This is a chapter from my book.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was more or less an impulse buy. I was at Media Play one morning, talking to a friend who happened to be working as one of the clerks there. That was something I did pretty regularly to help make her clerk job a bit more bearable, and I would usually show up around the time the store opened so there would be a minimum of traffic for her to fend off while talking to me. I had had an interview at a nearby Sears for a job her own walking away left open, and my school was only about a half hour walk away, so I would sometimes pop in to say hello. The day I bought Final Fantasy X was the very day it started to show up in the bin for the Playstation 2 Greatest Hits collection. It was $20 now, and since I had liked or loved most of the games in the series to that point, I decided to go ahead and take a stab at it.
I never quite learned to develop the fondness for Final Fantasy X that I had for Final Fantasy IX or Final Fantasy IV from the Chronicles package. Maybe those two games had spoiled me, because it had been a long time since I played Final Fantasy VII, which was basically my gateway into the series. Final Fantasy X was a radical departure from the way the games themselves were made. The Playstation games had contained vastly updated graphics, but Final Fantasy X utilized voice acting, traditional turn-based combat, and had a heavier reliance on CGI cutscenes than any of the other games in the series I had played before. It also allowed the players to switch their characters during combat, which had never been done before in the series. I liked the customization system, the grid sphere, because of the convenience of it.
The main story was a little thin, but Final Fantasy X found a particular resonation to me for one reason: It was the first video game I had ever played in which the characters were openly confronted with the idea of questioning long-held sacred traditions. At the time I started playing Final Fantasy X, the whole idea of doing that in my personal life was becoming tantamount to the way I had decided to live. The game’s plot revolves around the main character, Tidus, fighting off a giant monster eating his hometown and being thrust 1000 years into the future upon doing so. The game opened with the monster fight and Tidus’s little time adventure. Tidus was a star player in a sport called blitzball, and one of the earliest scenes in the game shows a character performing a prayer. Tidus recognized the prayer as a sign that players in his sport gave to each other in his own time. Final Fantasy X certainly didn’t take very long to get to the core of what it was really about.
The main villain of the game, as introduced to me, was simply called Sin. He was the giant monster in the beginning, and the the people from the game’s world believed him to be the manifestation of their sins against their god. It also confronted evangelism, and the idea of hypocrisy within the church.
I had turned into a religious conservative as a kid, at least in secret, because my church had been teaching repetitious passages to be taken at face value. (My parents are NOT responsible.) Most of the folks there also had a very askew idea of the way the younger culture and real world worked, and a lot of what was preached there was extremely dated. I soaked it up mostly because I was a little kid and all the adults I trusted all seemed to be saying this “God” character existed. He also appeared to have written – or at least inspired – a history book about supermen who could actually talk with this god, and apparently were able to ask him to level cities, create swarms of frogs, flood the world, and cause complete darkness. People who were immune to fire and being eaten by lions and could rip apart temples. This god apparently had a son who was sent to be killed to redeem us from sins we hadn’t committed. Who was I to question all this? The church was giving me the impression that the answer to that question was “someone asking for a good smiting, that’s who.”
It was all well and good back when I was eight years old, but I had noticed a few inconsistencies with my science classes by the time I was about 13. I also noticed a few small discrepancies with the scriptures that weren’t sitting very well, either. Even though I was naturally curious, well, I didn’t want to get smitten. My questions couldn’t stay buried forever, though, and by the time I was 19, I had rejected my originally taught religion for an entirely different religion which was soon causing the same questions and therefore, the very same set of problems I had with my old religion. By the time I was 23, I was done. God, religion, and the idea of needing religion to teach morals and values were dead to me.
Final Fantasy X was projecting a lot of my thoughts onto a disc, and that was important to me because Buffalo is uber-religious and South Buffalo even more so. Although the religion presented in Final Fantasy X wasn’t the one I had been taught growing up, it was a relief to me because it made me feel like I wasn’t just being crazy. Maybe it was a little weird taking this kind of comfort from a damned video game, but video games are programmed by people, and in this case it felt like the people doing the programming were encouraging me to think. Besides, in a witch-hunt city like Buffalo, I had to take whatever I could get. In a city where a popular way to discipline kids was to tell them they would be sent to live at Father Baker’s boys’ home (Father Nelson Baker was a Catholic Priest who was renowned for helping the poor and is currently under consideration for sainthood), most people didn’t dig the idea of difficult theological questions and would wave them off using the usual answers: Pray more, read the Bible more, or go to hell. My mother was the only person in the neighborhood who was receptive to my questioning, so that made for a very suppressing atmosphere for me within the city. In an atmosphere like that, Final Fantasy X became something of an important release for me, as well as a good place to run and hide.
I’m still playing Final Fantasy X sporadically. My interest started to wane a little bit because I had other games on my plate, and when Final Fantasy X suddenly took a steep curve into far more difficult territory, I decided there wasn’t any point to frustrating myself over it when there were plenty of other good games there. In spite of the poorly-done difficulty curve, though, Final Fantasy X is still a game I can count on to be there for a very unusual religious reason.