I’m Playing Final Fantasy XIV – Part Two

“Old Audidididididididi oooooooo happy birthday, sir!”

The old refrain slid its way into my dusty Facebook messenger app. It had been years since I went by my old screename “Audio,” a name that’s almost as inspired as my lily white sword boy Dagda.

You see, back in the day, when I was older and wiser and knew that striding into a group of strangers and asking to be a part of their organization is not the way to make friends, I found a clan in a Half Life 1 mod-turned-full-game called Day of Defeat. The WWII shooter was bundled when I registered an old copy of Half Life to Steam, and since I was bored and at the time only received new games on my birthday or Christmas (a six month drought in any direction), I decided to check it out. It clicked with me pretty much right away.

Here’s somebody else’s footage of the game for your pleasure

Mostly, it was stumbling into the NeO|GoD server, which is as much fun to type as it was to try to explain to people (GoD stands for Gods of Death, get it?). The group and clan members drew me in. They were chatty, fun, had a history with each other, and as I hung around the server, would greet me enthusiastically when I joined. It felt good to find a group so naturally.

Unlike The Marines {TM}, NeOGoD (forgive me for dropping the bars), was something I took my time getting into. I browsed their forums and posted as a guest, tried to keep my play time up, and got to know the members. The membership list ran the gamut from from young to old, and the leader (a fellow called Sturm Tiger) was a former Marine Corps sniper who was on the front lines during the Gulf War. At a time when I was heavily considering joining the real Marine Cops (not uh, the Halo clan), I was a bit star struck.

I mean, look at this damn forum header image

The biggest draw, however, was someone by the name Phantom Llama, a Midwesterner a few years older than me. He was always talking on the mic (something he would rib me constantly for – calling myself “Audio” but not having a microphone still.) He was fun, charismatic, and became something of a mentor to me. Llama was the welcoming committee and the team mascot – the one everyone loved with the warm personality that had the power to draw everyone into the server whenever you saw him log on. You know the type.

“AUDIIDIDIDIDIDIDIDIDID-” he would bellow into the microphone when I logged on. “-DIDIDIDIDIDID-” sometimes he would go on like this for a while before the climactic and dramatic “-OOOOOOOOOOOOOO” that would often get many other clanmates to join in. Llama was great, and we became fast friends.

Forward This Email If You Love Jesus

NeOGod, for whatever reason, tended to lean pretty right-wing and had many very religious members. I don’t know if that’s the demographic of Day of Defeat or just the server, but their brand of conservatism tended to skew more towards the garbage-chain-emails-your-grandmother-sends than anything else (we had quite a few older members). Constant vague criticisms about how Obama uses the Constitution as a dinner napkin, the occasional Fox News article about the latest millennial trend ruining the country, and so on. Look, 2007 was a very different time, and I was a very different person.

infinite sigh

But I’m not here to write about my close call with right wing internet conspiracy groups . I’m here to talk about how Llama was studying to be a Catholic priest.

You see once upon a time, I was a very good Catholic boy who, for a long stretch of his life, believed God was calling him to be a priest as well. Llama was an inspiration – warm, bright, always excited to see everyone, and saw the world as I did – as an increasingly secular hell hole that was growing cold as it turned away from God, but was not irredeemable. Seeing someone I admired who also happened to share the same faith was magnetic.

The NeOGod forums had a thread specifically for prayer requests. We would all try to find time to log on during holidays like Easter and Christmas so we could wish each other Merry Christmas (and none of that Happy Holidays shit). Once, when my mother was unexpectedly taken to the hospital on our way to Thanksgiving dinner, Llama texted me to say he had his family praying for us. That meant a lot.

There was constant talk in the forums about family and what it means to be a part of a group through thick and thin. I stuck through it all and gained trust. I earned some responsibility. I could reset the server and was well on my way to becoming an administrator. If felt great to proverbially work my way up the family dinner table.

All Good Things

One day, Llama just kind of stopped logging on. Life gets in the way and some interpersonal drama made him less inclined jump in and play. There was a hole in the server, but I kept playing nonetheless. I had responsibilities at this point.

Clan members would get quite bitter when they saw someone else playing on a different server or if someone just stopped playing without so much as a goodbye. I vowed to never be one of these people. I loved them all and could never see myself just abandoning the server like all the other folks who didn’t understand the definition of family.

I guess we all lie to ourselves sometimes.

I started to fade away as I shed my high school self and went to college. My political beliefs were shifting in cataclysmic ways. I started playing other games, and server responsibilities paled in comparison to real life responsibilities.

When looking back on the forums, my last post was from 2012 where I recognized the fact that I wasn’t around as much and apologized for it. I felt guilt and some sort of obligation – recognition of the fact that I was becoming one of the people I swore I would never become.

People change, I realized, and that’s alright. No one who just faded away did so maliciously or felt like they were slighting the family. Like all relationships that we thought could never possibly end, sometimes they just…do.

I Finished the Main Quest of Final Fantasy XIV

Around 47 hours since I first stepped foot in Ul’dah, I defeated Ultimate Weapon with a large eight person party and finished the game.

I say I, but the structure of Final Fantasy XIV as an MMO takes a lot of the narrative heft off my shoulders and places it in the hands of seven veterans who ran through the dungeon at breakneck speed. The credits rolled and I kind of shrugged.

That’s not to say I hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed my experience so far. There’s something so cozy about the world that draws me in and makes me want to spend time inside of it. Sitting around a sanctuary, watching a stranger whip out a bizarre mount like the car from Final Fantasy XV, or listening to a bard pluck out the opening notes to Megalovania on a harp, or sighing in relief when a stranger comes over to one shot an enemy you were struggling with for the main quest. These little moments are so large in my head.

Final Fantasy XIV is, for me, a beautiful tapestry of these little events. Sure, my experience was more like drive-by window shopping as I ran from one main quest NPC to another, but I was aware that the tight nit groups I had experienced with NeOGod were there and all around me.

Homeless

I never found any sort of community or family inside my brief time with Final Fantasy XIV, although that wasn’t entirely unexpected. I know I’ll never find the same group of tight friends like I did back in my Day of Defeat days. And that’s alright. Maybe I just know better. My bandwidth is spent trying to maintain relationships in other aspects of my life.

But there were little glimpses in these window shopping moments.

I queued up a daily roulette one day. These are dungeons you’ve already run before as part of the main quest that you can play again to level up quickly. You’re assigned to a random group, some of whom may be running the dungeon for the first time, others who have done this hundreds of times.

The quest started and it was one I was pretty unfamiliar with. I had run it once during the main quest a long time ago, but I certainly didn’t know enough about it to lead as a tank. I was honest and told them I was pretty inexperienced with this dungeon and still getting a hold of tanking in general.

Oh boy, I love teaching newbies how to run a dungeon.

I rolled my eyes. Let’s just do this and get through it then, I said.

“No seriously,” they continued. “We have a good healer here. It’s okay to do large pulls – I’ll show you how to do it.”

It was clear that the other three party members were good friends. They threw some shade at their absent tank friend who was too good to do a daily roulette with them, which is how they ended up with me. They were talkative and cracked inside jokes I wasn’t privy to. They laughed at me when I wandered down a dead end hallway to try and get a bigger pull, then stood up for me.

He’s a sprout and needs the experience, leave him alone!

That was my first “big pull” I had ever done. This was True Tanking. They patiently and goodheartedly suffered my smaller pulls initially as I got more and more comfortable running through the dungeon, grabbing larger mobs. They cheered me up when I led us down the wrong path. They cracked wise at our environment.

Before the boss, they stopped and made sure I knew what moves to prep for. When it was vanquished, they didn’t jump through the portal right away, they stayed to chat and offered some general tanking tips I hadn’t heard before. They sent me friend requests once we left the dungeon and I’m tempted to reach out again.

This is Final Fantasy XIV at its best, and yet I only saw a limited cross section of what it could be. There are tight friend groups out there, roaming the hillsides of Eorzea, braving the depths of its dungeons together, and throwing in-game weddings for one another. Some groups will fall apart, some will reform themselves, and others may yet remain close for a long time to come. But each moment of shared player bond, no matter how fleeting, is something to be cherished.

We Change, And That’s Alright

I never became a priest, and neither did Llama. He ended up leaving the seminary and getting married. We would speak briefly through Facebook right after we both faded from NeOGoD, and then stopped talking altogether for a long, long while.

And then last week, on my twenty-seventh birthday, twelve years after I first stepped digital foot into the Day of Defeat server, the old refrain popped up through Messenger.

“Old Audidididididididi oooooooo happy birthday, sir!”

We caught up, briefly. It felt good to know that all the time we spent together still meant something to both of us, in some form (even as he admitted to removing everyone from his Steam friend list, me included).

We faded, but didn’t entirely forget. We keep the channels open to make the connection again. We had clearly both changed and didn’t need to stay in touch like we used to, and that’s alright. I’m eternally grateful for the late night gaming sessions, the outreach of support during hard times, the sobering life advice, and much, much more. We shared the same path for a long while, and pulling apart doesn’t lessen those experiences.

A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV is a weird, wonderful space. I’m immensely glad I got to spend time with it and rub elbows with strangers both inside and outside of dungeons. It’s filled with beautiful people who are truly being themselves in whatever form that takes. I think, perhaps, this is why digital spaces can lead to such tight bonds. Hidden behind a screen, our truer selves make easier connections than our flesh and bone countenance.

There’s much more to the game than just A Realm Reborn, and I’ll be stepping back into Dagda’s boots at some point in the near future. Heck, in the middle of writing this, I just got my first in-game wedding invitation from an old internet friend of mine.

But for now, it’s time to leave Eorzea and its beautiful citizens. I don’t have intentions of saying goodbye (who ever does?). It’s just time to step away for a little while to make room for other things in my life.

And that’s alright.

Published by

Steve D

Happiness AI

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