Saturday, August 20, 2005
My Final Fantasy
I had an addiction. I was addicted to Final Fantasy XI. Like any other MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI is all about stat modification, wealth accumulation, and hunting for that expensive or rate item. FF XI is also unique from most of its MMORPG kin for skewing a bit on the ‘hard’ side. In many ways, the game also takes more patience, more commitment and more ‘help’ than a rival game like say, Ragnarok On-line or the recently released World of Warcraft. In FF XI the level grind in FFXI is more intense, and players can’t advance very far up the game without substantial help from other players.
It’s hard for people who don’t play these kinds of games to understand their power. An MMORPG is essentially an alternate life; it is a persistent world in which players live in. The desire to improve a character, make him or her more powerful and acquire wealth, rare items, and to advance in the game is a powerful motivator for most people to keep playing. In the year plus I’ve spent in FF XI, I played some 150 days logged in the game. Granted there were many hours of me just idling on the computer while I washed dishes, had dinner, or dozed off. Doing some quick calculations, I discovered those 150 days translated 3,600 hours playing a game. That averages to about 69.2 hours a week or 9.9 hours a day.
MMORPGs also have economies, communities and societies. There’s inflation, there are the currency sellers who farm virtual currency, which they turn around and sell to wholesalers such as ige.com for cold hard greenbacks, and there’s a lively Japanese and Korean community who provide great opportunities for inter cultural exchange. One of the most time consuming and emotional aspects of an MMORPG is inter-guild politics. People don’t get a long. There are power grabs, disagreements over how rare items are divided and all the things I thought $13 a month would help me get away from. Inside each guild are also loud mouths, scoundrels, liars, and spoiled brats and pompous pricks who ruin everyone else’s fun but their own. These aspects of the MMORPG is what is ultimately what is most disheartening for me. The grind I can live with, the other things take their emotional toll and destroy the fun.
That’s not to say FF XI is all bad. In my yearlong time there, there are many genuine moments of greatness. There’s camaraderie, strong friendships and trusts that were formed. When soldiers talk about trusting their lives to a buddy in the foxhole, most people only vaguely understand what that really means. An MMORPG player however probably understands a lot more of the meaning of that statement because we can say the same about trusting our character and our mental well being to a friend who’s been through a lot with us. There are friends whom I spent months with levelling up together, going on missions together and hunting rare items together. I trust my character to them and I feel relaxed and at home talking about everything with these adventurers. At its best, FF XI and all MMORPGs promote these kinds of lasting relationships and bonds. When we played the standard off-line RPGs and formed a party to save the world, the concept of a party is an abstract notion, an artificial story driven limit imposed by the game on the player. An MMORPG liberates players from this abstraction. In Final Fantasy XI, I am an adventurer, a White Mage, a team member and a job specialist. My friends look to me to remove their status effects and keep them alive, and the Paladin will gladly step in to take the hits to avoid the mages from dying. There’s no abstraction of story here. The story is that of a real party. It’s a unit, a squad, a platoon of players who go out in the world to fight monsters and gain fame, and fortune.
Unfortunately, these qualities and moments don’t come nearly as often as they used to. In the end game, FF XI is about wealth accumulation, keeping up with the joneses and endless hours of toil. The guild politics doesn’t help. After taking a two-month break from the game, I recently returned to FF XI to check out the game, hoping that maybe I would get hooked by it again. But I don’t think I want to get hooked by it any more. Quitting had allowed me to enjoy other things— I was able to read more, I started blogging again. Basically, the 10 hours I’ve been wasting a day I got back to be spent on my life to enrich myself and to dabble in other things I let slide in my yearlong addiction to the game. The final straw for me was when I realized that I’m no longer prepared to put up with the elements of the game that make it unfun for me..
Although I have until next month until my account expires. I think I’m prepared to say my goodbyes to the game.
So long Vana’diel.