Part four in our ongoing retrospective letter series. An index of all letters can be found here.
From: Leigh Alexander
To: Kirk Hamilton
Subject: “Oh, Cloud, what are you doing?”
Kirk,Glad you brought up FFVII’s “camp” bits. We’ve devoted so many of our letters so far to discussing such lofty ideals as how abstraction—the “shorthand” of our pixel characters against the backdrop of a lushly-drawn universe—creates realism and immersion, how intimidating is Sephiroth and how, somehow, you’re getting sucked into believing into this place and these people despite the patina of age. And yet, as you said, this is a game that wants you to jump dolphins, button-time parade salutes, perform decidedly homoerotic squats and run around on the back of gangly (beloved!!) giant racing birds.
I mean, obviously I take FFVII very seriously (you are not escaping this experiment, I’m telling you right now). And yet look at that stuff! There’s so much silly going on here! “What’re you doing, Kirk?” “Oh, nothing, just escaping from prison by being a chocobo jockey.” “Oh, nothing, just some squats so I can have a ladies’ wig.” “Just marching in a parade, the salutes have to be totally on.”“We”, and by “we” I mean “us bloggy sorts who love to write intense analyses of video games on the internet”, spend a lot of time tossing around concepts of “ludonarrative dissonance,” like how if a game asks us to do something like a pipe-hacking puzzle in the middle of Rapture it fails because it “takes us out” of the game world. Yet somehow it works in FFVII, doesn’t it?
For me, I know it was because I’d sort of been trained to expect a certain degree of silliness from RPGs. Chrono Trigger was full of that stuff. FFIV had its heavier moments and certainly some themes that if extracted essentially could be called “deep”, but within the context of such a primitive game it was largely up to the audience to impose that intensity; an RPG was still mostly something to play with, a paper-doll world that was so stuffed with grind and stat management that developers seemed to feel the need to keep it “fun”.
FFVII is a fundamentally adolescent RPG; it’s an evolution on what we now call “oldschool”, but compared to what we’d say is “modern”, many of its conventions have evolved out of existence. I think that’s part of why it hit the gamers of our generation so hard. Games were beginning to mature, and at the same time, so were we.
Why do you think all that silly-fun stuff doesn’t keep the world from being immersive and only endears us more?
Really anxious to know where, exactly, you’re at in the game. I know from Twitter you haven’t got Vincent Valentine yet. Do it. Sidequests. We’re going to need to start talking about sidequests. Do you explore the world much, or are you generally doing it linearly?