My very favorite games, I like to think, all represent important stages in my life. Ocarina of Time: my childhood and what built the foundation for who I am. Persona 3: my outlook after getting through the struggles that, for better or worse, shaped me. And Final Fantasy VI: how a post-suicidal, pre-anything close to adjusted me found a semblance of hope.
This is an article I’ve started writing about five times in the past few years, but never could finish and If I hit publish I’ll probably regret it thirty seconds later. Maybe it’s a holdover from my darker days - never thought my story was worth telling or that anyone would, or should care. I’m not writing this to be praised or for people to feel pity. That whole almost dying thing was three years ago and by now it’s just a thing that happened. However, since then I always feel helpless when talking to someone going through what I was. It’s easy to give advice to suicidal people if you’ve never been there yourself. There’s a list of acceptable responses: talk to someone, I’m here for you, sending links and numbers for suicide hotlines, you matter. But as a former suicidal person I know those things usually don’t help. There’s a sense of self-worthlessness that roots itself so deep inside of you that no amount of love and reassurance from others can breach it. Sometimes, when people say their life isn’t worth living, it’s an abject truth for them. It’s hard to see a future from that standpoint. So here is the story of how a video game that debuted when I was’t even three years old showed me that unlikely future. Maybe someone can read it and just know that someone, somewhere, crawled out of that hole without any of the sentimental bullshit that’s supposed to fix you.
Fall of 2011 found me just released from the hospital (three days of making sure my liver wasn’t poisoned, four days languishing in the psych ward), unable to go back to school for the semester, without much use of my left arm because of some self harm gone awry, and with no fucks to give for anything. Surviving a suicide attempt is supposed to give you a new lease on life, right? Well I certainly wasn’t happy to be alive, just feeling the same way I had before, minus the mojo to actually act on it. I ate (never food I made myself), slept (4am - 12pm), and did all my “convalescing” in the game room. JRPGS were my drug of choice. They were long, involved, and you get to fix a world and save people and make everything right for once. Final Fantasy VI was second or third in the great recovery game marathon of 2011.
If you want to lose yourself, Final Fantasy VI a great choice. The music, characters, dialogue, and art are all just fantastic. It also has a wonderfully off sense of humor and whimsy at times. If you want to find yourself, it’s also a great choice if you’re a certain type of person going through a certain type of thing. I immediately identified with Terra: a weirdo who didn’t like herself, didn’t know how to get close to others, and couldn’t comprehend why she would ever matter to anyone. Because of her brainwashing by Kefka and the Empire and her half-esper blood, she doesn’t know how to be a fully formed person. It’s an interesting choice the game makes to start its main character off in a state of existential crisis instead of starting you high and bringing you down later.
Many of your other party members start their journey, if not after losing everything, either about to lose things or to have a rude awakening. Cyan loses his family. Locke has to face that his dream of reviving his late fiance is futile, Celes loses faith in the Empire and loses her father figure, Cid. A lot of this happens before the world is actually destroyed. It’s a game about rebuilding from nothing and it’s not afraid to wreck its characters and bring them to rock bottom first. I didn’t mind. After all, I was at rock bottom myself.
There is even a suicide attempt in game. It’s not my game self Terra who does it, but Celes. In many ways Celes in a foil to Terra. Over the course of the story if one is having an up, the other is having a down. Celes is often cited as the more badass of the main girls, but I’ve always felt that both sells Terra short and dilutes Celes’s character. She has to find herself and discover her reason for living just as much as Terra. When you start with her in the World of Ruin, it’s a perfect metaphor for what life post-suicide attempt is like. She trudges slowly through the bleak overworld. Every battle is a huge risk. She finds her friends and picks up the pieces of what she’s lost one by one. It’s not terrible convenient, either. Your party members are quite scattered at this point. You really feel the difficulty of making something from nothing. Most games have a low point before or in the third act where at least the protagonist loses hope, sight of himself, love, the meaning of friendship, or what have you. FFVI was ballsy enough to put this smack in the middle of game, and to do it to the entire world.
This isn’t to say that the game is without lighthearted and uplifting times. The humor, triumph, and warm fuzzies feel hard-earned in a genuine way. From the beauty and hilarity of the opera scene to heart-wrenching moments like the phantom train or meeting Gau’s father, I found myself experiencing something on a new level and being expressive for the first time in months. I don’t know if I can say I laughed or cried more in FFVI than any other game, but maybe it made me go through a wider range of emotions than any other game.
The thing that stuck out the most about FFVI, though, is how it treats nihilism. Most people see that word and just think doom and gloom and God is dead, but nihilism isn’t necessarily a bleak ideology. To get to the not bleak party you have to brave some tough questions and it’s understandable that there are a lot of people in the world who prefer to just avoid these altogether.
Questions like this. Kefka may be a raving madman, but he’s actually pretty smart and this is a completely valid thing to ask. Why DO we keep putting hope in things when there is risk and inevitability of unhappiness and loss? My issue going into this game is that my philosophy aligned more with Kefka than other characters. People kept telling me to have hope, that things would get better, but it just sounded trite and hollow. I was a fuck everything nihilist. That isn’t how it has to be though. Nihilism can also be freeing. If life has no inherent meaning, then you can find your own meaning. You just have to face that nagging, penetrating “what’s the point of it all?”
The beauty of the journey of FFVI and its characters is that what they go through, and their showdown with Kefka, leads them out of darkness or complacency into finding their own meanings. For some, it’s simply being dedicated to their family. For others, like Edgar, it’s being a great and worthy king. Kefka asks if they’ve all found their somethings, and they have. I’m not sure I’d found mine or even come close, but the characters gave me hope. It was also a perfect metaphor for me in that the world they saved was a broken world. The world they were all finding their somethings in was the World of Ruin. I was certainly living in my own World of Ruin at the time, and before playing FFVI, I saw no way to move forward. But when Terra took her hair down and looked toward the future, I felt the unbearable burden of seeing nothing ahead of me lifted.
Terra says, “It’s not the net worth of one’s life that’s important. It is the day to day concerns, the personal victories, and the celebration of life... and love!” That last part was always a bit sappy for me, but there’s a lot of wisdom in that quote. For me, in one of the darkest times in my life, it was the day to day ritual and little victories in playing this game that saved my life a little bit.