How Final Fantasy XIV Is Saving My Sanity

This piece is like nothing I’ve ever written before. It comes during a weird time for me where my love of video games has brought me to a breaking point of sorts. Many of the feelings I’m about to detail might be admittedly self-inflicted, but still, this is how my brain functions and thus here we are.

The Conflict

Because I did not grow up playing SNES/PS1 titles, I often fight immense guilt that I’ve not experienced what many deem the most classic games in history, especially when it comes to RPGs. I feel like if I’m going to have a voice in this arena, I need/must play these games. Since I’m a person with an obsessive personality that literally goes through cycles of likes/tastes looking for something new to be obsessed about, the manifestation of me wanting to play all these old games is trying to go out and buy them – and indeed buy those original systems to play them on. I want to experience them how they were made to be experienced – the real deal. Not only does this become expensive after a while, but it leads to a completely overwhelming weight on my shoulders. I make lists, ones that get longer and longer, of games I must buy and play. The lists never end, and after a while, it does weigh me down.

On top of this, I cannot play these old games fast enough, so it feels like I never make progress on a to-do list that grows daily. Ever played Skyrim and accepted every single quest you come across? That feeling in your stomach when you look through your quest log and actually have to scroll down for minutes is the exact feeling I get when thinking about playing classic games. And I let it affect me negatively. I let it get me down. Instead of pushing through a game at a time, and just taking my time and enjoying them, I let it consume me to the point where it’s not fun anymore.

Like I said, I know this is entirely self-inflicted.

The issue doesn’t necessarily end there because not only do I feel guilty about not having played many games highly suggested by others, but I also feel a responsibility to stay current and play games as they come out. First, I want to be able to comment on these games with authority and feel included in the modern gaming community. Second, I don’t want these games to fall into that ever-growing backlog (remember that list I mentioned overwhelmed me?). I often mentally debate which games I should play – new or old. Do I stay current or do I play catch-up? Recently, I’ve tried to do both, and there’s been a big negative outcome: financial strain.

I try to get and play as many games as I can – and boy are there so many coming out every week now – which turns into a kind of addiction. Despite money being tight, I find myself giving in and buying the titles my peers are excited about. I know this is a willpower problem as much as it is anything else. I could just tell myself “no,” but like I said, I’m obsessive – the word doesn’t come easily for me. It also isn’t easy for me to simply pick and choose since dipping my toe in soon leads me to diving all the way in.

The Illustration

One of the best microcosms of this entire conundrum is my experience playing MMORPGs. I played this genre a lot growing up, from big titles like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, to freebies like FlyFF and ArchLord. In recent years, I’ve tried revisiting these games and I’ve found it extremely difficult for me. There is so much to do in them – obviously – and my mind tells me I have so little time to do it. I guess because I’m playing catch-up for most of them, not experiencing the most current content with veteran players. Instead of taking on the MMO a little bit at a time, I feel like I need to finish it as fast as possible. This immediately takes the game from feeling fun to feeling like a job. I accept all the quests I can without reading, figure out the quickest possible way of doing them and leveling up as quickly as possible. For a while, I’ve fought this tendency, wanting to change it to no avail. The pressure to play it all at once winds up outweighing the pleasure I actually experience while playing it.

In fact, this “speed” has leaked into all of my gaming play-styles. I never take my time anymore because the self-placed pressure to finish a game to move to the next. I’ve become a machine. Can I find enjoyment in a game? Yes. But overall the act of gaming doesn’t have the same spark it used to because I’ve clouded my brain with the overwhelming desire to play everything instead of simply experiencing games as they come.

The Solution

So the solution to both of these problems (financial and mental) is actually the same: stop buying new games. Just flat out stop buying them. Instead of buying them impulsively, buying them obsessively, buying new ones before finishing current ones, I should just take a break from buying altogether. If this is my addiction, the best way to help myself is by cutting myself off. So there’s the solution.

And here’s where Final Fantasy XIV comes in. While I’m on a spending freeze, I also want to try to train my brain back into healthy habits. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, I know this mindset is my own doing – I should be able to shift that mindset. And so, I want to practice better habits of slowing down, truly appreciating games again, not feeling overwhelmed by not consuming everything at once. Since I said MMORPGs are a perfect microcosm of this scenario, I’ve decided to use one as a practice field. Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO I really liked the few times I played it before, but I never sunk my teeth deeply into it. There is so much about it that is a complete mystery to me, so I’m starting here.

I’m tackling it in a way I’ve never tackled another game before: I’m playing it purposefully removing many conveniences I’ve made crutches over the years to help me play “quicker.” I’m forcing myself to read every single letter of every single quest and description to make myself actually learn and absorb the game. Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to begin with (I know that might sound insane to some of you) but it’s becoming easier. While that pressure of “I’ve got to get done with this now” has been there the whole time, I’m fighting through it. I’ve also removed the minimap from the HUD to force myself to actually look at the surroundings. Instead of simply running straight to the quest marker while only looking at my tiny dot on the minimap like a robot, I’m studying the environment, actually attempting to learn it, and figure out my way naturally.

Yes, that might sound like a crazy person’s ramblings, but I think it’s actually having a positive effect on me. First off, I’m taking my time and “smelling the roses” if you will. It makes that world feel so much more alive and meaningful. I feel connected. I feel a part of that universe in a way I haven’t in a while. Second, I’m carefully avoiding the sense of bogging my quest log. I’m trying my hardest not to Skyrim myself here. Because of this, I’m not accepting every single quest I see – instead, I take them by level rating, and once I finish all of one level rating, I then go back to accept ones of a higher rating. Yes, when I mean “go back,” I mean run back over an area I’ve already experienced even if that means losing time. While that feeling of lost time has been hard to swallow, I think it’s actually been good for me. Last, I’m learning that steady progress is better than a need for speed only to burn out and then quit. The last time I picked up FFXIV, I went from Level 1 to 30 in about 48 hours, but I was so sick after that binge that I dropped the game shortly after that (part of it was that, the other part was this gaming ADD I’ve developed). Over this weekend, I’ve gotten to Level 15 in a very natural way, and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. It has managed to not feel like a chore, yet has also shown me tangible progress, which is exactly what my brain needs.

The End

I think this is only going to work since I’m not allowing myself to buy other games. In the past, after a week I’d get the itch to go play something new (or classic). Since I’m refusing myself that ability, I’m hoping it will allow me to stay interested in this game for longer. I say “I hope” in the most sincere way because I need it. I’ve been feeling like I was drowning in so many games – I want to be totally immersed in a single title, stay interested in it, and prove to myself that the world will not crash and end if I don’t necessarily experience every single game there is out there.

So in the end, Final Fantasy XIV’s job is to make me less of a machine and more of a human again. It’s taking me back to my gaming roots, back when I only had a few games to my name anyway. Back then, I dove completely into titles and figured out everything that could be discovered because I didn’t have other games to be distracted by. It’s showing me a world I love, giving me a way to game and not be overwhelmed, and all in all, allowing me to still experience a medium I love but had forgotten how to play.