There’s no denying that video games have been helping everyone cope with lockdowns when seeing the outside world and meeting people new and old feels almost like a distant memory.
More importantly, the medium has been a crucial lifeline for players in isolation, seeking connection beyond another awkward Zoom meeting. Online games have provided a vital virtual space in place of the real spaces missing in our lives for the past year. One such shining beacon has undoubtedly been Final Fantasy XIV.
“It saved me from becoming seriously anti-social and really helped with my anxiety,” says Claudia, just one of many players in the community – over 20million strong – who have taken refuge in the MMORPG.
The vast and fantastical world of Eorzea has been a place where life can carry on when real life has been halted. Another player Michel explains that because of lockdown, “I lost the side job I had at a restaurant, and because of trouble adjusting to studying from home, I’m repeating last year.”
Yet things are better in the virtual space. He’s been able to celebrate the first anniversary of a relationship that began in the game. “Thanks to FFXIV, I have found someone who I want to share my life with, even if COVID and other circumstances in both our lives means it’ll be a long distance relationship for a while.”
For others, it’s been a chance to reconnect with friends and family, where the game’s daily grinds and goals gave them something to strive for.
“Thanks to FFXIV, I’ve been able to maintain daily contact with my brother, as well as with other friends with whom I had lost regular contact,” explains a player going by his character Arcia. “I recently got my cousin to join the game. He’s still somewhat of a novice, so at the moment we are only helping him among the clan companions, but I’m also introducing him to other communities on Discord.”
At its most minimal, the incredible community and the sweeping epic story arcs have just been something for players to look forward to as much as providing some semblance of routine and control disrupted by lockdown restrictions.
For Thorsteinn, simply progressing through the storylines have kept him both sane and distracted from the blanket of fear that the pandemic has cast over him and his family’s lives.
“My father travels a lot for work and we’re all worried he’ll end up bringing the virus back home to Mom and my siblings who still live at home. My girlfriend is doing her master’s degree at a research hospital and she’s terrified of getting infected and unwittingly bringing the virus into her workplace,” he explains.
“FFXIV has made me feel like I can be with people even when I’m in quarantine. The way the game’s social aspects encourage teaming up with strangers to turn them into friends, the role playing scene, and all the amazing people has been incredibly positive.”
COVID has of course directly impacted members of the community too. Last April, when a player died from the virus, an in-game tribute turned into a virtual funeral procession as hundreds of players dressed in black to march in respect of a fellow fallen warrior.
While that extraordinary event drew headlines, just being in Eorzea has been a safe space for players to process their grief and frustrations.
A player going by her character name Suri contracted COVID last November. While she wasn’t hospitalised, she recalls being extremely fatigued to the point that she found it difficult to play. It’s hard to imagine a more powerless feeling than losing your means of virtual escape.
“The worst part of it was that I felt I was exhausted and not only I couldn’t play, I also couldn’t study, or keep up with the friendships I made in game, or my relationship with the person I made in the game,” she explains.
“It was really frustrating, but my friends and partner reassured me that FFXIV wasn’t going to go anywhere, and they weren’t either. I was able to do a few quests here and there when I had a little more energy some days, or I just logged in and hung out with them in the game.”
Kate is a FFXIV role-player, who acts out the role of her character Mis’to, while also running a role-playing venue on the game’s Odin server.
Having also lost a terminally-ill relative to COVID last year, she’s been able to express her feelings of grief with her online circle. “I’m not the only one affected by far-away relatives passing, and talking to those in the same situation has helped me feel not alone. Our community really cares and will find those who are struggling with isolation, just to reach out to check in on their headspace.”
“I think that it’s fair to say role-playing is mainly an escape but it has on occasion been a tool to help process tough emotions. On one hand it’s great to play these characters that have much more control over their universe than I do right now. On the other hand, they can act out stages of grief and sadness that perhaps can’t be openly shown to the world right now.”
FFXIV’s community usually also come together to celebrate in fan festivals, with the official event originally meant to take place at ExCeL London this weekend (February 20-21). Cancellations due to the pandemic have been a huge disappointment for fans, especially for cosplayers who had invested time creating cosplays for the occasions.
Nonetheless, the cosplay community was still able to come together by way of a heartwarming ‘Pass The Brush’ video project the community put together as a show of support to the developers.
“We heard that the game devs were apologising for delaying content and were disappointed to have to slow down production. We wanted to show them that we understood and we were thankful for everything they’ve given us in this game,” explains cosplayer Calley.
“This video not only gave cosplayers a chance to show off their cosplay and be part of a community project, but to send their love together to the devs and everyone involved with the game that we love!”
In her reality, she has already lost two family members and a work colleague to COVID, while there were fears her mother would succumb to the virus, although she has fortunately since left the hospital.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for FFXIV, I think I’d have had a heart attack or something by now,” she says. “Whether it’s something like a raid that requires my full attention, and therefore distracting me from real life issues, or mindless gathering for crafting materials, or just chilling with friends, it’s a perfect escape for my worries. I mean, there’s Ascians and Primals to deal with there, but it’s still a lovely place to be!”
The world of Eorzea has only become more welcoming since Square Enix made the game essentially free to play as far as the Heavensward expansion back in August 2020.
The recent announcement of the Endwalker expansion launching in Autumn 2021 no doubt gives many players a lot to look forward to, particularly a dramatic conclusion to a decade-long saga for the MMORPG. But as the unpredictable pandemic’s conclusion looks far from certain, for these and many other players, simply being in Final Fantasy XIV is itself something to look forward to.