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Sorrel’s Side Quests: How I learned to stop worrying and love the MMO

Final Fantasy XIV is a big game. Each of its 68 servers holds around 20,000 players, each with at least one character. Each character can have up to twenty “jobs,” classes that fundamentally alter the game. There’s crafting, cooking, combat and a visual novel-esque main campaign that lasts hundreds of hours on its own– it’s a big game. The kind of game that seems like it ought to have something for everybody. And yet, at times, it feels like it doesn’t want me around.

Final Fantasy XIV players are uncommonly friendly. Compared to similar massive multiplayer online, or MMOcrowds, they’re astonishingly inviting to new players. Every time I’ve run into a dungeon with a group of more experienced players, they’ve understood that I am still relatively new to the title and not very good at games of this nature. They’re a jovial bunch, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to infiltrate their ranks.

I missed the boat on Final Fantasy XIV. The game launched in 2009 in a more or less unplayable state, but was relaunched in 2013 with the celebrated “A Realm Reborn” expansion. Since then, it’s had a few major influxes of new players, most notably in 2020, when global lockdowns forced real-life enthusiasts to escape into a fake life. I wasn’t around for any of that. I picked up Final Fantasy XIV in 2022 off of a sales pitch delivered to me by around a dozen different friends (it goes something like “critically acclaimed MMORPG… free trial up to level 60…” and so on). 

The issue with showing up somewhere between two and nine years late to a live game with a thriving community is that you miss the bit where nobody knows what they’re doing. Instead, you’ve landed face first in a mess of other players, many of whom have learned the language of this world over nine years. Good luck figuring out what a “tyfp” is. Do you want to talk about the story? Sorry, everyone else finished that part of the story years ago. Everyone is friendly, but everyone is also ahead of you. Some people jumped ship to Final Fantasy XIV from another MMO entirely, one they might have been playing for literal decades. They already have friends here; they know the language better than you, and at this point, it can start to seem like you’re too far behind ever to catch up.

While I was playing Final Fantasy XIV a month or two ago, I decided to pick up the Botanist job. I was getting sick of fighting and wanted to do a little bit of gardening instead. While out in the world collecting grass for some job quest, I ran into another Botanist– one dressed just like me, who I suspected might be around the same level as me and was maybe even working on the same quest. I stopped and talked to them for a bit, and they sent me a friend request. I accepted. We gathered grass together for a bit, then went our separate ways. I haven’t talked to that person since.

It feels silly to say, given the astronomically low stakes of a video game where I currently spend most of my time collecting grass, but playing Final Fantasy XIV brings me back to being a dork kid with social anxiety. I am, of course, still a dork kid with social anxiety, but I’ve learned to find the empty spaces in conversations, the areas where I can worm my way into meaningful friendships and relationships. I don’t know where those spaces are in an MMO. I don’t know the language here. Sometimes I suspect that I showed up too late to ever really learn.

About two months ago, I roped my closest friend into playing Final Fantasy XIV with me. We don’t play often– he’s had the same frustrations I have, and he’s a little less willing to push through them, but when we do, I feel like I have the experience everyone else has all the time. Those brief and infrequent sessions serve to remind me that even in the vast and sometimes inaccessible expanse of a decade-old MMO, nobody actually needs to be alone.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.

Sorrel Kerr-Jung

Opinion Writer

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