December equals holidays. Holidays, if you’re sentimental like us, are a time for thinking about your friends and family and how much they mean to you. When games play an integral role in your existence, a lot of your favorite experiences with friends and family will have a videogame smack-dab in the middle of them.
On every Tuesday/Thursday for the next month, we’re going to talk about those games, how they brought us closer together, and how they helped us create memories. We want to share what games hold special places in our hearts, and not for their own merits but because of how they affected our relationships with the people around us. We’re calling the series Warm and Fuzzy, and we hope you like it.
I spent my ninth grade year in MMORPG bliss, eaten alive by Final Fantasy XI’s world of Vana’diel. Deyen, my character, charged up through the levels, gaining new equipment, abilities, and levels each day. Adam, the real boy, got a little pudgy. He failed his introductory Algebra class. He didn’t sleep a lot or do much homework.
It was a simple time: wake up right before I needed to step out the door (I also had very poor dental hygiene during this phase of my life), and rendezvous before homeroom in front of my locker to talk with my friends about what happened in the game last night. Then I’d spend the rest of my day snoozing through school, just waiting to get home and play more.
I miss those days like hell.
My friends and I would spend the weekends at each other houses playing Final Fantasy XI. Our parents thought we were nuts – lugging desktop computers around in laundry baskets, sleeping for only an hour or two – but there was nothing else in the world we would have preferred to be doing.
The funny thing is that I don’t have a lot of “real life” memories from our FFXI period. I know we were in basements a lot, and that we’d talk about the game incessantly at school, and that other people wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with us because we just talked about the game all the time. I do, however, have a treasure trove of memories of what we did in-game.
There was the time Cory died in Palborough Mines, having gotten too arrogant for his own good. We took screenshots and danced, cackling at our keyboards, around his corpse. There was Logan and I taking our tentative first steps into Konstacht Highlands and discovering the windmills that line the western side. I remember the exciting moments when we founded our guild. I remember immaturely shouting obscenities in the game’s busiest city. I remember so much.
In a way, almost all of FFXI is a warm and fuzzy memory for me. Even now, returning to the game feels like a homecoming. I know the path through every city. I know the music that plays. The game has very confusing menus, with complicated controls to navigate them. If you asked me what keys to press to move around them, I’d have no idea. But sit me down in front of a keyboard and I’ll do it no problem; it’s information that’s as ingrained in me as riding a bicycle. If I try really hard, I can conjure up the way each area smells; Qufim Island with it’s frigid salinity; the sweet humidity of Yuhtunga Jungle; the sulfur and smoke of Bastok. They’re imagined smells, obviously, but they’re smells I’ve conjured up since I was 15. They take me back to a younger, more innocent time, like the smell of my parent’s house.
The reason that my time in FFXI is so important to me is more about the friends than the game, though. It was the height of our friendship. We were a strange group, united as much by our intelligence as our general disdain for everything. In many ways, we were polar opposites. But they were my first best friends, the first group of people I felt completely at ease with. I was really shy as a teenager, and finding this group of people to let my guard down with was a major moment in my life.
FFXI brought us together. It was the conduit through which our friendships tightened and our bonds strengthened. We remained friends after we left FFXI, but it was never the same. I still talk to them all – there was never a major falling out. Just as we played the game less and less, we also hung out with each other less and less. One member in the group got involved in a lot of things far too serious for a high school kid. I wonder a lot if I could have done something about that, if maybe we had just been good friends for longer, if I could have a been a braver, better friend, if maybe we had just stayed the fuck in Vana’Diel, his life would have taken a completely different path.
I’ll never know. I’ll also probably never find a group dynamic like that one: vibrant, vital, the result of untempered youth. It was the kind of friendship that could only exist at that point in my life. Don’t get me wrong: today I have some of the best friends that anyone could ever have. But it’s a different kind of friendship. More mature. Less explosive.
Lucky for me, I can relive those moments whenever I want. Some people won’t call them warm and fuzzy – we fought a lot and talked a lot of shit, but it was all in good fun – but I do. And walking through Vana’diel today, I can feel them. I can remember. I’ve walked the paths we used to take, stood in the spots where we fought along side each other. The places we’d stand around and chat for hours, just waiting for something to happen. There’s no one there to fight or talk with anymore; I can see the scene, but not the actors.
FFXI has changed a lot since my halcyon days, and I’ve changed as well. My friendship with those three other people has changed. But we’ll always have that time to look back on. We’ll always know that was something special, and I’ll always miss it. The four of us can’t help but bring up playing FFXI again when we get together. I always first think of the reasons I shouldn’t do that: it’s old, a little ugly now, really hard and incredibly time-consuming. It eats up your life. It accentuates teamwork and collaboration to an absurd degree. It is so spine-breakingly difficult that it bonds everyone that plays it together with a “us versus the game” mentality.
Thing is, if everyone else was on board, I would jump right back in.