How Fans' Lives Changed During The Long Wait For Kingdom Hearts 3

Screenshot: Kingdom Hearts III, Square-Enix

Some got married. Some came out. Some simply got older and began looking differently at the world and the game series they loved. Devoted Kingdom Hearts fans waited 13 years for the big sequel to 2006’s Kingdom Hearts 2, and in that time, their lives took some dramatic turns.

Jaime bonded over the original 2002 Kingdom Hearts with her best friend when she was 10. She’s 26 now. “Neither of us would have ever thought, in a million years, that we would be married before Kingdom Hearts 3, “ she told Kotaku over email.

Alice, who first started playing Kingdom Hearts at age 8 and is now 24, came out as bisexual and transgender since she first played the series. “If I told myself that, ‘Yes, you were gay for Riku,’ and, ‘No, you weren’t just crushing on Kairi and Namine, you wanted to be Kairi and Namine,’ I would have saved myself so much grief later on,” she said.

Josh, who started playing at 10 and is now 26, was diagnosed with depression, and still finds hope in the story of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts, for me, was my childhood,” he said. “A story of kids defeating their demons was endlessly inspiring to me. Laying eyes on the Kingdom Hearts III title screen hit me with a wave of nostalgia and left me feeling that same hope I felt as a kid, knowing I could overcome my brain chemistry.”

Ryan Pagella, a mutual friend of Maddy and I, cosplaying as Axel. (Photo: Ryan Pagella)

Last week, Kotaku asked Kingdom Hearts fans about how their lives changed while waiting for this game. We heard from dozens of Kingdom Hearts fans who wanted to tell the stories of how their lives intersected with their fandom for the series.

They told us some extraordinary stories. One even pointed out to to me that he met Kotaku’s Maddy Myers when the two cosplayed as Kingdom Hearts characters while in high school and that he then introduced me to Maddy while we were in college, forging a lasting friendship with someone who eventually also became my coworker — all in the time between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3.

Some fans discovered that the fantasy world of Kingdom Hearts soured for them over time. Leo was a diehard fan of Disney and Kingdom Hearts growing up, playing the first game in the series when he was 10.

He remembers crying when he finished the last of the Hundred Acre Wood side levels — he was so invested in the characters that once there wasn’t anything left to do it felt like Winnie-the-Pooh and all his friends were effectively dead, he said.

Leo, who is 26 now, said that as an adult he was unable to afford the console he’d need to play Kingdom Hearts 3, but has also grown disaffected with Disney. “Basically any time Disney buys up a new thing I just become more and more worried about the impending dystopian future where five companies control everything,” he said.

Disney isn’t the only corporation that Leo has become wary of. After learning of the working conditions in Amazon warehouses, he cancelled his Amazon Prime membership.

With Kingdom Hearts, the temptation to return to the world of its characters is stronger, even if he has taken moral stands against corporate practices he finds immoral in the past.

Leo still feels connected to these characters, and said that he would play the game if he could afford it, if only because he played the other two. In the nearly two decades since the release of the first game, though, he’s become more aware of business practices of large corporations that don’t sit well with him, like Disney lobbying for extreme extensions of copyright law.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s unreasonable, but a game that evangelizes Disney makes me feel really uncomfortable,” he said.

Indi, a thirty-year-old fan from Panama, said that playing games like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts as a kid helped her understand her gender identity.

Photo: Indi P.

“My favourite Final Fantasy character ended up being Cloud, as I identified with him, especially because of the crossdressing part of the game,” she wrote of Final Fantasy 7’s protagonist. “Kinda made think that I could also be a girl, even if I was a guy.”

“I guess I was a pretty quirky kid,” Indi told Kotaku over email. “I hung out with the ‘nerds,’ but I never actually fit with them all that well, for I was the ‘girly boy’ of the party,” Indi said. “Kingdom Hearts was with me during my darkest hours, as a kid, having to struggle with bullying (black ‘gay’ kid in a school full of straight white male jocks, who happened to be extremely racist) and an absent father,” she said. “Kingdom Hearts was there for me to remind me that life still had good things.”

Indi said that she suspected that she might be transgender from a young age, but that coming to terms with that in Panama’s “macho society” was difficult.

For years, she repressed those feelings. Societal pressure wasn’t the only obstacle to transition for her, as Panama law was also a significant impediment.

“Panama is a country where homosexuality was illegal until 2008, and is extremely underdeveloped on healthcare for trans people,” she said.

She told Kotaku that she had trouble finding other trans people and a doctor able to treat her, and wasn’t willing to transition through self medication.

“Finding doctors who were actively willing to attend trans people was extremely hard for me,” she said. “Not to mention the cost of medication and other expenses, my insurance doesn’t cover for these things, so it all comes out of my own pocket.”

Indi came out and transitioned last year, after multiple years of therapy. She will soon start hormone replacement therapy. It’s just a coincidence that these changes happened so close to the release date of Kingdom Hearts 3, she said, though she finds it comforting to think about.

“I also find it extremely heartwarming, that now that I am finally beginning my transition and truly starting to enjoy life, is when Kingdom Hearts 3 finally comes back to my life. As if it was just there, waiting for me to finally choose for my own happiness.”


    Is it coincidence that after opening with:

    Some got married. Some came out. Some simply got older and began looking differently at the world and the game series they loved.

    Gita then devoted the following to each story:

    Marriage - 1
    Depression - 2
    Friendship - 2
    Anti-capitalism - 7
    Gender/sexual identity - 11

    Gita, you're free to write what you want. I just thought I'd let you know that more of a balance would make it more interesting. I don't mind reading about any of the above, but paying lip-service to certain types of story just because they are not hot-button issues at the moment makes you seem like a writer who is overly focused on pet issues, which leads one to read your work through a filter. Again, that's your prerogative. I'm just letting you know my opinion.

      Look out, the Kotaku PC police might come to lock you away.

        Haha, that's why I did my best to take a measured tone. True though, it's difficult to disagree with someone on the internet without sparking a conflagration :-P

          Oh Kotaku hate you mentioning anything gay or gender confused in any way that isnt 100% gloriously positive.. Gets old real quick.

      I think this is actually the worst comment I have ever read on Kotaku AU. Seriously? Are you so threatened by the idea that people might be different to you that you felt it necessary to count all the references to gender identity in the article?

      Like... seriously I understand you don't like Gita Jackson, but instead being a huge dick about it, maybe you could just not read the stories when you see her byline?

      Surely you're better than this trash, mate.


        I actually like Gita's articles. She's got a good writing style. I'm just offering my opinion based on my preferences. I find that she could improve her articles to make them more appealing and relevant to me. Again - this is just my opinion and I understand that I am not entitled to have Gita do anything at all.

        I'm not threatened by what Gita writes about gender and sexuality, but writing so much about a topic that I can't really relate to means that her articles tend to be less impactful than what they might otherwise be if she included more relevant material, for example. Again - I'm not requesting she write *less* about gender/sexuality/anti-capitalism or whatever, but if she broadened her horizons a bit she might appeal to a wider audience. You can't please everyone, of course.

          It might be that Gita has an editorial remit to cover gender/sexuality moreso than other Kotaku writers do. That's just a guess, though. It's also possible that this is just how she's raised.

          I know if I were a regular Kotaku writer, my articles would likely be full of really boring technical stuff that nobody would actually want to read, and then you'd be listing how many times I used words like "68000", "low bytes", "ROM address" and "DMA".

          Probably, anyway.

            If you wanted to write about technical stuff, Kotaku wouldn't hire you.

          Have you ever thought, that not everything needs to be about you? Do you watch Orange is the NEw Black or Pose and complain that there aren't enough straight white men for you to relate to?

            No, I tend not to watch that stuff. However, if I did, I would not hesitate to tell someone my opinion in a forum that was set up for that. People can take it or leave it. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it :-)

        It's actually a pretty well thought out comment that is critical, yet still respectful to the author, and I agree with it to an extent.

        I am a part of the LGBT community, but I did not expect a story like this when I chose to read it. I honestly thought it would be a literal "ten-year challenge" like article that which I was curious to see, not an LGBT article in disguise (for lack of a better way of putting it).

        I can see why Gita chose to go with this angle, but there is so much more that could have been done with this article that maybe should have been done?

        Obviously you're allowed your own opinion and you can disagree with the original comment, but you're the only one coming off as a huge dick :\

        Worst comment you have read? More like most objective since he broke down the content into dot points. Are you so threatened by people pointing out biased opinions that you have to resort to attacking them first, to preserve your fragile ego?

        Like... seriously I understand you don't like the commenter above you, but instead being a huge dick about it, maybe you could just skim through his comments and scroll down instead?

        Surely you're better than this trash, maaaaaaaaaaaate. :)

      I do agree with the balance part, BUT it's awesome to see parts of Kotaku including experiences for the whole spectrum of peeps out there. I remember in the early 00's how my best mate would lament that there was no "gay gaming scene" for him to get into and how isolated he felt from his own community so that he could bond with somebody over a shared interest instead of just hooking up at the GB or via Gaydar (there was no Grindr back then).

      We're not friends anymore, but every time I see something like this it makes me happy to know that there are dudes and dudettes out there reading through things and seeing that their trajectory in life is both present and accounted for in the gaming media.

      Honestly, to my mind, what Gita is doing (and Kotaku in general) does to promote that 10-15% of us all that has traditionally been kinda hidden to the side of most media is an important step forward for many people.
      Whilst I've likely complained/brought attention to it myself in the past, it needs to be allowed to have exposure and prominence in media in general so that we can get to that part where it crystalises into normalcy.

      Ya know what I mean?

    Man when this series started I was an under developed man child with mad daddy and abandonment issues that lived alone and filled his life with other people to hide his crippling depression.

    Now I am older and... pretty much still completely the same. Fuck.

    Leo sounds like a fun person to be around.

    When 2 came out I lived and worked in Sydney. Now I live in Newcastle, have a wonderful wife and 3 kids that are just now starting to discover the joy of Kingdom Hearts.

      +1 for Newcastle life!
      Please don't bring anymore Sydney peeps here though. The roads aren't taking it well.

    Wow, really surprised Panamá ended up mentioned in the same place as Kingdom Hearts 3. Just started playing today. Been waiting a long time for this as well. In the time since I started playing, I graduated High School and became an Airlike Pilot for the Flag carrier here. So much has changed all these years.

    What... everyone's lives change a lot over many years, this is so painfully painfully inane. Painfully inane.

      No but Disney and making money is evil now so you can't enjoy things.

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