As a result of COVID-19, a lot of us are finding ourselves stuck at home, perhaps with more free time than we know what to do with. And it’s extremely important, if you can afford it, that you follow the proper rules for self isolation and social distancing for the safety of both others and yourself. But self isolation and social distancing don’t need to equal social isolation, especially in this digitally-driven day and age!
During these especially dismaying times, it’s important to lean on your support network and find distractions and new things to love. Given Final Fantasy XIV’s popularity, you might be someone who hasn’t played it but has nonetheless been captivated by the constant screenshots your friends post of it on social media, clips of its stunning and thrilling battles, or the endless memes to come out of it. FFXIV is a wonderful game to play at any time, but with a giant base game and three expansions, the idea of getting into it might have been understandably daunting. Now’s your time, though. FFXIV isn’t just a fantastic MMORPG; it’s an ideal game to play right now. Here are some reasons why.
While some may have shifted to working from home, many people are students with canceled or online classes, employees on paid or unpaid leave, or workers who will be earning significantly less as society focuses on how to combat this crisis. With all the stress this pandemic causes, on top of every person’s individual problems, you really don’t need to be worrying even more about money.
Luckily, you can play FFXIV for free up to level 35, giving you plenty of time to see if it’s for you. You don’t have to commit anything outside of your time to figure out if you want to commit to it, which is especially helpful for people who generally don’t like MMOs such as myself. While FFXIV only gets better the more you progress, the main story content you’ll see for those first 35 levels is enough to provide insight into the story’s potential. Additionally, if you find the idea of playing with other people daunting, the multiplayer content you can access is more than enough to help you determine whether FFXIV can be a comfortable experience for you. It’s like a big demo, except it’s permanent, which makes it even better.
Nothing says distracting yourself from a reality that makes you feel impending doom at all times like having hundreds—and, if you really get into it, absolutely thousands—of hours of content. If you were to hypothetically stick only to the main story and ignore absolutely everything else, you have at least 200 hours of content waiting for you. It’s honestly a generous estimate, too, for this obviously depends on your play style. The base game, A Realm Reborn, is anywhere from 60 to 100 hours; every expansion, including the patches in between them, is around 30 hours. During a heavy depressive episode last summer, I played this game each day for more hours than I’m proud to write—and it still took me about two months to get through everything. And it’s not just the quantity—it’s the quality, too. FFXIV is arguably the best the series has ever been, and its world is a gorgeous and ever-evolving landscape awaiting you to explore at your own pace.
There is so much chaos in the world on an average day, with or without the existence of a recently discovered global virus. To quell the anxiety that comes with disorganization and so much uncertainty, it’s important to develop a routine. FFXIV is excellent at doing this, for after a certain point you have access to a substantial list of daily tasks—“dailies,” as the community lovingly calls them.
As someone who strongly struggles with anxiety, doing my dailies has always been a therapeutic process. I have fun doing them with friends, though if I’m feeling anti-social, I do them on my own. Since it’s an MMORPG, even if you do them alone, you are playing with other people, so you’re not completely isolating yourself from human interaction; you just have a healthy distance from it. The familiarity that comes with logging in and queueing up for a daily helps me center myself, too. Often, I’ll work while I wait for the queue to pop up and then use the dungeon, trial or raid to break up the monotony of work. On some days, I’ll log in just to do my dailies and then log out, and that lets me play enough that I feel my itch scratched and for little enough that I can concentrate on all my responsibilities. FFXIV excels at providing a sense of balance that gives you control in deciding what you make of it. Eventually, it starts feeling a little like home.
Humans can suck, regardless of what method they use to express that they suck. There can be—and there is—so much toxicity in online gaming communities; it’s unavoidable. But in terms of toxicity, this game ranks fairly low out of the multiplayer games I have played. I’ve run into a fair amount of toxic people, but the number of kind players I have run dungeons and trials with far exceeds that amount. FFXIV is great at allowing you to express kindness and limit toxicity. You can perform endearing emotes for people; you’re encouraged to commend someone at the end of every dungeon, trial and raid; you can quickly block players. When you’re new to a battle instance, the game places a sprout icon next to your name that lets others know it’s your first time. The community itself is largely good at self-policing. When I first started, I had players rush to defend me when someone criticized how I was playing in a trial, and in-game “mentors” reassure me and teach me when I asked for advice.
It helps that the development team is inclusive in many ways, as well. Director Naoki Yoshida has expressed that he is fond of the notion of FFXIV being a game people don’t feel compelled to play every moment, showing an appreciation for any kind of player. He’s also disagreed with the notion of implementing a system that tracks damage, for it easily creates opportunities of toxicity and elitism. Small things like a wide variety of armor (and not just skimpy clothing for women); allowing anyone to wear a tuxedo or dress for their wedding; and the constant tweaking of classes so that they feel balanced, powerful, and appreciated help mitigate unpleasant or exclusionary experiences. Basically: every MMO’s community kinda sucks, but FFXIV’s sucks a little less.
Since I got into it about a year (and almost 1000 hours) ago, I’ve encouraged many people to play FFXIV because it’s genuinely wonderful. I used to be someone who dismissed it because it wasn’t a single-player Final Fantasy. I even tried it twice before it finally clicked with me on the third try due to playing with close friends who suited my play style. I regret missing out for so long and I’m so happy that I got into it later than never. It’s a game that has genuinely uplifted me and helped me with my struggles.
When I play it with friends, I feel supported and uplifted in unique ways. I smile every time a friend’s character dotes on, blows kisses to, or gives a big hug to mine. It’s a small thing, but doing these actions through your fictional character makes it a little easier to be vulnerable and affectionate, especially during these times of fear. I am a little less scared of the world when I hug my best friend who lives in another country because, although my character is a fictional avatar, she is still an extension of me. I am giddy every time a friend of mine crafts an outfit I wanted because I know they took the time and resources to make me happy. I am uplifted by the sense of community and achievement when I hop into new content with other players and we figure out how to win a battle or experience a beautiful new dungeon or raid together. I laugh when we take silly pictures, like the one above in which three of us are drinking to/celebrating/staring at our friend laying down in a bonfire like our miqo’te sacrifice.
When I play it alone and focus on the main story content, I am touched by its excellent writing. I’ve been struck by the depth with which it tackles social issues that are important to me and many others; how moving its characters and the bonds you form with them can be; and by how much I adore this avatar that I have poured so much of my time, energy and desires into. I’m happy to see her form close relationships, continue to grow, and make a difference in people’s lives. I’m elated every time I see one of the several characters I have dubbed as my spouses; the next exciting story development; and every time I have been moved to tears because of how much I care about this universe.
There are many more moments of joy to find in every corner of Eorzea and its inhabitants. If you’ve been on the fence about trying FFXIV, I will always recommend it with my whole heart. But, during these tumultuous times in an overwhelming world full of suffering and struggle, I encourage you to try it more than ever. Videogames provide an escapism that is difficult to experience through any other medium, and there are few better sources for that escapism than a glorious fantasy universe eager to welcome you with open arms.
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things.