I’ve always loved MMOs of all kinds – and I’ve always struggled to find the time to justify playing them. Whether they’re paid, free, so Englishly-English there’s a chance an NPC might shout “Bollocks!” at the top of their lungs at any moment or so imported I had to use a VPN just to avoid getting automatically kicked off the server it doesn’t really matter; I try them, love them, and then always find excuses to stop playing them.
You see while they may be wonderful absorbing worlds filled with other people and endless possibility to the point their influence can even seep out into the real world, players forging friendships that last a lifetime or sheer enthusiasm blossoming into internet fame or even job offers, if you dare to look past the glowing swords and rare floating rideable animals its all just numbers going up, isn’t it? Isn’t RPG-like grinding something I dislike? Something I at the very least want to see less of? Why do I need to spend my evenings making sure my numbers are around the same level as everyone else’s numbers, or that my numbers are as good as those the other people I might meet expect someone wearing my fancy hat and casting my spells to be? And this off-putting talk all comes before thoughts of recurring subscription and expansion costs or those newfangled “seasons” created solely to push people into “live content”, into playing right now or running the risk of missing out on something important for a period that might mean anything from “Until the run this exact same event again next year” to “This is literally the only chance you’ll get from now until forever” – even a bog-standard MMO subscription can reliably add up to the cost of a few new releases or a prestigious classic over the course of a year, after all.
So it’s very easy for me to look at this from all sorts of angles and decide the only right and sensible thing to do is disengage entirely: the really good MMOs will be around forever anyway (happy nineteenth anniversary, Final Fantasy XI), and for the rest it’s not too hard to imagine a task more productive than spending all that free time collecting animal pelts, dodging red circles on the floor, and managing cooldowns in the heat of yet another battle. That’s precious time I could use to work on more paid projects or research another lovely quirky release to talk about here – why throw that time and money away?
Well, because I need to. Because it’s dawned on me lately that if I’m not giving myself the time to “waste” on something as obviously pointless as an MMO – pointless in the sense that my access to any of it is usually entirely dependent on a subscription fee, I’ll never truly complete it no matter how hard I try, if I do spend months sitting in my mouldy underpants grinding whatever the latest grindable token is until there’s nothing left they’ll go invent a new one, and not to mention that precious fancy hat of mine will be superseded by an even fancier chapeau in a few month’s time – then I’m not really giving myself any time to relax and do nothing, am I? If every moment in front of my laptop has to be a means to a beneficial end then everything is in one way or another work – and that’s not healthy.
And this means my recent resubscription to Final Fantasy XIV – the latest of many previously temporary returns to Eorzea – is to me more than just a heroic journey through what is currently the latest story content (Shadowbringers really is as good as everyone says it is, by the way) but also a helpful measure of how well or not I’m managing my free time. Now when I sit down at my laptop I have a reason to pause before starting a new project, a little moment to think to myself “When was the last time I played Final Fantasy XIV? What was it I was looking forward to doing next in that game?” which also serves as my not-so-secret code for “When was the last time I made sure did something purely for the fun of it?“. If the answer to that question’s “Too long” then I don’t necessarily need to hop straight on to “correct” that – any old fun pastime will do – but it’s a simple way of checking up on my own bad habits and at the very least making myself aware of the fact it may have been a week or more (it’s usually more) since I last made the effort to give myself some me time.
There’s still that little part of me telling me this is all a waste of scarce hard drive space and money, that I should just quit and come back when I know for sure I’ve got the time to play it properly, but thanks to years of letting that little voice of reason win and a shift in my personal outlook I can see now that there is no magic right moment waiting to plop itself down in my lap, that if I don’t consciously make the effort – the effort to play, to take some time off, to technically do nothing even if only for an hour or two – then it’ll never come. Final Fantasy XIV’s my digital equivalent of a well-meant but inevitably underused gym membership taken out on New Year’s Day, my promise to myself to do better, my constant reminder that there are healthier alternatives to the tired old hamster wheel I keep putting myself on.
So, when was the last time I played Final Fantasy XIV? I’m not sure exactly – I’ve been really busy lately and I’m not great with keeping track of these things at the best of times – but it feels like it’s been at least a week now, a week since I last completely stopped for an hour or two and focussed on something that didn’t really need doing. I guess that means I should probably hop back on once I’ve published this – those numbers aren’t going to increase themselves, are they?