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The surprisingly helpful nature of video games

Feb. 21, 2018
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Video games often tend to be a multifaceted topic of interest to many people. Some invest time in trying to prove how video games can be harmful (for example, ye olde “these shooter games are desensitizing kids to death” argument); others try to prove their usefulness, such as educators who use Minecraft as a virtual classroom. For me, the role video games play in development is wholly positive with a side of not-so-great, depending on what you play.

In this article, I will be explaining the open-minded and well-thought-out nature of the Final Fantasy series. I may sound biased, as this game has changed my life, but hear me out. As a society, we constantly try to find a way to create love and peace between ourselves, but we fail every time. Anti-bullying campaigns, activists, teachers—pretty much all groups of people are essentially trying to teach us to accept one another. Well, what if I told you that Final Fantasy covers those bases without even trying? In an attempt to create relatable characters, the Final Fantasy series offers a unique opportunity to teach us how to do better.

In the image above, you find one of the many scenarios in which the main character of Final Fantasy 8, Squall Leonhart, reflects on his growth as a person. This particular image reflects the theme of depression that has been foreshadowed throughout the game by way of Squall’s introverted nature. There aren’t a lot of games willing to make this kind of jump into depressing themes. Common games, such as Call of Duty, try to tread in the same niche of macho main characters who can do it all—whereas Squall teaches you that it is okay to recognize your own flaws and that, with friends, you can do anything, including saving the world. 

Things got pretty deep there, right? It gets better. It was only recently here in America that gay marriage was made legal. It was a huge battle, and even now, many people are against it. LGBT equality is viewed as a topic to avoid for some businesses. Video games often try to avoid making political statements that are controversial—which makes Final Fantasy 7 a noteworthy exception. 

Before I dive into this, let me remind you that this game came out in 1997, four months before I was even born. This game made a statement over twenty years ago! In the image above, you see Cloud and Aeris trying to figure out how to save Tifa from Don. They decide that it is easier to go in as girls, since Don loves women. You then spend the next hour doing different quests to get female attire. At the minimum, you need a wig and dress. You even get to decide what the dress feels like. You meet other drag queens who don’t follow any stereotype in your search for tiaras and other accessories. If you do choose to get all of the optional clothing, Don will think you are pretty and choose you to be his partner for the night over the other two girls at the party. 

It gets better. In the above image, you can see a dress shopkeeper excited about the dress he has made Cloud. This takes on greater significance when you realize that the player meets this dressmaker in the bar, where he is drinking away his troubles because he has lost all motivation. Helping men make dresses for themselves rekindles his love for the craft. Not once do you hear hateful words, judgemental tones, or typical stereotypes. Did I mention this was 1997? Talk about teaching acceptance!

But Final Fantasy does more than teach you about yourself. It also teaches you how to read. In the above images, did you notice that you had to read the dialogue? There is no voice acting. If you want to understand what the heck you are doing, you need to read. I’ll never forget the nostalgic look on my fiancé’s face when he was explaining how Final Fantasy taught him how to read better when he was seven. Even now, I can see the impressive imagination he has retained from playing video games like this.

Lastly, I would like to mention the problem-solving skills that these games give you. Every dungeon is a puzzle or maze to figure out; every enemy has a list of strengths and weaknesses—and the battles? Well… 

They do their own thing. I’ve already compared Final Fantasy to Call of Duty, but please allow me to compare it to other games in general. You may hear that some games in real life give you hand-eye coordination and quick thinking abilities. You may have heard that some video games do this, too. That is true to an extent, but nothing will help your quick thinking quite like Final Fantasy. In the image above, you see three characters and four options. Those options are only half of what you get, and each character has their own set. You need to control three characters all at once and make quick decisions. Don’t go thinking the game is going to wait for you, though. In the time it takes you to decide what to do, the enemy can attack! If you sit there and do nothing, the action doesn’t pause; the enemies will kill you and your party. You need to assess weaknesses, attack, heal, and more—all at once! Each game changes these aspects, too, so no one game has the same system. 

There are many wonderful games that can help us grow, and Final Fantasy is just one great example of the meaningful role video games can play in childhood development. From the complicated battle system to the emotional and accepting culture of the games all the way to the two hour long classical music tracks, Final Fantasy has proven time and time again that the franchise wants people to experience something you can’t get anywhere else. And just like many others who have played it, I have found it to be, well, surprisingly helpful.