I’ve always advocated in favor of parents letting their kids play video games.
The good ones, at least.
My mother had one of the most brilliant video game policies of any parent ever. The rule was this: we could play video games for an hour. After that, if we wanted to play more, for every hour of reading we did we could play an extra half-hour of video games.
My younger brothers and I established a rota: one of us would play for an hour, then go read for two hours while the others took their turns. By the time the other two siblings had used up their video game time, the first would have earned another hour (and the other two could keep the rhythm going). It was like singing rounds.
Sometimes we cheated: I had days where I probably played for six or seven hours straight, and my mom either didn’t notice or didn’t care. I think she weighed these occasional binges against the amount of time we spent reading on other days. Often times we would get so absorbed reading our book that we’d forget to claim our video game time. And, of course, we also spent days and days running around in the woods, building tree forts, and swimming in the creek, so it’s not like we were missing out. And being homeschooled kids, we also learned to garden, build book shelves, cook, and in my case, sew and draw. So we weren’t lacking in a well-rounded living experience.
But my point isn’t that we were able to have a full childhood in spite of video games, it’s that video games formed part of that upbringing.
Final Fantasy remains the absolute peak of this experience. Yes, there were others: Metal Gear Solid, Zelda, and Metroid being some of the top franchises. But Final Fantasy was the only series that all of us siblings played, and therefore the one that created the strongest cultural backbone of our video game experience.
Not all of us took away the same lessons. But I’ve more than once found myself living my life as if I were in a Final Fantasy world. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Accept every side quest.
Side quests make the game. I’ve played Final Fantasy IX three times, and never beaten it. My first two attempts were either saved over or lost, and given that I can’t remember where my old PS II is, I should probably count my third lost as well. But the main reason I never finished this game had to do with the side quests.
Specifically that old man and his coffee. I knew that once I progressed past a certain point in the game, I would never be able to bring the old man the coffee he wanted to try. I completed about every other side quest I could discover in the process of trying to figure out that damn coffee, but never succeeded.
The point here, though, was that side quests made the game. Sometimes they even surpassed the game itself. How often is life like that? A lot of the time, I would argue.
Side quests made exploration a necessity. Actually, my favorite side quest of all time was the one in Skies of Arcadia Legends, where you flew around trying to make discoveries before your rival explorer. Damn that was so much fun.
I had the best of times exploring the world, discovering adventures and character plot points I never would have otherwise, and generally sucking every scrap of adventure out of that universe I possibly could. It opened your eyes to the hidden details in the world, secret things the creators had left just for you to find. When you found them, it was a special thing you shared with the makers of the game, and with any other gamers who had also found those things.
But in order to explore well, you had to be methodical. Miss one tiny clue, and you might have to start back at square one, searching an entire audience chamber for a trap door. Or, in my case, pecking the floor of the entire ocean on my chocobo to find that damn oceangraph (which I did—twice).
As an adult, digging deep into some piece of research, I’ve sometimes felt that old twinge of exploration. Keep looking. Be methodical. You never know what you may find.
Talk to everyone.
I know not everyone took this away as a key learning from Final Fantasy, but I’ve found it remarkably applicable to real life. In Final Fantasy, almost everyone on the street has something to say. Some of it funny, a lot of it boring, but occasionally very valuable. You never know which passing stranger will share a rumor that leads you to complete that side quest you’ve been working on for ages.
Or, occasionally, you meet the next member of your party, a character who joins you on your quest and becomes your friend for life (or the duration of the game).
I won’t claim to be excellent at talking to everyone, and probably this has a lot more to do with my own personality than anything Final Fantasy taught me. But sometimes, when I’m out at an event, trying my best to network without being awkward, or hoping to find someone interesting at a party to talk to, I feel that lesson from my Final Fantasy days tickling the back of my mind: talk to everyone.
Be curious. Be tenacious.
In short, Final Fantasy rewarded me for creative thought and trying hard. It taught me to seek alternative solutions to complex problems, to work a system till I found a reliable strategy for success, and to keep trying even after persistent failure. I learned these things because I knew the game was beatable: that if I kept working at the problem, eventually the nut would crack.