standard of normality, just to fit, there’s nothing much to be done. Time to get on sipping those cocktails and whatnot.

  • I guess when it comes to JRPGs (and Anime) most women who ain’t into video games that know you’re into this stuff. They can’t help but think of how women a lot of time are in stupid/sexy outfits which they wear ALL THE TIME and then think you’re an pervert/werid/creep. I’m talking main stream women who are into teen dramas and stuff. Twilight, One Direction, Teen Wolf ect. who have no interest in Video Games/Anime and makes me want to show them an Studio Ghibli Film like Porco Rosso and show them that Anime can be not perverted at all and be really good dramas. JRPGs on the other hand… umm I’m really not sure what you can show them to get into them or at least showing that they’re are not all perverted as they seem. Yes of course there are women gamers out there who are into JRPGs but you get the idea.

    This is my 2 cents and I’m not asking to get bashed/flamed. This my opinion on it.

  • Wait till you have kids…

    Then you’ll play game music in the background just so you can remember what the good life was like while you do what you have to.

    One day I’ll get back to it.

    Its always a balance between what you have to do and what you want to do. It gets harder and harder as you get older, more and more things you must do.

  • I’d say it’s all about adaptability.

    My previous manager has never played a video in her life. I’d talk with her about her kids instead. My current manager used to play Starcraft, so I’d talk with him about strategy games. My managers’ manager (the financial controller) loves MMORPGs, so I’d talk with him about the RPGs I’m playing, as well as the ones he’s playing. My church friends don’t play much beyond Mario Kart, so I talk with them about things outside of video games. I have enough going for me that those who don’t play video games don’t look down on me; and I relate well with those who do play.

    I don’t have a family of my own, but even so: I’ve got a 45-hours-a-week job in accounting; I’m in a long-term relationship; I’ve a wide circle of friends; I work out twice a week; and I’m the Treasurer, a Sunday School teacher, a Parish Councillor and an occasional Bible Study leader at church. And yet I still binge for up to 10 hours most weekends on games (I’m currently up to my 70th hour and third playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening). For people without families, who say that they can’t fit video games into a balanced lifestyle – and I mean this in genuine good faith – I kinda wonder how you guys spend all your time…

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