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FFVII Week: The Why

Written By mista sense on Friday, April 4, 2008 | 7:07 AM

[Crisis Core is, perhaps surprisingly, a massive success. To celebrate its launch, Sexy Videogameland will be analyzing one aspect of the FFVII mythos each day this week, as it appears both in the new PSP title and in the original PSone predecessor. Today, we'll look at the 'What' behind the series -- the themes and elements that helped earn the franchise an enduring fanbase. Previously on SVGL's FFVII week: The 'Who' of FFVII's key characters, the 'What' of its key themes, the 'Where' of its meaningful environments, and the 'When' of the game's timeline -- and ours.]

It's fitting that we close FFVII Week at SVGL with the 'Why,' as that single word is also the title of Crisis Core's wrenchingly lovely main theme, to which I've embedded the official music video above. However, after a week of long articles in which I've tried to thoroughly quantify the series' appeal, "why" is a question I think I've already answered as best as I can. The 'Who,' 'What,' 'Where' and 'When' explain why, I think, FFVII is so beloved to its fanbase.

And yet, no amount of intellectualized analysis, no matter how exhaustive, can account for the endlessly-reaching spectrum of personal meaning. The wonderful thing about video games as a medium is that they mean something different to each person who plays them; we've heard stories about games that change lives, when on their own they seem to stand as transparent entertainment. Wii Sports might not mean anything to you -- but it means a hell of a lot to the kid who survived a near-death accident and is now using it to regain his motility. Those who see Warcraft as vapid and boring might find a point of contention with a man who met his wife there.

As a writer, I've striven not to be too personal with my work. Of course, everything I write can come only from my point of view and no one else's, despite a sense of responsibility to the feat of maintaining motes of objectivity. But in general, I don't write much about myself unless it's relevant to gaming, and even then, I keep my private business out of it.

But in analyzing this subjective, deeply personal 'Why' of a game that means so much to so many people, my private business suddenly seems deeply relevant, so I'm going to take a deviation from my usual form and tell you, briefly, a story about myself.

During this week I've suggested that part of fan attachment to FFVII relates to the stage of life most of us were at when it launched -- young, emotional teenagers beginning to think about our identity and our place in the world. The not-so-nice word for that is "angsty," and I was no exception. Despite being essentially a geek, I was decent at fitting in socially on a superficial level, but in high school I still had few sincere emotional relationships with my peers. I was absolutely ripe for an immersive, fantastic escapist experience, and for a period of time, like many longtime game fans, spent more time thinking about my favorite title than I did about the real world.

High school is difficult enough for young dating relationships, and being unpopular, I had a string of awkward crushes that usually ended in rejection. I got along much better on the internet, when I'd sign onto AOL (hey, it was the nineties!) and spend hours a night talking and imagining about FFVII with other kids in chat rooms.

I met someone in the world of online FFVII fandom that I loved right away -- yeah, I was the quintessential archetype of the teen girl having a fantasy internet relationship. You can laugh. But we were a lucky pair whose passionate earnestness wasn't just a fluke of our young age; online chat turned into long written letters and phone conversations. I'd mail him my fanart in envelopes covered in stickers, and even though we lived some 1000 miles apart, he soon knew more about who I was and what was going on in my life than anyone else I knew. And though our relationship was forged in super-geek fandom for FFVII, we were successful at translating that connection into other, much more concrete areas.

We maintained the long-distance relationship for some three years, and when we were old enough to leave home and the eyes and opinion of parents who were wary of our connection with "an internet person," we met in person and continued to hit it off well. During that first visit, we played the still-new FFVIII together. Later still, when I moved to New York in 2002, he moved with me, and we lived together, becoming much more a proper cohabitating couple than a strange online love connection.

We were in love, and we've lived together since then -- just about six years. Our surreal teen days are now more a distant memory than not, and we've played many, many, many games together since FFVII, though the game that brought us together holds a special place in our hearts. Buying a new Final Fantasy almost feels like a wedding anniversary.

Over the years, we've heard plenty of criticisms from friends and family, even after we stopped being "an internet couple". Some were concerned about our close symbiosis, our exclusive two-person world. My friends worried about the long-term health of a relationship between two people who never got to date others -- after all, we've been together since we were so young. We have always disregarded their concerns, but with the eyes of maturity we both began to wonder if the degree to which we depended on each other might be inhibiting our growth as individuals. We're not needy kids anymore; we're adults and we want to live independent lives.

Just a few months ago, we decided to break up; at the very least, to live separately while we worked these things out on our own, with no guarantees for the future. We plan to move out of our shared habitat in the coming month and into our own places. At the time we made that difficult decision, something like FFVII was the furthest thing from our minds -- we aren't kids anymore, and while we love our fantasy worlds as much as the next gamer, we're adult enough to know that the real world is what matters.

But still, as fans, we made sure to buy Crisis Core. We each own a PSP, and we each have our own copy, as sharing such a highly-prized title wouldn't be feasible. And each night in the past week, we've found ourselves each sitting at opposite ends of the couch after dinner, in the mutual homestead we'll soon be leaving. Each of us has a PSP in hand, and each of us has headphones in, both of us revisiting the world that prompted us to fall in love over ten years ago.

It's an emotional time. When the strains of a familiar tune begin to play right up against my ears, I feel my throat tighten. I look up, look across the couch, we make eye contact, and we've both got tears in our eyes, unsure whether we're reacting to the high emotional themes of the game's story -- or to our own.

I played FFVII when my great love story began, and now I'm playing Crisis Core as it seems to be ending. Crisis Core aims to answer the questions left unaddressed in FFVII, and to ask the questions that FFVII answers. I'm asking some questions of myself. Beyond all of the factors that I've analyzed this week, this is my own, private 'Why.'

As we conclude FFVII Week, I'm sure each of you fans has 'Why's of your own. You are encouraged to share them in the comments, but no obligation. If not about FFVII, about any other title you have a reason for loving that's yours and yours alone.

I've added an 'FFVII Week' blog tag so that you can now view the entire series as a stand-alone if you'd like in the future. Finally, thanks to the distinctly non-fans who so kindly surrendered SVGL to my singlemindedness for the week; we now return to your regularly-scheduled programming.

By the way, this is not the "big personal announcement" that was promised to those who listened to the Brainy Gamer podcast earlier this week. That news is still coming -- check back later today!

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