Video games. They are much more than a time sink.
Apologies to the fact that I didn’t post this last week like I was supposed to on Wednesday. This is supposed to be a bi-weekly feature and it turned into a triweekly one. But like I always say….Sometimes Life Happens.
This piece has taken me a few weeks to construct, similar to my post on family and its understated importance in the stories that we read (go here for reference). The difference here being that it’s been hard for me to narrow down on what I want to say, since I have so much to go off on. So I’ll just get into it.
Video games have held a large important place in my life for a long time and still continue to do so for a few reasons.
- The first being that I moved around quite a bit as a child and unlike what they show in a lot of tv sitcoms, being the new kid during childhood constantly can be harder than it looks. So during those transition periods I had things like my Gameboy (my brother gave me the original one as he started to become less interested in it) or my Super Nintendo, and eventually my Playstation One. With glee, I would turn the console on and proceed to be transported to far off places with settings far different from mine, facing problems that I couldn’t imagine, but wanted to help solve.
- I was that kid whose parents had him involved in everything: sports, church activities, summer programs, after school clubs, etc. So getting a chance to just sit still and play video games was a thrill in itself at the time.
- It was another avenue to just be exposed to different ideas. I was always drawing (unfortunately I suck at it *cries slowly*) and writing whatever came to my imagination. As a kid, it helped provide that metaphorical spark.
Actually writing out those experiences help me to better understand my passion for this particular medium and just exactly how versatile it is in telling a story. But let’s not forget that at the end of the day the game needs to be FUN (however you define that in your own personal way) before being super story heavy and weighing down the entire experience. Some of my favorite moments while playing games came out of subtlety. There were quite a few themes and scenarios that I didn’t even understand until I was much older.
My favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy IX (or Final Fantasy 9 for the non fancy). My first foray into role-playing video games, I eventually became sucked into the world and it was down the rabbit hole after that. It had FOUR DISCS! THE STORY LASTED THAT LONG! My first time playing it took around 60-70 hours and even with that enormous amount of time, I still hadn’t collected everything or finished every quest. Over ten years later and I’ve more than likely logged hundreds of hours with this game, periodically replaying it still.
It provided me with so many of my “firsts” in video games:
- Multiple storylines that all converged towards a central plot
- Layered characters with backstories and individual ambitions separate from the main story
- That addictive urge to ‘see’ and ‘find’ as many secrets in the world that I could
- An emotional connection to characters and their experiences (Vivi still is one of my favorites)
The starting premise is established within the world of Gaia and primarily on four continents that you eventually find yourself traveling across. It’s a land of fantasy and magic, yet blended with an almost Steampunk aesthetic, the denizens of the planet being able to utilize the every present Mist to power technology and advance their people. The main character is Zidane, a boastful thief (with a mysterious tail!) who is part of a traveling theater troupe with plans to kidnap the princess of one of the most powerful kingdoms on the planet. It’s a plot with an A to B finish, but events outside their control occur, soon building the story up into something so much bigger: a war between nations, tales of redemption, and an even bigger plot with science fiction elements that affects the entire world.
As the story evolved, I found myself caught right in the middle of the chaos, the ever-present third person perspective to the characters. Vivi (who I mentioned above), portrayed in the very beginning as a young, meek, and weak mage, struggles with personal identity and figuring out his purpose (especially later on after learning of his origin). Through his adventures with the group (that he accidentally gets caught up in), he emerges on the other side stronger (arguably one of the most powerful characters in the game) and confident in who he is as a person, regardless of where he really is from or what his purpose originally was. He defines his path in life (any of these things echo reality to you?).
Princess Garnett is the aforementioned royalty who is kidnapped (albeit willingly once she sees it as chance to escape her confined life). Someone who has largely had her destiny mapped out for her since birth, she struggles initially with discovering who she really is as a person and differentiating it from what she simply was “taught” to be. Even more so, she battles with conflicted feelings for her mother who plays a larger more menacing role. Shades of gray within our interactions with our family is something everyone can relate to.
Those two storylines are simply the tip of the iceberg (didn’t even begin to get into just how surprising and integral the main character is). The list of characters you directly control and the ones who are on the periphery are large in number but every interaction seems important.
I suppose that’s the most important thing that I wanted to convey here. Video games aren’t simply a novelty for the ‘immature’, the ‘lazy’, or the ‘young.’ Just like in every medium, there’s a plethora of different genres that satisfy everyone (there’s room for shooting games, sports games, AND role-playing fantasy games guys!); and this medium has produced a large number of titles that have inspired me to want to emulate the same work within my own writing. Capturing that unexplainable spark that attracts the reader or the gamer to those particular characters, that world they inhabit, or even that narrative being told.
If that doesn’t produce a good story, then I don’t know what will.