Vague Patch Notes: The day I deleted a character in anger in Final Fantasy XI

I vant you to keel tunnel moose.

Today, I’d like to tell you about how your characters in MMOs aren’t real, and you know that, but I want you to think about it anyway. In order to tell you about that, I’m going to tell you about the time I deleted my main in Final Fantasy XI. But in order to tell you about that, I’m going to tell you about destroying one of my Magic: the Gathering cards. So we’re on a journey. Get yourself a drink now.

Picture the year: 1994 or thereabouts. Probably then. I was in 6th grade. Magic: the Gathering was all the rage among my nerdy weird group of nerdy weird kids at my middle school, all of whom I have since lost touch with, and our weekend plans generally involved going to Rick’s house (Rick’s house ruled and his parents brought us pastries) and playing Magic together. My 11-year-old self could not imagine a brighter version of life. But after one of our matches, one of the kids in the group, John, had an issue with something that had happened to one of his cards. Someone had destroyed it, you see.

This being Magic, this was a core part of the game. But since we were 11 and the game was still new, it still kind of felt like there were fair and unfair ways to play the game. Lands were supposed to be hard to destroy. Artifacts weren’t too hard. But creatures especially you were supposed to kill through combat and blocking, not by playing cards that just destroyed them. That was unfair.

Yes, I know that anyone who is remotely competent at playing Magic is laughing at this idea. I am too. We were 11.

At any rate, the argument kept going that John felt he had been treated unfairly. So I got frustrated. “John, it’s a card in a game,” I said. “It’s not real. Watch.” I took a copy of Mons’ Goblin Raiders out of my binder, and then I just ripped the card into confetti and threw it on the rug before scooping it up and throwing it in the trash.

We all laughed, of course; it wasn’t a really big argument. (I hope you are doing well out there, peeps! We haven’t talked in like 30 years.) But it was also making a point. Sure, I picked a very low-value card that could objectively be used to line bird cages even then, but the point was still that this wasn’t real. It was a piece of cardboard that mattered only insofar as I decided it did.

Here are some goblins, by way of... I don't even know.

A lot of my MMO career was spent being mad at FFXI for not being, well, what MMOs are now. My lack of comfort at reaching out to new people, drama over various things that I no longer remember any more, and the game’s general glacial pace eventually brought me to the point where I looked at my characters and said, “You know what? I don’t want to do this any more.” So I deleted the character I had created as soon as I had finished installing the game.

No, not after I had transferred all of my character’s stuff to another character. No, not after I had saved something important. No, I hadn’t even committed some mistake that would basically forever cripple the character. I just didn’t want to look at that character’s face ever again, and so I hit the DELETE button. The one that, in every MMO ever, comes with about four dozen warnings of “hey, maybe this is just an alt, but you are about to make this character go away forever and they are never, ever coming back, are you absolutely sure about this?”

So I did it. And nothing happened.

I don’t mean that the deletion didn’t happen; it did. Character deleted, items gone, sayonara. Exit my original character! But that was all that happened. I didn’t feel any different. It was just a thing that had existed a moment ago, and now it didn’t, and the world kept moving the same as it had before. Nothing happened. No one cared. Heck, due to the way that friend lists worked, the people who knew me in the game wouldn’t even immediately know something was different.

What surprised me was not that, say, the servers didn’t shut down for a period of mourning. I never expected that. What surprised me is that I didn’t actually feel any different. I thought that this was a big deal. It felt like a big deal to me. But then I did it, and it just… was a thing that happened and I didn’t feel anything afterwards. When I decided to play again, I made a new character and just started from zero. It was still easier than before, even.

And yes, this was well before the current changes that make starting the game very easy (so long as you know to click all of the two dozen things the game never tells you about).


Your characters in an MMO are not real. You know that objectively. Darmnus the Orc in World of Warcraft is not a real person. You might be a roleplayer and have invested Darmnus with a rich inner life and history, and he might have a great story. You might have just typed random letters and have never thought of Darmnus as anything but a vessel for achievements. Either way, you are objectively very aware that this is not a real person who has a life separate of you when you’re logging in and doing stuff on this character.

But you probably don’t feel it. You don’t feel that Darmnus is just a collection of pixels. You have an emotional attachment to Darmnus even though he’s just pixels and database strings. If someone else found a way to delete Darmnus, you would be upset. If someone tells you that Darmnus looks boring, you’d be perturbed. Part of your identity is wrapped up in Darmnus. That’s just human nature.

My point here is not to say that you’re too stupid to understand the line between reality and fiction and you shouldn’t care about Darmnus. Rather, it’s to understand that Darmnus isn’t real. You are.

If you were having a good time in the game, or a bad time, or whatever? Deleting your character won’t delete that. If your favorite game suddenly involves a personal betrayal so intimate that you can’t even look at the icon on your desktop without feeling sick, removing the character won’t fix it. Even if you’re a roleplayer, you are investing these characters with you, with the ineffable uniqueness of what makes you who you are.

Our characters are not real. But we are real. We make our characters who are not real as a fragment of who we are. That doesn’t mean that you make a weird little frog dude in EverQuest II because you secretly want to be a weird little frog, but it does mean that this means something to you. What that is doesn’t really matter; it’s real, it’s genuine, even if the character is just a construct.

And if you lose that weird little frog, you’re not going to step away from that part of yourself. But maybe you don’t feel that need any more. And that’s all right, too. Because it’s good to remember that we can change… and hey, these characters aren’t real, anyway.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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