Distant Worlds

For once this is not a thinly veiled reference to something else, but a real and concrete one. The Final Fantasy concert to be precise.

I’ve loved video game music since…well, forever. All the way back from my childhood and then later back in the US and when I first came to Singapore and I wanted to learn how to compose. There’s nothing quite like it. The genre has tunes and styles from all over the world, and when it’s playing in-game with the action and the gameplay and everything else coming together at one point it’s pretty fucking fantastic. Of course you can listen to it out of the game as well and it will be equally good.

The concert? I loved it. As did I think everyone else who attended. There were standing ovations and applause and Arnie Roth did a fantastic job of conducting.

At around this time I think Dissidia : Final Fantasy was released, and that was a gem of a game. I never got into the PvP aspect of it (I am and still continue to be more of a solo gamer) but it was like Final Fantasy meets Super Robot Wars, which was awesome.

In the playing of it I felt my old hatred of FF7 begin to wither and die. It seems silly to think about now but it was something that I had carried around with me for a long time and it was good to let it go. Cloud’s voice actor did a fantastic job, as did Sephiroth’s. I felt that I could finally see the Cloud that everyone else saw on message boards and forums and Internet videos, who was So Cool with the huge-ass sword and his lost memory and all that, and not the loser who wasn’t even a SOLDIER and ended up wearing another guy’s purple clothes.
I think it was realizing that FF7 was to a whole generation of gamers what FF4 was to me back in Chicago…Timmy’s First Real JRPG. I couldn’t fault people for not playing FF4 or FF6 because they were on systems they didn’t even have! We always remember our firsts, be they lovers or games. I still don’t really like FF7 and think it’s overrated, but I don’t hate it anymore.

Looking back perhaps it was me healing from the wounds of my teenage, through the medium by which I did everything – video games. It was great to play Dissidia, to see so many aspects of everything FF come together. It showed me just how far video games had come, how far Final Fantasy had come. How far I had come.

I ended up playing FF11 because Dissidia and to a lesser extent, (more about that in the next chapter) my cousins. Curse you, Desmond, Shawn and Shantotto!

There were other video game music concerts as well before Distant Worlds. Play! and Passion before that. I think I was in the seventh heaven of rapture when I heard Yasunori Mitsuda play Scars Left By Time LIVE ON STAGE in front of me. It’s an experience I will never forget.

Passion was good but perhaps not as good as Play. I was so touched by it though that I wrote a long-forgotten blog post about it (back when I still sort of had a blog) Did I mention the lead female violinist was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen? If not I’m mentioning it here.

I think that is what is special about games, that they can bring us out of ourselves, into someplace greater and stronger and deeper, and then bring us back with whatever we have gained from that place. At least that was part of the reason why I played them. The same is true for any kind of art, really, but I’ve always thought that the participatory nature of games makes them an entirely different beast than let’s say, books or movies.

You get to decide. How cool is that? The figures on-screen don’t move unless you direct them to, by mouse or gamepad or nowadays, voice. You need to bring them where they have to go. You choose how they grow, what weapons they may use (or not use) how they advance and what they do.

It’s about choice – which I’ve had precious little of in my life. And it’s strange that instead of gravitating to games with more choices (Western RPGs, for instance) I instead cleaved to the East and their more linear forms of gameplay.

And the stories. As you’ve no doubt learnt, I love game stories. I think that later in my teenage when I made the jump from books to games that was one of my primary motivations. Stories that were so strong, so powerful, so touching that I feel I could write an entire series of books on them and not just one.

And not just Japanese games either! The Would You Kindly scene in Bioshock left me trembling…I think I needed to leave the room to drink water. Planescape Torment left me reeling (as I think it did many others) The Last of Us was powerful enough to make me think deeply about it as well.

Perhaps strange for someone whose chosen medium is words but (I don’t think I could produce an autobiographical game at this point…maybe next time?) I think the true power of the medium lies when you can combine choice and the cinematographic nature of movies in one. I’m no big Hideo Kojima fan (there I said it, you can kill me now) but the warship battle in the Zone of the Enders 2, with the sunlight glittering off the black shapes hanging in the sky as missiles fly and explosions resound and YOU ARE RIGHT THERE CONTROLLING JEHUTY was fucking amazing. It’s literally like being in a movie!

Sometimes I think I wrote this entire book just to tell people how powerful games can be. I doubt that many people use them as a parental substitute and pathway to the spirit and soul like I did (then again, the world is vast, so how do I know?) but trust me, they can be all that and more.

People underestimate the power of video games. Really they do! Even in the world of today. There’s so much potential waiting to be tapped – in education, in design, maybe even in seemingly unrelated fields like psychotherapy. Hey, it worked for me.

It’s not all sunshine and roses (wild or otherwise) There are really bad games out there. (Call of Duty, I’m looking at you!) The games industry can be one of the most cutthroat and unforgiving ones in the world. Just look at the recent debacle between Konami and Hideo Kojima, or the sudden close of Irrational Games. But we have to take the good with the bad.

Look around you. We’ve come so far from the days of Pong and Space Invaders. Nowadays people mix tracks from old Sega Genesis games into bar and trance music. There are kids named Cloud, Epona and Ash. Where do we go from here? Virtual reality? Touch-based RPGs? It’s pretty exciting!

So distant worlds together, miracles from realms beyond. And indeed they were. Amidst the still-unresolved problems, hope grew. Steadily, slowly, I was growing stronger and stronger.

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