Final Fantasy 14: How Eorzea provided a lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic

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And the ways gaming can bring people together has been perfectly underlined by the coronavirus pandemic – the biggest challenge facing the world in generations. With people rooted to their homes as social distancing measures came in, online gaming was a way to meet up with friends and loved ones virtually, escape from the harsh realities of life and do something fun together when it wasn’t possible to meet in person. And one such game that people turned to was Final Fantasy 14 – Square Enix’s hugely popular MMORPG that launched over 11 years ago. In the run-up to the recently released and record breaking Endwalker expansion, Express.co.uk was lucky enough to hear from some FFXIV fans on how the PlayStation and PC game has literally been life-changing for them.

One of those was Suri, who jumped into the world of Eorzea after a recommendation from her therapist. After suffering a traumatic childhood and being “almost completely isolated” as she is not in contact with her family and had “no friends for years”, Suri managed to forge friendships by playing Final Fantasy 14, build confidence and even fall in love.

She said: “My therapist suggested it, I had no friends and it sounded like a good idea considering the pandemic. I had a traumatic childhood and no longer live in my country, and I had been almost completely isolated with no friends for years. I almost gave up on being social with others. Playing FFXIV changed me a lot. I have friends, fell in love with someone (hopefully this will turn into an irl relationship once the situation is better), and I’m more confident. I feel like I am worth other people’s time.”

The strength that Final Fantasy 14 has helped provide Suri has been especially valuable, given she contracted Covid despite taking all the necessary precautions – which even made logging in to play the RPG exhausting.

Suri said: “It was debilitating, luckily not to the point I had to be admitted into hospital but I was extremely fatigued all the time. The fatigue lasted even after it was over, for over a month. Even logging in and playing was hard, I felt like my brain was not working at its full capacity so I avoided dungeons and raids during that time.”

For Suki Kasai, having regular sessions playing Final Fantasy 14 helped build a routine and spend time with people despite social distancing measures. All of which is vitally important to help break the monotony of lockdown living, where it was easy for time to feel like it’s standing still.

They said: “In about June, a few friends that I knew as an extension of someone I met at university started playing this game. We ended up forming a raid static, and started to complete the full coils of Bahamut with minimum item level and no echo. This provided a schedule, but also routine social activities, that allowed the new people to feel involved even with the pandemic going on, eventually once they all reached max level, we started to progress in the current raid tier. Despite all this, during downtime we continued to help introduce them to other non-raiding aspects of the game.”

Mis’to runs a roleplaying venue in Odin, which not only helps people struggling with pandemic-related isolation spend time with others, but she also makes a special point to check in with people in her community to see how their mental health is.

This compassion and care is all the more admirable as two of her family members have been terminally ill, with one relative sadly passing away recently, and Mis’to not being able to attend the funeral – which is a “heartbreaking” situation.

Mis’to said: “I run a venue on Odin for people to gather socially. It’s an RP venue, and I make a special point of being available to people who want to try out RP but are too anxious too. Similarly it’s let me get to know my community well, find those who are struggling with the isolation, and just reach out to check in on their headspace.”

For Arcia Rinclet, Final Fantasy 14 has been a great way to keep in contact with his brother and other friends he had lost contact with.

As he puts it, FFXIV has been a way to fight away the part of the coronavirus pandemic which could lead people to “close” in on themselves.

Arcia said: “The good reception of the FFXIV community, both inside and outside the game, has undoubtedly been a way not to lose contact with people, and not give in to that part of the quarantine that ‘forced’ us to close on ourselves.”

Thorsteinn Eiriksson has been impacted by the coronavirus in many ways – with family members losing work due to the pandemic, and his girlfriend having to work at a research hospital for her studies during the pandemic.

The virus has “cast a blanket of fear” which has taken its toll mentally, but in Final Fantasy 14 he managed to connect with some “amazing people”.

Thorsteinn said: “The story based approach to an MMO is so enormously engaging and provides more entertainment than any TV binge. It’s kept me sane to feel that sense of progression, and the incredibly positive social aspects of FFXIV has made me feel like I can be with people even when I’m in quarantine. The way the game encourages teaming up with strangers to turn them into friends, the role playing scene, and all the amazing people.”

Another Final Fantasy 14 player, Donna Starling, sadly lost two family members and a work colleague to Covid, while her daughter is registered as extremely vulnerable.

Her mother also was admitted to hospital with coronavirus, but thankfully was discharged very recently.

With all that’s happened in her life, Final Fantasy 14 has helped provide Donna with a “lovely” place to be that’s a safe haven.

Donna said: “We’ve lost a work colleague and two family members to Covid, and our daughter is registered as extremely vulnerable. Going out shopping is really scary and this weekend in a horribly over-crowded supermarket, I actually had a panic attack. I had to put my shopping down in the aisle and dash outside to breathe.

“My mother came out of hospital on Friday after having Covid. It was REALLY scary because I honestly thought we were going to lose her. I prayed. God saw fit to let her survive and I am so relieved that I still have my mum when others weren’t so lucky.

“Honestly, if it weren’t for FFXIV I think I’d have had a heart attack or something by now. Whether it’s something like a raid that requires my full attention (therefore distracting me from real life issues) or mindless gathering in diadem for crafting materials, or just chilling with the FC and friends, it’s a perfect escape for my worries. It’s so nice just to get swept up in the world design, the art, the music.”

For Rina, playing Final Fantasy 14 has literally been life-changing. Starting off as a new player, Rina had heard horror stories of men only playing online games to meet people with ulterior motives.

But bravely, despite being very shy and having autism, she jumped into the world of Eorzea – and made friends with someone who helped her make a decision about something she had long dreamed of – to move from Germany to the UK and escape an “awful” living situation.

And thanks to the friendships she made in Final Fantasy 14, her life has changed for the better. Rina explained: “Both of [these friendships] developed into something much bigger and changed my life for the better. I moved to the country I always wanted to live in, but I was always afraid to do this on my own. With them having my back I found myself a job and my mental health is getting better too.”

She added: “Especially in FFXIV you have so many good options to be someone else, but the storylines within the game point out how important it is to be you and look around to the people close to you. A lot of it is also up to everyone’s own interpretation, but for me the game gave me, who isn’t good in making meaningful connections, a tool to connect with people. The game and the people helped me to change my life to the better. Make me wanna be me again and know that there are people who really care about me and not just if I can fulfil my role in a dungeon.”

While for one anonymous Final Fantasy player, FFXIV has helped them to reconnect with old friends and socialise at a point when it was impossible to do so.

The gamer said: “FFXIV has been a great experience for me to simulate social interaction during a time when social interaction wasn’t possible. I’ve reconnected with friends from college through this game, too. Although we have experienced the story and mechanics as ‘intended’, we have also found unconventional ways to play the game through glamours, emotes, and non-combat areas such as The Gold Saucer. We configured our settings to play hide-and-seek, for example. The openness of the world, the level of details in the environment, the additional content, and the positive community has helped emulate a sort of socialising that seemed impossible to do during a difficult year. It was something to look forward to.”

These personal stories that so many Final Fantasy 14 players shared touched the heart of Naoki Yoshida, the game’s renowned director and producer who has been busy working on the Endwalker expansion and the highly anticipated upcoming PS5 exclusive Final Fantasy 16.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zTTtd6bnhFs

Express.co.uk were lucky enough to hear from Yoshi-P about the personal impact the game he crafted has had on so many people around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Square Enix legend said: “Hello, I’m Naoki Yoshida, Producer and Director of Final Fantasy XIV Online. Thank you for sharing heartwarming stories through FFXIV!

“FFXIV is an MMORPG, a digital ‘play-in-a-shared-world’ type of entertainment. Players who login and gather in this world can enjoy the game together, transcending the barriers of distance, time, gender, and values that exist in the real world. If our work on FFXIV has helped people stay connected and helped them feel that they are not alone during the pandemic in the real world, then I couldn’t feel happier. I hope you’ll continue to play freely, friendly, and with much laughter.

“The threat of Covid-19 has equally made things difficult for our development and operations teams. However, the encouragement, caring comments and letters from the FFXIV player community have done more than anything to soothe our spirits and keep us strong. The FFXIV community, whether it’s the development team, the operations team, or a player are like family and friends, united and supporting each other.

“Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to give a word of gratitude from my end too. Thank you for all your support! I hope we’ll continue to enjoy playing FFXIV together!”

Hearing these stories from so many Final Fantasy 14 players, I couldn’t help casting my mind back to a quote I often turn to when experiencing mental health challenges myself.

The line that gives me strength is said by Yui Ikara in End of Evangelion – Hideaki Anno’s nihilistic anime masterpiece from 1997.

In it Shinji’s mother says: “Anywhere can be paradise as long as you have the will to live. After all, you are alive, so you will always have the chance to be happy. As long as the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth exist, everything will be all right.”

The coronavirus pandemic has presented so many challenges for us – from the loss of loved ones, to the ongoing anxieties, loneliness and uncertainties we all face having to deal with a devastating, unseen illness.

The fact a mere computer game – something crafted with code and polygons – is able to help turn this situation into not only a bearable one, but one where so many people can thrive, forge connections and live their lives in another meaningful way, is something altogether quite beautiful.

• Many thanks to all of the Final Fantasy 14 players who opened up about their experiences, and to Emma Withington from Bastion for sharing these incredibly touching personal stories with us and for liasing with the community so we can hear how FFXIV was an invaluable place of support for so many gamers.

If any readers out there are ever in need of any mental health support, Mind is a wonderful charity that has a great selection of resources. You can visit their website by clicking here, while the charity can also be contacted via the email [email protected] or on their Infoline 0300 123 3393. Samaritans also runs a 24-hour service that operates every day of the year. You can call Samaritans on 116 123, or if you’d rather write down your thoughts you can email Samaritans at [email protected]

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