How an RPG Video Game Changed My Life…

I’ll admit, when I picked up Final Fantasy XII from a video game store last summer, it wasn’t because I was searching for a deeply meaningful experience.  

I basically bought it because I had randomly inherited a PlayStation 3, and despite the fact that it had been a decade since I had last been in the habit of staring at a TV while wiggling my thumbs, the good Mennonite in me demanded that I not let a free thing go to waste.  I knew almost nothing about the Final Fantasy franchise, but figured it seemed like a good a way as any to help take myself less seriously.

I remember thinking when I first started the game, “I hope this doesn’t take over my life”.  One hundred and twenty five hours later, I stared at the screen with bloodshot eyes, mouth agape, as the final credits rolled down the screen.  My life had returned.

It may not have been the most intrinsically meaningful 125 hours.  I mean, you play as a character with spiky hair in a futuristic world where he must recruit warriors, earn money, upgrade weapons and armor, and defeat an evil lord who is bent on world domination.  Typical stuff.

However, the experience did afford me more than just a free ticket out of reality. I came to an unexpected life revelation, and I figured I’d share it with you and save you the 125 hours. So here goes.

I found out that a friend of mine had met disaster about halfway through his time playing the game.  He had saved his progress while his characters were inside a forest, and found to his horror that when he returned to his save, his characters had not upgraded themselves to the point where they were strong enough to escape the forest.  Being unable to go backward or forward, his only option to progress was to restart the game from the beginning. Since he had already invested 60 hours in the save, he opted to just quit altogether.

Fearing a similar experience, I constantly saved my progress under four different save files.  Anytime I made a choice that I might even remotely regret later, I would make sure I was able to restore my progress to the point just prior to making the choice.  “Hmmm…buy a quarterstaff for 15000 gil that Ashe might not actually use?  Save it.” “Gonna fight that Tyrannosaurus Rex but all my characters might die?  Save it.”

The weird thing is, I began to realize – after I got past the forest my friend got stuck in – I had never bothered to actually go back to a previous save point.  It wasn’t as though I had been playing the game perfectly; I made plenty of mistakes. Like, I would screw up an attack and then have to use an expensive Megalixir to revive all my characters. But these mistakes were never grievous enough for me to bother undoing what I had learned or accomplished in the process. In fact, the only times I ever actually used another save file was when I already planned to.  So, for example, if a shop was selling five weapons and I only had enough money for one, but wanted to test them all out, I’d buy one, try it, then reset the game to test another.  It was basically a return policy for nerds.

Now, I certainly could have continued to repeat battles and quests until I completed them perfectly. But I realized that it was actually less time-consuming to simply take imperfect action and deal with the repercussions as they came. Money could be earned again. Characters could be brought back to health.  And in fact, I found it was often when I went into something with the mentality that “this probably won’t work but I’m gonna try it anyway” that I made some of my biggest discoveries.  My fear of creating permanent problems, it seemed, was rather baseless.

Now, I understand that a video game isn’t real life. Sometimes people make mistakes they regret. You know, use a parachute when skydiving, and all that.

But I think we humans have a tendency to mistake temporal surface problems for irreversible tragedies. It makes sense as a survival mechanism. But it’s also important to consider that we can’t gain knowledge WITHOUT making the choices that we do.  And when we have the mentality that we’re free to experiment and make mistakes, I think we tend to make better decisions.

I have this poster next to my desk. Click to buy from my friends at Reformation Designs!

So, as I neared the end of the game, I bought a keyboard (in real life.  Not a Final Fantasy keyboard.  That would have been cool too though).  It had been one of my life goals for a long time, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it previously because I would think things like “what if you suddenly need $500 for something else” or “what if someone gives you an actual piano sometime, then you wasted all your money”.  In case you’re wondering, no one has given me a keyboard, and I use my Yamaha all the time.

And I hope to continue to make stronger choices as I walk through life, and take comfort from knowing that if life had an undo button, I’d probably be too “lazy” to use it anyway.  The experience of making confident, imperfect choices is better than playing it safe.

So there you have it. Anyone got any sage wisdom from Lord of the Rings pinball?

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