Let’s take stock.
My country now has an Executive branch which lost the popular vote and is likely compromised by a foreign government – a government which is historically hostile to the United States and has a vested interest in curbing the U.S.’s global power as it attempts countless power grabs for itself. Wars which were unthinkable four months ago now loom all around us.
It has a crippled Judicial branch missing 13% of its federal judges and a dysfunctional, 8-member Supreme Court, due to a concerted effort on the part of that Executive’s political party to cripple it and keep it crippled.
And it has a gerrymandered Legislative branch under the control of the same political party, which refuses to investigate the Executive because they share a party, regardless of the unprecedented and terrifying news that is exposed day by day or the desperate efforts of the nation’s intelligence and free press communities.
In ten years, we will look back at these days in one of two ways.
We will lament the fall of modern day Rome.
Or we will celebrate the moment when we rose up as one and took power back.
We can still seize the rudder, though time is quickly running out. We can still push back, and push and push and push until the rotten tumor at the heart of our government tumbles over a cliff. We still have a hope of a future where we can say, “That was the year we woke up. That was the year we said, ‘No more.’ That was the moment – on the cusp of their victory over compassion and reason – that we stood, and we fought, and we won.” We can still realize a future where we set the childish notions of pollution and hatred behind us. Where we require our technology to be subservient to our wisdom, not the other way around. Where we begin to transform this planet into something thriving, holistic, and beautiful, a realization of humankind’s greatest and deepest potential.
But it is a mutually exclusive proposition. We are on the knife’s edge, and gravity is pulling us the other way – away from that magnificent future, and toward failure.
That failure means surrendering not only a hundred years of social policy advancement, decades of climate work, and a social expectation of safety and respect. Those things were largely products of the past that some of us had foolishly taken for granted, but losing this fight also means losing the future. It means falling into a modern dark age, where science is ridiculed, the truth is determined solely by our malevolent leadership, and “social justice” becomes a term of mockery. It means watching the world literally suffocate under the weight of its own pollution, and witnessing an apocalypse that unfolds in slow motion over the span of our lifetimes: storms that annihilate our homes and extinctions that devastate our food supply. It means starving and warring and dying, all while the men in charge shriek that it’s not real and wage war against those who dare to trust evidence, condemning, imprisoning, or killing them.
Some say our children will ask us, “Where were you? What did you do?” I say we will ask ourselves.
The dangers in play in the U.S. are replicated worldwide. This all comes back to who we are as a species. We are explorers, investigators, and creators. We have discovered unprecedented wonders of technology, but if we don’t define them, they will define us. This is the moment when we decide whether the energy we’ve discovered destroys us, or propels us forward; whether our powers of communication create a brilliant focus on truth, or suffocate us in lies.
This is not just the most vital moment of your life. It is not just the most vital moment of my nation’s existence.
It is the most critical moment for our species in modern history.
We must stand up.
We must fight.
We must win.
“I’ve lost my faith in humanity.” I hear this all the time. It used to be a sarcastic remark. These days, more and more often, people mean it literally.
If you are a person, like most people, who believes in the scientific method, who believes in the values of equality and basic human decency, who believes the words “social justice” are not dirty, how could you not lose faith in humanity right now? In my home country of the USA we see all these values, on a federal level, being put to the torch. And terrifyingly, this phenomenon appears to be happening globally. We see it looming in the UK, in the middle east, in Russia, in France. It’s frightening. It’s enough to make you question everything you believe in.
But let’s talk about faith. Let’s really talk about it. The words “faith in humanity,” like so many others, have become a throwaway term. We are drowning in words in this era, swamped by so many of them that they’ve become a torrent of irrelevant garbage.
But they are not irrelevant. They are precious. They have meaning.
They are powerful.
When I was still a Christian, my faith was my bedrock. It was unquestionable. I hinged everything else upon it. I would say, “You can take my home and my belongings, you can torture me and kill me, you can eradicate all sign of my beliefs from the world, you can even brainwash me, but you cannot touch my soul. You cannot take my faith.” This was profoundly comforting. My faith was about believing in something greater than myself, something that would persist beyond my own demise. Something fundamentally unassailable. At the time it was, specifically, a faith in God and in my own eternal soul: both ideas which I have since come to believe are false.
Perhaps you’ve experienced that earthshaking realization, perhaps not, but even if not, please bear with me for a moment. When that bedrock shattered, it left me in freefall. I was furious at myself, at my former religion, and at everyone who had my old beliefs. I felt tricked—not in the way of a victim who is scammed out of their credit card, but in the way of a person waking up from the Matrix.
I also experienced deep depression as I tried to figure out what the purpose of life was. If nothing of my self would survive past death, what was the point of my being here? I felt like I was floundering, surrounded by death on all sides. I had to chop through it, to work it over in my mind a million different ways, to find the purpose I was lacking, and when I did find it, guess where it was?
In my children, and my wife, and my family and friends. In preventing the needless suffering of others. And in life’s little joys: music and gaming and good food.
Atheists, when asked about the meaning of life, will often reply, “You have to make it yourself.” This made no sense to me at the time. Today, thankfully, it makes more sense than the old worldview ever did.
“But it’s all so fragile,” I thought. “Death can end it all.” And that’s true. That old faith—the belief that everything I loved would survive forever—was gone. Everything I love about my life is fragile. The atheist’s revelation is a bittersweet one: you learn to truly love the best things about your life only by realizing they will die.
Faith, I decided, was for suckers. The idea of believing in something stubbornly, of ignoring countering arguments if they didn’t fit my worldview, was antithetical to everything I now believed. How could an atheist possibly have faith?
I asked this question from a place of despair, but in answering it, I found something surprising: solid bedrock.
Humanity is 200,000 years old, give or take, though our best research tells us our journey began long before that, likely with single-celled organisms in a primordial sea. Awe of the cosmos is one of the hallmarks of a conversion to atheism, and I have certainly experienced it. But while contemplating the vastness and complexity of the universe fills me with awe, thinking on humanity’s journey from that primordial sea strikes me speechless.
I posted on this last week, but think of all the hurdles we overcame to get where we are. Extinction struck countless other species all around us, yet the thread that became humanity survived. Our best research tells us that when homo sapiens prevailed against homo neanderthalensis, some of the key elements that set them apart were imagination, depth of understanding, and—to a great degree—music and art.
Think on that. Truly ponder it.
That spark you feel when you hear music that makes your heart soar? That wonder that comes over you when you see your favorite film, or get lost in your favorite book or painting? That is what makes us fundamentally human.
Humans are unique not just because of our opposable thumbs, our intellect, or our capacity for compassion. Humans are unique because we embody all three. We have the power to affect our world, the capacity to build on our knowledge from one generation to the next, and the wisdom to recognize our faults.
History tells us how we apply these gifts. Yes, if you choose any given era from our tenure—including the current day—you will find evils. Rape, enslavement, genocide, invasion—evils made all the worse by the fact that, to a great degree, they are our invention.
But if you look at the arc, from the beginning of our journey until now, you will see who we truly are. You will see a trend toward wisdom and justice. Wars that give way to lasting peace. A tightening of the moral fabric that binds all of us—not just a single family or tribe or province or nation, but all of us. An expansion in our knowledge, as stone tablets gave way to hand-written books that gave way to mass-printed books that gave way to the full scope of human knowledge in our pockets.
We are a species that reaches. We are a species that craves truth. And thankfully, we are a species that shows compassion. In the long story of our journey, we have seen that compassion birthed and strengthened. Yes, there have been setbacks. Yes, there have been failures. But if you look at history’s evidence of who we are the trend is ever upward.
That is where I found my new faith—a belief in something greater than myself, that will persist beyond my own death. Not a faith that I prop up stubbornly, but one that props me up. Not a faith that ignores scientific arguments, but one that is based on them.
Yes, I believe we stand at the cusp of a dark time in human history, possibly the darkest many of us will have witnessed in our lifetimes. I stand prepared to fight it with every ounce of my being, but I am also braced to lose: to witness generations of progress fall aside, to witness a resurgence of superstition and hate and ignorance.
But such philosophies of hatred have risen before. Always, they have fallen. The losses they inflict are terrible, but in the vastness of the cosmos, they are a blip on the radar. The trend prevails. Humanity cannot change what it is.
So you see, I am prepared for this battle. Because no matter how it ends, I know who will win the war.
They can take my home and my belongings. They can torture me and kill me. They can eradicate what scientific research they can reach. They can even brainwash me with propaganda until I forget who I am and what I believe.
But they cannot take my faith in humanity.
Against a universe of infinite death, we were born in the sea.
Against a place of nightmares, wrought in magma and ash, we bore children.
Against endless ferocious predators we thrived, winning a cosmic relay race of inconceivable scale to become ourselves.
Against the chaos of an indifferent world, we created music.
Against ignorance and superstition, we discovered enlightenment.
Against ancient hatreds, we birthed compassion.
Against the laws of nature, we soared.
Against the naysayers, we advanced.
We do not stop. We do not turn back. It is not our nature. Our trajectory is upward.
Evolution will not be thwarted by mere ignorance or hate. We are a force of nature, and we are unstoppable.
The first screenshots of FF15 came out years ago and I was disappointed from the get-go. I knew turn-based combat was a relic and I wasn’t going to hold its lack of that against it, but the main characters looked, basically, like a boy band. Four teenage boys, all dressed in identical black, strutting around like peacocks when they weren’t driving a car around.
Wait—a car?? Where were the chocobos? If I wanted to drive a car I could play GTA.
The atmosphere was an immediate turnoff for me, and the later screenshots of Cindy, the pornstar mechanic, only made it worse. The death of my love for Final Fantasy had been a long time coming, but I figured it had finally arrived. FF15 was the first main series FF game I could remember that I had no plans to buy at launch.
When the demo came out, it only cemented this resolution. I found it to be pretty, but uninspired, the combat a weak derivative of a thousand other action games that had done it better and an overall feeling reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts, a game of which I’d never been a particular fan. Launch day came and went, and I stuck to my guns.
A friend of mine picked it up, though, and told me a bit about it. He actually enjoyed the combat and found the game interesting enough. And I read a few reviews that said the driving experience was persuasive in its own way and that it could even be fun to turn on the car and choose “auto” to have one of your party members drive it instead of you. What? What is fun about that? I was perplexed and suspicious, but also intrigued.
Then the price dropped to $35 for a day or two just before the holidays, and I caved. I bought the game on disk and left it sitting on top of my PS4 until last week.
Now, I’m only three hours in, but so far, and I can’t believe I’m saying this—
I love Final Fantasy 15.
What? What about the dudebros? The lack of female characters, except for the one with her tits hanging out all the time? What about the car that drives itself? What happened?
Well . . . turns out, this is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
Let me get this out of the way first: I’m still disgusted with the presentation of Cindy. Particularly as the only female character in (at least the first three hours of) the game, forcing her to wander around in Daisy-Dukes and a permanently-open blouse with her pink bra on display strikes me as irresponsible at best, and a clear indication that the game designers think of women solely as sex objects at worst. I’ve heard people say, “Come on, she doesn’t look like a porn star,” and I’m here to tell you, yes she does. When your television displays a woman walking into public with her shirt wide open, showing off a barely functional bra, you are watching a porn. That is pretty much the definition of porn. I don’t have an excuse for her, and her presence in the game makes me hesitant to play FF15 at all with my children in the room. If there were more of that sort of thing, or if Cindy were a more central character, or if she were the only noteworthy element of the game, I’d never turn it back on.
Thankfully, none of those things are true. The central focus of the game is the four Dudebros: Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus. And I’ll admit this, too: I was a little embarrassed to be playing those Dudebros at first. I have never been half as cool as the nerdiest of these guys. They are trying so hard. On the status screen they pose, carefully holding their chin just so or angling their shoulders into a certain easy lean. We can debate whether they’re actually cool, but they clearly believe they are cool—or at least, they believe it’s vitally important to be perceived as cool. These guys strut constantly. Every word they utter is carefully calibrated to radiate confident nonchalance. They dress and speak and pose like each other, not because they’re cookie cutouts of one another, but because they’re friends, and friends who want to be cool are known to do that.
And that’s the thing I didn’t see coming: these guys grow on you.
Final Fantasy 15 is not just any epic adventure. It is that greatest of epic adventures: a road trip. A bunch of guys, close friends, who are comfortable in their own skins and have an established camaraderie, hopping in the car and driving. They have a destination in mind, sure, but they’re in no hurry to get there, and along the way, wherever they lay their head is home.
But, look, I’m not doing it justice. It still sounds like it’s just a setting, but that’s not it. This road trip—at least thus far—is not what the game’s about, it’s what the game is. I am on this road trip, and the other characters—two-dimensional stereotypes though they may be—are on it with me. The best part of a good road trip is the company, and the FF15 designers knew this. You are thrown on this journey with three friends: a nerd, a jock, and a spaz. They react to each other and to you. You’re the prince of their kingdom, but as a player you immediately get the sense that because these guys are your friends, they don’t let you skate on that. They give you shit for screwing up. They rib and tease each other. They tell you to take your jacket off when you whine about it being hot. They call for you to stop because they’re hungry, or exclaim how awesome the shop is when they go inside. One of them cooks dinner every night, and everyone else fully understands that if he weren’t along, they would all most likely starve. (I have a theory that preparing and serving food to another human being is one of the simplest, most earnest expressions of love we have, and when Ignis gives me dinner, man, I feel it.)
You would think adding random monster combats to this formula would break suspension of disbelief, but amazingly, it actually enhances the feeling of camaraderie. The characters shout to each other by name in combat to cover each other or take advantage of an opening. Now, we’ve all seen that before, but there’s something special here, something that takes it to the next level. For once—finally—the AI characters in my party don’t just feel like window dressing. I never wish they weren’t there because they’re only getting in the way. I’m grateful for them. They belong there. They deal real damage in combat, even killing monsters before I can get to them. They heal me when I go down, expressing authentic, teenage-male concern for my well-being: gruff but sincere. They make me want to answer, aloud, alone in my living room: “Nah, I’m fine, man, it’s all right.”
Square has done such a great job with these characters, with this sense of immersion, that I can honestly say this is the first video game I’ve ever played that I would truly qualify as a “role-playing game”. No, I wasn’t allowed any input on what that role would be or how it would look, but that is exactly why it works. The experience is immersive and well-conceived, but most importantly, it’s persuasive. I don’t want to
play the game again because I want more XP. I want to play the game again because I want to be there, on that road trip, with those guys. I want to lounge in the car while a friend has the wheel, fiddling with the music until I discover with joy that I can play the soundtrack to the first Final Fantasy game (!). And not only that, but for the first time in my life, I’m in a car full of guy friends who dig that music as much as I do!
Taken in this context, I can forgive and even sympathize with the decision to not include a female character in the main group. These are high school guys on a road trip. I get it. I’ve been there. And while I still wish Cindy had been presented differently, her state of undress makes it that much more vital and appreciated that the Dudebros never talk about her disrespectfully. They talk about her when she’s not there, yes—but there is none of Trump’s “locker room talk” here. She’s hot, and one of the characters wants to come back to try and impress her. He plans to do this by getting his own car. His fellow Dudebros support this. There’s no vocal misogyny, no “I’d like to tap that” (though I’m sure they all would), no commenting on her tits or her bra size. Coming out of a game that included a pornstar mechanic in the first place, this development left me surprised and deeply pleased. I only hope that this attitude persists throughout the game.
So yes, FF15 has surpassed my expectations. So far, it’s a great game. I want to play it some more.
But it’s more than that. This is a huge claim, and I don’t make it lightly, but I think FF15 might be the herald of an entirely new gaming style.
When I play FF15 and consider the VR headset sitting next to my TV, I imagine the two of them melding. Imagine taking that road trip in VR. Imagine a future where you don’t just play a game, you have an experience.
Yes, I was never as cool as Noctis. But maybe that’s the whole point.
Who among us doesn’t wish they’d spent a few years in their twenties backpacking across Europe, or just jumping in the car with a gang of friends to see where the road leads? Who doesn’t miss that easy, nonchalant thrill of finding a place to stay for the night and making it your own, of watching your friends go in and casually inspect the place?
Look, I’m in the twilight months of my thirties. I’ve got two kids. My days of road-tripping with friends are behind me. But how cool is it that I can fire up my PS4 at night, and sample that experience?
Imagine this trend catching on. Imagine new games that maybe even do away entirely with the status bars and the number crunching, and simply place you in the Apollo 11 just before liftoff, or let you roleplay a first day on the job or a first date(!). A melding of television and video games with a heavy smattering of the classic RPG ideal thrown in, an entirely new form of entertainment.
Final Fantasy 15 isn’t that experience, not yet. But I love what it gets right.
And who knows? With any luck, maybe Final Fantasy 20 will be.