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.
Two things of note from Trump’s news conference yesterday:
1) Trump shouted down a CNN reporter and would not allow him to ask a question. This was after the rest of the crowd (including the one Trump brought in – more on that in a second) had quieted down to let him speak. This is exactly the kind of behavior I expected from a President Trump, and it will be damaging to our freedom of press, our freedom of speech, and the fabric of our democracy. I was glad to see the CNN reporter did not let up and continued to press for the question. CNN also published a defense of its story yesterday which was grounded and factual. These are the types of responses our press needs to continue to make to this sort of oppression from Trump, or they will start to be silenced.
2) I’m not seeing this mentioned a lot, but to me it is a very big deal. As the press conference began, I noticed many of the speakers introducing Trump were pausing in their speeches. (And yes, they were speeches–short, but prepared all the same.) I found that odd. It sounded like they were waiting for applause. And it turned out they were–people started applauding or cheering when prompted, particularly in the middle of Trump’s speech. At first, with dawning horror, I thought the press was cheering. I learned later that it was actually a small crowd of supporters Trump specifically had brought in.
Let that sink in. Trump brought a group of supporters in to cheer for him during a press conference.
A PRESS CONFERENCE!
Later yesterday, Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess champion, commented that Trump’s press conference reminded him of a Russian one. It is easy to see why.
I heard a story on NPR not too long ago about Russia, and about Russia’s history with authoritarianism, and how the culture there is predisposed to allow dictators. Democracy was a trial for them, and many of them didn’t care for it because it was difficult and economically costly. Exploring all the reasons why democracy failed in Russia would require a fully-researched book, but the main point I want to make here is that America is unique, to my knowledge, in that it *began life as a democracy*. We have been self-governed from the beginning. We expect our leaders to answer to us. We expect them to perform. We expect them to suffer consequences if they get out of bounds. It’s ingrained in our culture, in our history, in our literature, in our upbringing, and it crosses political lines. It is a great part of what makes us–ALL OF US–American.
I could have been scared by yesterday’s press conference, but I wasn’t. More and more, Trump is simply proving out all the things I suspect about him from the beginning. Now the worst has come to pass, and he will be in the White House. I’m past being scared. Being scared doesn’t help anything.
Yes, I do believe he has designs–witting or not–of transforming this country into an authoritarian regime. Not out of idealism, but because his hubris will allow him no other method of governance. He believes he is always right and should always be obeyed. Everything else flows from that.
But his failure to understand the way this country is governed will also be his downfall. People with very little political experience or prior motivation are waking up. The press is waking up. A nation that thought itself beyond bigotry and hatred is waking up.
He is treading on a sleeping snake, and history has shown that that snake bites.
I read an article in the National Journal this morning (thank you C. Bates, an intelligent person from a different political and religious persuasion, for a civil conversation and food for thought) about how democrats lost the election last month in large part due to an overly aggressive position on climate change. Specifically, that turning a deaf ear to the concerns of out-of-work coal miners and other disaffected groups cost them a lot of votes. I don’t believe Trump or the Republican party has put a good answer on the national stage for these folks that is realistic or functional, but I do believe the point is valid. These people are getting left behind, and if we are a decent society, we need to help them. Not “we” as liberals or “we” as conservatives, but “we” as Americans and to a great degree, as human beings.
There are free market solutions out there that seem viable (Cap & Trade, Fee & Dividend), which could function in tandem with another popular response and one I’ve frequently mentioned myself: in a directed shift to a green economy, people will be needed to build the solar panels and windmills, to install them, and to maintain them going forward. I think that’s all true and I think it would help control these issues—but possibly only in the short term. Assume a perfect “green revolution” that lasts 20 years and results in a near-zero emission environment. Once all the panels are installed, so to speak, aren’t we back at square one? Aren’t all those blue-collar sectors out of work again?
Of course, I think that’s a bit short-sighted. More likely is that the technology will continue to advance, and will require upgrades and replacement over time. So the demand for work will continue to increase—but that does not guarantee that human beings will be the ones doing it, because if we’re talking about a period 20 years in the future, we may also very well be talking about drones and robots that can perform the work at a fraction of the price. In other words, technology taking work from people. This isn’t science fiction; it has been happening for years, in the auto and manufacturing industries and elsewhere.
I have a lot of sympathy for the coal miners who are out of work. I understand the reasons, or I think I do: a double whammy of the natural gas alternative being drastically cheaper, and the Obama administration’s “war on coal” (which fueled much of the backlash in last month’s election), driven by a need to respond to runaway CO2 emissions. Said emissions, of course, are the natural result of the industrial revolution and subsequent Information Age, a period in which we as a species are advancing faster and further technologically than we did in all the previous eras combined.
If the coal industry is driven to extinction under the heel of technological advances, it will not be alone. Countless industries are fighting for their survival in the modern world, including traditional print news and just about every publishing medium there is—book publishing, game publishing, music publishing, all are nearly unrecognizable from 20 years ago, hammered into new shapes and sometimes into oblivion by the relentless capabilities of the most visible global technology of the past several decades: the internet.
In my own state of Minnesota, we have a significant population in the iron range that are victims of closing iron mines. Globalization is a primary driving factor in these closings—globalization driven by an unprecedented surge in communication and travel technologies.
And now I begin to see a pattern.
See, this is where I think we as human beings are not really aware of the full scope of our impact on the world. I’m not sure we’ve come to terms with exactly how powerful our technology is, or how vastly it is going to change our lives in the coming 20 to 50 to 100 years. I suspect the underlying issue here is much bigger than coal vs green or domestic vs import or even economy vs climate change.
The underlying issue is that our technology is a tsunami.
It is not “just” changing the way we communicate and purchase and travel. It is in the process of utterly transforming every single aspect of the way our species functions. From how long we live, to how we make our living; from what we know and what we say to what we are. I believe that we started something massive with the invention of the telephone and the automobile in the late 1800s, something that is nowhere near being finished.
Look, a lot of this language is intimidating. I don’t mean to make it sound frightening, and in my heart of hearts, I think it will ultimately be a good thing. This idea has been a source of great comfort to me over the last month, as we’ve seen a sudden, drastic surge in hate crimes and speech across the U.S. I, like many others on all sides of the political spectrum, am appalled by the reappearance of emboldened white supremacists on the national stage, whatever title they operate under.
But I think they, like nearly everyone else, underestimate the power of the very tool that enables them. The technology that let them find each other on the internet, to mobilize and stop feeling isolated and powerless, has also drawn the world together in a fashion absolutely unprecedented in history. Globalization—as painful as it is for sectors that lose business overseas—is not just about the free market. It is about the free exchange of ideas and cultures and people. The reason white supremacists feel so threatened is that racial boundaries are vanishing, with a speed that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago. My own daughter—a blue-eyed dishwater blond whose grandfather is an unmistakably black man—is a fantastic example of a phenomenon spreading across the world. My neighborhood, a fairly affluent housing development in a borderline-rural suburb, is filled with families of every color, many of them interracial. Cultures are likewise intermingling, with knowledge of nearly every single one available at our fingertips, and my children bragging in the backseat with their friends about who has more Pokémon with names in the original Japanese due to online trading.
I suspect we will see an effort to marginalize people of color and normalize hate speech in this country over the next several years, and that our technology—along with the tolerance, understanding, and peace it has enabled—will be a bulwark against it. Because you can’t put this genie back in the bottle. Technology—whether it is busily destroying our global climate or cementing new global relationships—is a runaway train. We can talk about regaining the world as we used to know it, but none of us are prepared to eliminate all global trade, smartphones, work-at-home programs, decades of advances in medical health, the bullet train, the passenger jet. And even if someone claimed they were, even if they launched an all-out war against the advancement of technology, they would have to use technology to wage said war (!), and they would ultimately lose. Popular support for tech is simply not going away.
A better approach is to ask: where is this runaway train leading us? Is there any way to get a handle on it, to look ahead and make sure we steer away from the cliffs?
Market forces are driving us toward more and more automation, but paradoxically, at some point, maximum automation destroys the market. If workers are pushed out of the equation because they have no jobs, who is buying the final product? Without wages coming in to the system to enable demand, supply doesn’t matter and the whole system collapses. This collapse would not be pretty. It would look like global war or constant riots—riots, not the largely peaceful protests we see so many of today. So what’s the alternative? And how do we get there?
I have some ideas, but this post is long enough (and probably dreamy enough) already. I may explore them another time, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue, and that’s an open invitation to all political persuasions and backgrounds.
I will just say this: there are two things I am sure of. The first is that the solution to this problem will almost certainly not look like anything we’ve done before. Developing it will require historic courage and imagination, whatever form it ends up taking.
The second is that we are a species that has reached beyond our own solar system, that has split the atom and discovered DNA. We can do this. We are up to the task.
Thanks for reading. All civil comments welcome.