Story Pile: Brave Father Online: Our Story of Final Fantasy XIV

Some of the dates her are a little general, sorry, it’s just what you gotta deal with. Here’s the long walk version: Sometime, around 2016 by my best information, a Japanese blogger who played a character named Maidy Maidy in Final Fantasy XIV made a blog detailing his story of connecting with his father through both playing the game Final Fantasy XIV. Maidy’s plan was to get his dad into the game, and befriend him there, without his dad knowing his friend was his son.

This was successful in the way that autobiographical blog posts relating to videogames rarely are.

The real-life account of this was so compelling there was a book made (2017), then a TV series (2017), then a movie (2019), and at each step of this process, the original author, who was a real person talking about his real relationship with his real dad resisted changes that were suggested to make the story more tragic or heartbreaking or more classically dramatic. The movie uses in-game footage captured by an ordinary player account, though dramatically enhanced through crime programs, and Maidy ‘plays’ his character and his guildmates play their roles with him. It is effortlessly charming, very funny, classic to its form, and a movie I really enjoyed.

It is a personal story about a relationship and a videogame.

Content Warning: Cancer!

Anyway, this post has almost nothing to do with that.

I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV for about nine months now. I started playing sometime during August 2021, and I have been playing it continually since then. I started with an old character I made in 2014 and reached level 18 or so, then took that character all the way to the end of Endwalker during release month. Then, to make sure that I had, in my mind, a reasonable grasp of the game, I did it again – starting a second character at level 1, to see if there were things that my ‘old’ character had attached to them that confused me.

This was, incidentally, three months after I posted a ‘first impressions’ meme of the characters.

I started playing this game to connect with a friend.

Look, playing games socially is, for me, hard. I have a bunch of multiplayer games that I never used or played. I have a small group of friends who I play with, and when I can, when I can actually muster that initiative to say ‘let’s play this videogame together,’ it’s beautiful and wonderful and I don’t feel bad. I have a low key feeling whenever it happens though that I’m wasting their time, or that I’m a ‘bad’ part of the game.

As for the game itself, well, Final Fantasy XIV, was a game I had pretty much disdain for. I’d tried it in 2014, I disliked the way that the game relied on a low ping, and everything in the game was dependent on fast reactions. I couldn’t play it, I felt, so I didn’t. This didn’t even change when my internet sister fell in love with the game, where I was happy to let her play her game she loved and read wikis so I could understand what she was talking about, so I could relate to her about her favourite Blorbos. I was content to let Final Fantasy XIV be a game, over there.

But a friend wanted to play with me.

Wanted to play Final Fantasy XIV with me.

Wanted to see what I thought of it.

And they wanted to do that in a fairly time focused manner, because they’d just been diagnosed with cancer, and a videogame was a really good way to keep our minds off that. When an event made it free to play for a month for returning accounts, I did that, and… I played. I played with my friend. There were times of churning through the Main Scenario Quest solo, with my notepad in hand, talking to them about what I thought of the story. Whenever a raid or a dungeon became part of my time, we spoke and they came along for almost anything. If I needed gear, they helped me out. I played up to about level 30, then opened my wallet, paid to recustomise a character I’d made seven years prior, and created a character who could be part of stories with them.

And I played in secret, and I played with my friend and I enjoyed the game. I enjoyed the game that I had pages of notes on, that did so many things wrong, that made me mad and frustrated and had terrible characters and I loved, loved, loved playing with them.

You can understand why I might not be willing to talk about this in public immediately. Because what if the worst happened, and suddenly this game wasn’t a wonderful bridge to reach across an ocean and hold my beloved friend’s hand, and instead became a reminder of the last thing we did together, the thing that I spent my time complaining about?

Hold up though because this gets weirder.

See, I had another friend who told me she was going through cancer treatment. And then one day out of the blue, she mentions to me:

I wish you were playing Final Fantasy XIV. Then I could talk to you about it.

If I had a nickel for each person I knew for whom Final Fantasy XIV was the bridge to me while they were experiencing cancer treatment, I’d have two nickels. That’s not a lot but it is weird that it happened twice.

Games are an amazing media for changing social contexts. Parents can play games with their kids, and the rules of the game break down the power dynamic of the parent; it doesn’t matter who can send whom to bed in the rules of the game, what matters is the rules, that both parties have to follow, or they’re not playing the game. Games are like any media we can use as a point of connection, but games being creative mean that we don’t just experience the same media, we get to create something in that shared space. The kind of words I chose to play Scrabble with when I’m playing with my mother when I’m ten are going to be different to the ones that I’m thinking about when I play it with my adult friends now.

Games equalise experiences; they systemitise communication; and in many cases, they forgive us our awkwardness. In Final Fantasy XIV, you can’t quite hold a hand or hug someone. The models don’t quite work. But there is a thing you can do that expresses, very clearly, in the way players understand, hug. I am not an expert at the game, and my friend is, but when we both go in to fight Titan together, we are closer, and we want the same things: a fun story. We want to be part of each other’s lives, and each other’s play.

It’s fine now, by the way. My friends’ cancers have gone from ‘immediate concern’ to ‘not’ for now, like, as much as these things can be. I did consider talking about Final Fantasy XIV publically at that point, because hey, I’m not as scared that this game will become a grave in my mind any more, but then I got paralysed by a new concern. I hadn’t finished the game yet. Maybe people wouldn’t appreciate my opinions on the game unless I could position myself as a proper expert, so I finished Endwalker and then restarted on a new character and did the entire MSQ again on another character.

I’ve learned from this, though, that I don’t need to worry about that because no, people will not respect opinions even expert ones, so I can just not worry about it.

Watching Brave Father Online had me noticing a lot of things about the new player experience. Things like making a character name to fit into a space, how individuals using emotes may have ‘default to’ options, the ways that players in the game behave. When they do Ifrit for the first time, they don’t tell the dad the mechanics, because the game is meant to be a thing you can learn the hard way and that’s okay.

And yeah, it got me to think about my own story. About how I play, and how it matters to me, and how these experiences – infinitely replicable experiences that are to many people the most mundane part of a game, are in their own way, these adventures you dive into, these stories we weave together, and which are part of the structure of our lives that we can use to give us hope and determination during extremely real problems. It can be a way you get someone to talk to you and approach you as an equal, to realise that you’re not just a family member or a person in their periphery, but a whole person who can be seen and understood in terms of common interests that may not come up in your lives otherwise.

This game, as a story, is something that I am going to complain about, a lot, in my life, going forwards, because complaining is fun and I like doing it. But I will never not love this game and the time I spent with it because of the story of my friend, of the laughing at the jokes, of the cheer when hey can we do this and then oh wow we can do this, and yes, seeing the ways they play versus the way I play. How many things have I handled without knowing the ‘right’ way to do it by just being creative on the spot? How many times have I eat dirt against something that’ll never get me twice, but we both found the moment so funny it was easy to pull myself up and dust off and go again?

I really loved this movie. It’s warming and moving and sweet in many ways. The way that medical tension plays into it, and the intersection of illness and play and work and obssessive focus on play in the time of medical stress just all slotted together in my head in a way that hurt, but in an honest way. I loved what it is and I loved what it represented. I love that it closely represented the vision of the creator, who I know now only as ‘Maidy Maidy.’

The actor who played the original dad in the TV series Dad of Light passed away in 2018.

Maidy Maidy’s player passed away in 2020.

Both died from cancer.

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