I’m not over this. I don’t know how to be over this.
Masayoshi Soken is one of the most talented composers working in this industry. His work on Final Fantasy XIV is amazing. I am in awe of his compositions and his musical acumen. Just the night before he floored the entire community, he did an entire performance that was basically a musical meme post for his own music and game, and it was hilarious. He’s amazing. And last week we learned he was working his way through cancer as he was still trying to make new music.
I’ve talked before about the struggle associated with enjoying something when you know that people suffered to make it, but this is something else altogether. No one forced Soken to do this; he did it voluntarily. No one forced him not to reveal this fact; he did that voluntarily. And it’s hard to reconcile that. It’s hard to look at a game where part of the staff was literally dying as he was making more of the game and know how to cope with that fact.
I don’t think I’m alone in not being totally sure how to process this.
You can kind of see this in the fan community. There’s an outpouring of love for Soken, naturally, and it feels very natural and organic… but it also feels surprised and like it’s wrestling with this. It’s like even the biggest fans don’t know quite what to do with this information. Was this a bad thing? Should he not have been working during this time? Why are we only learning about it now?
Would it have been better if the patches were more delayed? Would that have made things all right? Should that have been what happened?
The realization infused a sense of sadness in every part of the game and community. Not an overwhelming one, not one that closes out all of the excitement of the community, not even one that dominates every conversation. If you look at the fandom, you see the posts about Soken are overwhelmingly positive ones, praising him for fighting, honoring and respecting his talent… something that people already did beforehand, but now we have new motivation to focus on all over again.
This is kind of difficult to parse. And I think a good chunk of the reason why is that it’s hard to really understand that degree of identification with a single project like this.
We all understand that working on MMOs is a job. Yes, the people who are doing so are almost invariably doing so because they genuinely enjoy the game; that’s just the simple nature of game development. Games are relatively less lucrative fields to work in for most people and so anyone involved in game development is doing so at least in part because of a desire to be there as games are made. But these are still jobs.
And these are jobs for the FFXIV staff, too. But something that is kind of underscored by the Soken diagnosis is that these aren’t just jobs in the sense of something these people are doing for the money. This is work these people are passionate about. Yoshida had frequently said that he considers FFXIV his life’s work, and on one hand that’s long been a thing to giggle about because he’s simply that dedicated and we all believe that at one point he’s just going to keel over from overwork.
Or because he decided to cosplay an even more physically demanding job in a couple of years because I really believe that if he were another decade older he still would be trying to walk around in that Reaper cosplay… the point is the same.
But I think we’ve all also understood even among the jokes and memes that on some level, he meant it. And Soken literally embodied that same unspoken belief. He was willing and ready to let “To The Edge” be his final testament to what he could accomplish as a composer. The edifice of what he has built and the work he has done while here was very nearly capped off by a boss fight against Elidibus.
How do you parse that? How do you start to engage with that on a meaningful level? How do you enjoy these games not when you know people suffered to make them, but when they considered the suffering worthwhile work? When the suffering and the sacrifice and potential death was hovering around the corner… and more than anything, he decided to keep working on this composition and making it the best it could possibly be?
The answer, unfortunately, is that I don’t know. I don’t think anyone in the community does know at this point. I don’t know how you reconcile that with the man’s hilarious performance of Civilizations one night earlier. This is one of those things that’s just… big, in ways that MMOs and video games in general rarely are.
Leukemia claimed both my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother. I remember watching them both grow sicker and weaker over time despite their best efforts. And I wonder… would I have felt OK about either of them working up until what could have been their last days on a video game? Would I have understood why that meant so much to them?
My grandfather kept working as long as he could as an engineer, working on boats. He loved boats. I can understand that and appreciate it. Would I have felt the same way about it if it were just an entertaining video game? Could I have done what he did?
We’ve had to deal with death before in the MMO sphere, but thus far all of those deaths have been surprising tragedies. This was a tragedy averted. Soken was up on stage with the rest of the staff celebrating, getting to show off a crossover project with a customized Fender Stratocaster. I don’t play the guitar, but I know that’s a big name; I know it’s a big deal to be able to look on a branded guitar related to your own work and say that this was something you had a hand in. I can understand it.
I can be happy that he’s still with us and still floored by the fact that he nearly wasn’t. I can marvel at the fact that he wanted to keep working on this game so much, that he loved it enough to work through the pain and suffering he was doubtlessly experiencing along the way. I can be amazed by it. Respectful. Awed. Thankful.
I don’t know totally how to feel about it.
The one thing I do know is that it gives me basically less than zero respect for anyone who calls this development team anything less than dedicated. This isn’t the sort of thing that happens because one member of the team has an insane work ethic; this happens when everyone is so dedicated to the project that part of the machinery is unwilling to let something like cancer stand in the way of doing good work. Everyone working, buckling down, loving this game, loving the players, loving what they do, pushing as hard as possible.
Soken beat cancer and he’s still with us. I don’t know how to parse that. Maybe the next time I’m listening to some of the music, I will… but maybe not. It’s big.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, reactions to patch 5.55, as you’d expect.