January 27, 2012 7 Comments
My first real foray into the world of video games happened accidentally, in 2002, at a small Blockbuster branch at the Jersey shore. I was eleven. My gaming habits were repetitive up ‘til then, to say the least—I owned both of the N64 Zelda games but I was terrible at them, so I’d go to Blockbuster to rent the cartridges and play someone else’s save file. It never worked out for me because the person who rented Ocarina of Time before me would always be saved in the middle of Death Mountain and the person renting Majora’s Mask would be at the beginning of the game’s infamous three day cycle, except with lots more masks to play with. I kept renting the same cartridges anyway because I liked running around in the open world and using the items I hadn’t obtained on my own unimpressive save files. I guess you could say I was easily entertained. Nothing’s changed there.
By 2002, our local Blockbuster had stopped carrying Nintendo 64 games so I was forced out of my habit. It didn’t matter, because I had a brand new Playstation 2 and the list of prospective rentals seemed endless. On this particular day, I was strolling through the aisles when a piece of cover art caught my eye—a ridiculously dressed man standing in the ocean, looking out at the coast. Final Fantasy X. I took it home with me and marveled at the opening scenes—to this JRPG virgin, cutscenes so fluid and graphically intensive were a thing I did not know could exist. When it was finally my turn to take control of the game’s protagonist, Tidus, I ran around the linear path of destruction for ten minutes trying to figure out what I was supposed to do before finally bumping into my very first Final Fantasy boss.
And I lost. Repeatedly. If you’ve played Final Fantasy X, you might remember that the first boss only uses Demi. Despite the fact that it’s technically impossible, I lost to the Sinspawn so many times that even despite the allure of the music and the pretty graphics and the intriguing character design, I turned off my PS2 and gave up.
The events in between my crushing failure to understand basic video game mechanics and my eventual victory over that first horrifying tentacled nightmare-monster are blurry at best. All I know is that I did beat it at some point and was able to progress. And looking back, I’m glad.
It might seem silly (or given my audience, it might not at all), but playing Final Fantasy X was– for better or worse– a defining moment of my pre-adolescence. Up until then, video games were a passing interest to me. I’d play a little Pokémon Stadium or Super Smash Bros with friends after school, and there was of course my mild Legend of Zelda cartridge quirk, but this was the first game with an actual world and lore that I became absolutely engrossed in. This game had so many things about it that you could know and stuff. I had to know all of the things. It was a full-blown obsession. I didn’t realize it back then, and it probably hadn’t even crossed my mind until just now, but Final Fantasy X had a great hand in melding me into the awfully pretentious and socially awkward mess of a teenager that I was. I promise that’s a positive thing.
I guess it was only ever a matter of time before I’d descended into nerd territory—before this I’d spent an inordinate amount of time pretending that Rivendell was inside a cardboard box in my backyard—but the realization that games like this were out there definitely sped up the process. My friends tried to keep an open mind. I got a couple of them into the game and we even spent some time doing horrible Wakka impressions and thinking we were absolutely hilarious, but it started to become obvious that I was far more emotionally invested in corrupt fictional religions and unnecessary zippers than they were. In typical tween fashion, we stopped hanging out. My reaction was to descend even deeper into the thralls of geekdom, discovering anime and science fiction and western RPGs in the process. As a direct result of my newfound obsession with Final Fantasy, I’d fallen into that category so-often called upon in John Hughes movies and sitcoms geared towards 13-year-olds and probably Glee, but I don’t know, because I don’t watch Glee: I was now an “outcast”.
But despite the years of wearing oversized Zelda t-shirts and being ridiculed by the whole of my seventh grade English class for declaring that I wanted to make video games for a living that followed, I’m really happy with the way things turned out. Video games have indirectly won me some fantastic friends and experiences, and I even got to spend lots of time in another country and have confetti jizz shot at me by Jarvis Cocker and I even got a husband-to-be out of it (y’know, ‘cause that’s important too). Because video games.
So thank you, Final Fantasy X, for scenes like this:
But not so much this:
You kinda sorta changed my life a little bit.