This is the final part in our retrospective letter series. An index of all letters can be found here.
From: Leigh Alexander
To: Kirk Hamilton
Subject: The Promised Land
So, we’re done. We defeated Sephiroth and we saved the planet. Or, really, Aeris saved the planet, or the planet saved itself.
You know what’s funny? I grew up on the same breakfast cereal as you and had the same chronic problem with leaving little bits left in every box forever. I think my rationale was that the stuff at the bottom of a box wasn’t that good, all crushed up and not substantial enough to fill a whole bowl, so why not start a fresh one? There was that, and the fact that empty cabinets seemed troublesome, sad.
I was actually a pretty lonely child. I mean, I always had plenty of friends around me, but in high school they were more the bonds of necessity, more “people to do things with” and less “people I had stuff in common with.” I’d ride the bus straight home from school most days, and I’d come home to an empty house, an hour or two’s stretch of solitude ahead of me until my Mom came home from her part-time job having picked my sister up from school, until Dad came home from work at the day’s end.
My memories of my home in those solitary hours are peaceful; it was always clean, sunlit. In my memory it’s Spring and I’ve rushed home to see if there was email from the mysterious and distant friends I’d made online, back in a time when checking it involved sitting with baited breath in front of a small glowing screen, watching a black-and-white progress bar slowly fill, a timer wheel spin (Downloading: 1 of 3 Messages).
After that, I’d get a snack and sit down to play video games by myself upstairs. I liked having cereal; I probably ate cereal most days, and I think that an empty cabinet just emphasized my loneliness. Leaving the boxes there might have been a way for young me to feel taken care of, that there were things waiting for me at home yet to be consumed, to occupy my appetite: Cereal, my email messages and the great big RPGs I played with single-minded completism, while paradoxically I half-hoped never to finish them.
Of course I will always love FFVII. That Cloud and his friends were waiting at home for me to play with meant I would not be alone.
I started these letters with you because I wanted to know if that was all there was to it: Is FFVII a Great Video Game, or just a dear friend of mine? I think we’ve established that it is, in fact, great; we’ve agreed on that as we discovered (and re-discovered) all the subtle design techniques, the unforgettable art and music, the power of imagination and abstraction that are all sadly in such short supply today. I’m glad, because I feel that in writing these we’ve managed to achieve so much more in the service of FFVII than nostalgia; we have, I think, managed to present a number of arguments for the special-ness of this game, for its singular brilliance.
But when it comes to the question of “did it impact me so much because it’s Great, or do I feel it’s Great simply because it impacted me so much,” the answer I’ve arrived on is “who cares?”
I was really interested in the why—why do I, why does everyone get so passionate about this game, on what magical elixir did it stumble that created such widespread engagement? What’s it all been about, my fandom, that of others? Unlike when we started, I now feel like maybe it’s not all that important to arrive at a single answer.
Perhaps all of the deep meaning we ascribe to this game is entirely personal; so what. That value holds. In the face of something like that, I don’t know that I really care very much about questions like, “but is it better than Zelda” or the score-sheet side-taking that is so much a part of gaming culture.
I learned a lot by going back to FFVII as an adult and as a video game critic, given all the backlash and cynicism in which I’ve been steeped over the past years. But the best thing I learned was that I never really left it behind; that it is still there for me to go back to.
I think through this letter series we’ve immersed ourselves in what’s most wonderful about video games in general: They have the power to influence our lives, to create deep and permanent meaning. I know we both heard, through email and social media and other channels, from so many readers who were inspired to join us on this trip; when they read our letters, they immediately wanted to return to FFVII, too.
In a world when so many video games are forgettable, wrung through the hype machine, devoured and then rendered irrelevant, it matters so much to me that there’s an RPG that kept me company as a child, that stays with me today. What’s more, I’m no longer alone in that, like there’s some magic language we all speak when we talk about FFVII. Doing this series together has surely helped strengthen our friendship—you named your chocobo after me!—but more than that, this game will now be part of your lexicon, your history, because of me and because of all of the people who joined us by reading these letters.
You’re right; just like someone who’s only finished the first Harry Potter book, there’s still much more you can enjoy. Can’t wait to see what you think of Crisis Core (only the BEST PSP GAME EVER, and this from a Metal Gear Solid diehard!) and Advent Children, and all the reams and reams of fan tributes that exist—piano covers on YouTube, jaw-dropping character paintings on DeviantArt, and alternately puzzling, hilarious and even occasionally-engrossing fan-fiction.
You finished the game, but you can still dig into these things, maybe even contribute some tributes of your own. And now you’ll be able to reflect fondly on FFVII with any other fan you meet, whether you see someone in cosplay at an event someday or get to attend that symphonic concert. This culture belongs to you, now. Its universe will always be there for you. Just like me, you won’t be alone.
Is that a good reward for your 60-80 hours, or what?