Vanadiel, Ah, Vanadiel
You know, for someone who professes to not be a Final Fantasy fan I have like two chapters on FF. Oh well.
So far lack of something to do during those years I started I started playing the game mainly because of my cousins influence (they said they would love it because I spoke Japanese, they were right) and because I was intrigued by Shantotto, who had the voice of Lina Inverse but the personality of Naga the Serpent.
I played a Mithra, of course. Catgirls forever! I won’t deny that being able to play a catgirl was one of the main reasons I even started playing the game in the first place. Lynessa on Carbuncle, if you ever want to see my character (who is probably deleted by now)
It was fun. Really fun. It gladdened both the American and Japanese sides of my nature. I could speak English with the international community and mess around with them, but when things got serious I could party up with the JPs and kick some ass. This was another in-between period of my life (somewhere when I got out of cosplay and between Singing Lessons) and Vanadiel was a nice place to live for a time.
There were people on both sides of the Pacific who could understand and “get me” – online I could pass for an American or Japanese equally easily. That made me a lot happier than I knew at that time. Still no work or school, still taking care of my sister (somewhat less now) but at least for a while another place to call home.
I began to open up to people a little bit more there. One of the things I’ve always noticed (and liked) about online communication is how it allows you to share your deepest darkest secrets with another without fear of censure or reproach. There’s something about not knowing who the person really is on the other end that fosters greater bonds than could otherwise exist…Anthony (way back on the EVA ML) told me that in his opinion it was because there was a closeness that only existed in email and online chatrooms due to their direct and anonymous nature. Maybe he was right, maybe it was just that I was ready to start sharing, or maybe it was Vanadiel itself – or all three. I don’t know.
Whatever the case was I started telling people my story, or at least bits of it. What I couldn’t tell my closest friends in real life I shared readily with almost complete strangers. (Of course now I’m sharing every last inch and detail with anyone who might happen to read this, but this was seven or eight years ago…) Most people were helpful, communicative, and sympathetic. Slaying dragons, exploring dungeons, crafting potions and sharing souls…what else could one ask for in a video game?
I had such stories and adventures there which would – you know the drill by now – take another book to tell. But I need to at least mention some of my friends.
quickfix, Canadian shrimp fisher and Tarutaru Paladin. Tototwo, (my guildmaster) a man of few words but many jobs. Methuselah, a Frenchman living in Tokyo who told me one of the most important things I ever heard – that the world was big enough for you to go wherever you wanted to if you didn’t like where you were. Hulk, hardcore powerleveller. Orland, who never talked much but got the job done. Rangra, always ready to lend a hand. Cyril, fastest puller this side of Jeuno.
Merrianne. She deserves at least a paragraph or more.
She was this Canadian girl who was our guild’s resident Black Mage in an era in which they were in very short supply. She would never hesitate to remind you about how she leveled a Black Mage when it was so hard and then no one ever appreciated it. She came along on a lot of guild expeditions and we chatted quite a bit too. When I finally got my Thief AF she spent like 2 minutes circling me and telling everyone “hey look at how cute Lynessa looks in them!”
Once I was duoing with her in Qufim Island and I could tell something was on her mind. Wait for it, I said. Just wait for it. She was silent the whole time, quite a rarity for her. Then sometime between the 5th and 6th Gigas she burst out with “WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MEN?” There you go. Breakups. They’re the same whether on Earth or Vanadiel.
I can see her there in my mind’s eye, that cute Tarutaru Black Mage, waving her arms in the /angry emote and asked (as she always asked) “What is wrong with you people!?”
Why am I writing so much about her? Well if you haven’t already guessed I sort of liked her. But I was too scared and too messed up to admit it at that time. Also as you can see she was dealing with a bad breakup and I was following my cardinal rule of Don’t Date Girls Going Through a Breakup.
Merrianne, I was being an idiot and I should have asked you out at some point. (she even gave me her email address…argh what the heck was wrong with me?) There, I said it. You’re better off without that dumb boyfriend of yours anyway.
Who else was there? My Japanese static party with whom I did the campaign content together of course. Kuukai, our self-depreciating, ever-responsible leader. Everyone wondered what the kanji of his name might mean and I think I finally figured it out after I stopped playing. (Kuukai is a famous Zen priest.) ashford, Blue Mage in training and all-around funny guy. jessicap, whom I first met running through Windurst and who was the most reliable tank you could ever ask for. appletree, who I think never really got along with me (she had that very Japanese reserve of foreigners, even those who spoke her language fluently) but still healed like a boss. Kakegae no nai tomo yo, issho ni wasurenai. (I’ll never forget you, my irreplaceable friends.)
I raided, I gambled, I cooked. I chatted, I fought, I buffed, I healed, I ran. There was a whole other world there. I’ve played many other MMOs in my life but none like FF11.
I wrote this chapter mainly to tell you about one thing, but that one thing changed my life. I had met a Japanese dude by the name of Sasou (actually I have no idea whether he was male or female but he gave me dude vibes, like most Mithras) I can’t remember where or when we met but we had started talking and then one day he learnt that I was Singaporean.
He began to tell me about his grandfather, who had been part of the Japanese forces who had attacked Singapore during WW2. The Japanese Occupation was particular a brutal period in which the occupying forces treated most Singaporeans horribly. Heads literally rolled in the streets. They subjected Singaporeans (and the surviving British forces) to terrible torture and behaved in the most inhuman manner possible.
He told me that knowing that I was Singaporean affected him deeply. “Ojisan wa saigo made ni sensou wo hanashiteita. (Grandfather spoke of the war until the end) I didn’t have the time at that point to tell him the entire story – how Japanese (and games and anime) had been so important to my life and had probably saved me from going insane at multiple points, and how the abuse I received may have had been because they were abused by their parents who had been scarred by the Occupation. How to fit all that human karma into a single conversation?
So all I said was “watashi wa nihon ni nan no akui wo motteimasen.” (I bear Japan no ill will whatsoever.) Which was true. He replied with :
“Lynessa-san ni aete yokatta.” (It was good to meet you.) Which if you’ve watched enough anime you will probably know is close to “I love you.”
I wish I could say that I remembered our exchange verbatim but except for the last line I probably haven’t. Still, you can see what it must have meant to the both of us.
I would think about these words for many years later. Today they still ring in my heart as I remember where I hear them – in the darkness of Promyvion, a world of shadow between the world of light. I was doing the Chains of Promathia content with my team then and if I close my eyes I can still see the bleached white grass sway amidst the darkness as our team ran from point to point, those simple characters in the language of my heart illuminating more than just the screen.
I believe that in some way, some great karmic imbalance is being righted by how important Japanese (and by extension Japanese media) has been to my life, just as how the actions of its people may also have caused the chain of suffering that led to so much pain for me and my sister. The war may have (or may not have, there is no way for me to know) caused the problems, but it is also the descendants of those people whose works gave me the strength to surpass them.
I stopped playing one day because everything just took so much time! I bailed on my (another group of guys) party just as we were about to complete the end of Chains of Promathia and I felt (and still feel) really really really bad about it. Guys, if you’re reading this, please forgive me. I was just so fucked up at that time.
No one who plays FF11 for any length of time forgets the experience. You can see its influence in even random Youtube comments where players will wax lyrical about times spent and journeys remembered. I was 75WAR/75 SAM/75 RDM on Remora! Oh man do you remember when we fought Shinryu? And of course the perennial “FF11 was the best MMO ever all other MMOs now are just so casual and boring.” Or variants of the above. Things change guys. But yes, what was shared in the light of the mothercrystals will shine in our hearts forever.