Late in the story of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, the Warrior of Light is talking with Venat. We’d heard about Venat before, and we already had a pretty clear picture of the sort of person she was before the Final Days arrived as well as what she did afterwards. But here we seem to be breaking the timeline altogether, telling her everything that has happened to our character over the course of our adventure in Eorzea and beyond, from the first steps to the present. And she asks a question that you have a couple of possible responses to: “Has your journey been good? Has it been worthwhile?”
It’s a quiet moment in the midst of crisis and bombast. You know that the world is literally falling apart around you, and you need to fix it, but you don’t know how to do so, and you don’t even know why it’s falling apart. Indeed, traveling to the past has thus far failed to give you any answers. You don’t have to answer this question while things are fine and you can look back on the crisis, but as you’re facing the possibility that things might just never be all right again.
And in my heart, I knew this would resonate. Because it’s been a long journey for me.
Early this year, after a decade of marriage, my wife declared unprompted that she wanted a divorce.
Why? Her own statements were basically nothing but a paean to atavistic selfishness, and the fact that she was unwilling to even try therapy or exploring alternatives speaks volumes. What else can be said? Some divorces come because two people have grown apart and can’t bridge the gap again, some come because someone who had been abused for years finds the strength to leave, and some arrive because one person doesn’t care about the damage they leave in their wake so long as they get what they want. So it goes.
Obviously this did not happen as I was playing Endwalker’s story for the first time; that was a year and a half in the rear view. But it wasn’t the first time that my journey had been intertwined with this game in an odd way. We got married because it was a necessity simply because, well, she wanted me to stop working two jobs and work full-time at Massively. And benefits-wise, that worked if we were married.
And then Massively died. No one was doing it to target me, of course; it was the same story. It’s always the same story wherein huge forces crash together and my life happens to be caught in the middle. And it was just as we were facing the collapse that led into Heavensward, ironically. Just as in-game, we were taking a bold, frightening journey into something with our supports torn away, something that felt like it could all fall apart with stunning alacrity.
The overlap is not lost upon me. It’s never been lost on me, really. I’ve played this game since its original launch in 1.0 and since then there has been… just so much. People lost. Chances lost. Pain, heartache, strife, and a sense of trying to get up each day and trying to make things better but why am I bothering?
“Has your journey been good? Has it been worthwhile?”
It’s just a damn video game. It doesn’t actually matter. All of the video games in the world are nothing more than a distraction, and they’re not worth anything. Those paragraphs I wrote at the start of this article are a lie because I know that nothing I do in this game makes any real difference in the real world at all, and I’m not in some way special because I have a long relationship to a consumer product.
You don’t really understand your anger until you understand its uselessness. I could let myself be angry or not about having a life I wanted ripped away, but it wouldn’t make a difference either way. It was still happening. I had lived a life defining myself as part of a whole for 17 years by that point. This woman was my best friend for more than half of my life. And sure, I wasn’t oblivious to the ways that she was abusive and controlling to me in ways that prompt my therapist to ask me even now why I put up with it… but I know the answer.
All of that was accepted because I thought that was a price for loving my ugly broken-down self, and I only realized too late that it was a lie, that no one would ever do that. You want to ask me about my journey, game? Go to hell. I’m a real person, I have actual feelings, and no amount of your pretending I’m a hero because I can move a character to avoid AoEs really well is going to change that! Who cares, this is so pointless, why in the heck am I wasting my time with this or anything?!
But… I lied. I’m wrong. This is real, and I should know it.
What makes a story real isn’t about whether or not it’s a chronicle of actual events. What makes a story real is what it means to you. How it affects you. How it sits with you and becomes an emotional point that you can latch into once again, something to give you a grip when all you want to do is lie down and give up and die because you need something.
Oh, sure, I didn’t have some ghost version that represented a fragment of my soul standing before me and asking me if I had the strength to take another step. But that’s just a detail. I found myself lying there, despairing, in agony… and I got up. I put myself back together. I moved and built another space for myself and my cats, reconnected with family, and I might lie in bed weeping from all the abuse I tolerated and the ashes of something I wanted… but I am still here.
I’m still being kind and friendly to others. Still giving. Still writing and still striving. Because that’s the point. Because that’s what Venat was asking me at that moment.
It wasn’t about whether the journey was sufficiently fun. It was about asking when things seemed bleak. It’s easy to look back at your life when things are fine and say that all of it worked out all right, so it must be all right in the end. It’s quite another to stand and stare at the uncertain future and ask if you’d take the same steps. Would you dive into the unknown once again, fully aware that it was unknown? That you could do everything right and still lose, time and again?
We’ve been on this journey together for a long time. My character’s name is in the credits as someone who stood fast even when this seemed like a long shot. No matter how tired I’ve gotten, no matter how much I’ve lost.
“Has your journey been good? Has it been worthwhile?”
I think so. At the end of the day, I think so. And even if I’m hurting now and dreading a life I don’t want… I have to hope that tomorrow is another day. That there is a tomorrow. That however much today may hurt, the only path is forward… and the next day might be better.
The journey hurts. But it only ends when I allow it.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, we’ve had a couple of heavy weeks, so let’s talk about something lighter by chatting about the Mamool Ja.