I’m going through Final Fantasy XV before it leaves Xbox Game Pass this Friday. It’s a game about having adventures with your best friends all while on a road-trip to, inevitably, save the world. Playing FF15, in addition to servicing my goal of finally completing beloved games I’ve left half-done, has become therapeutic. The game not only satisfies the fantasy of being out with friends and having adventures in a way the realities of covid-19 deny, more impactfully its photo mode is changing my relationship with pictures and how I choose to chronicle my life.
Final Fantasy XV’s original photo mode is unique in that you don’t do anything with it — it takes pictures for you. Sure, shortly after release, a new player-driven photo mode was added, but I’ve never used it and don’t intend to. I’m only going to be talking about pictures the Regalia’s resident shutterbug, Prompto, takes on his own, because those are the ones that mean something to me.
Just by itself, FF15’s AI-driven photo mode is revolutionary in that it makes my job as a video game journalist easier. Imagine if a vital part of your workflow were automated. Usually that’s disastrous to most folks since automating things rarely works out for the end user (something I know absolutely nothing about and have never experienced ever). But FF15’s photo mode is so damned good that it captures well-composed and visually interesting shots that make for great headline and insert images all by itself. Yet that ability to take a great shot means as much to me personally as it does my work.
Prompto’s laissez-faire approach to photography is at odds with my photo-adverse self. There was a long stretch of years in which I didn’t take pictures of myself. My feelings about myself, my life, and the way I looked made me not want to enshrine those moments in my digital history. And any moments that weren’t miserable, weren’t glamorous — no vacations abroad, no trips to visually interesting local places, nor interesting meals made — and therefore wouldn’t make for Instagram- or Twitter-worthy shots, ergo they were not worth keeping (thanks corporate engineered FOMO.) Because of those thoughts, large swathes of my life, including a lot of bright moments, exist only in my degrading memory and will soon be lost. I hate reaching back for a happy moment and doubting its existence. It preys on my deep fear of gaslighting, that my lived experiences didn’t actually happen because I have no physical proof of them.
I’ve gotten better. My outlook and circumstances have brightened significantly and I can see that reflected in the sheer difference in numbers of photos from one year to the next. But I still get hung up in old modes of thinking — this isn’t pretty, so it’s not worth remembering. Contrast that with Prompto who takes pictures of everything, damn the appropriateness or even the safety. Ignis is getting mauled by a pack of voretooths (voreteeth??)! Oop, better get that. We all hate each other right now and can barely stand to be around each other. Who gives a shit, I got pictures to take. The result is a full and clear chronicle of this trip that I’m on with these boys — the good and the bad, the ugly and the sublime.
I want that for me. I don’t need every waking moment of my life preserved in Google’s cloud, but I would like to get over my hangup that an imperfect or unflattering moment isn’t worth saving. Prompto’s photography, even though it’s nothing more than an AI slapping a filter over a random moment, encourages me to be less harsh on myself, and to chronicle joy whenever it’s found, not whenever it can be staged.