A Relationship Reborn
Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light questions the mechanics of a relationship. How do you typically define a relationship? Is it the amount of time you physically spend with someone? The number of times you call or text someone?
In Netflix’s new dramedy, Akio wants to connect to his estranged father. Even though they see each other every day, they don’t really speak much to each other. They occupy the same space without really having any interaction. Breakfast and dinners are passed in silence and incredible awkwardness. (I’m sure some of us can say the same thing about their relationships with various family members). When his typically stoic, workaholic Dad suddenly quits his job without any explanation, Akio gets his Dad a PS4 and a copy of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn as retirement present. As a kid, Akio played the original Final Fantasy with his father, bonding over the game before a demanding job made his dad quit the game permanently.
Hesitant to try it at first, Akio’s father begins the adventure and slowly overcomes the technological learning curve on top of the alien experience of beginning an adventure in an MMORPG. Akio’s plan is to befriend his father in the game, and hopefully rebuild their long-lost relationship.
The show uses footage from the game to illustrate their digital adventures, and uses the amazing FFXIV soundtrack in both real and video game worlds. For instance, in one scene Akio’s mother gets angry and boss music starts playing. In another, Akio’s boss guilts him into accepting a task to find out why so many female employees are quitting, and when he agrees the musical cue for “Quest Accepted” plays. This blend of real world and game world results in a feel-good story that is a little predictable, a little bit campy, and all-around fun. I was hooked on episode one, but by the end you’ll find that you genuinely care for the characters and you really hope that father and son can be reconciled.
A Final Fantasy for Fans and Newcomers Alike
Obviously if you have played FFXIV the connections to the game make for a more immersive experience in the story. But even without playing the game, the characters are compelling enough that you will keep watching. It’s a slice of Japanese life with a host of cultural nuances buried in the cathartic story of overcoming adversity and stoicism.
For fans of FFXIV there are all kinds of memories and treasures. The series tapped strongly into my own experiences I had with FFXIV. FFXIV was the first MMORPG I had ever tried. I’d heard a lot about how cool the world was, but always felt intimidated to try a huge game like this. I decided to finally give it a try during a time of high anxiety and stress in my life. Whenever I came home from work and booted the game up, I enjoyed the distraction of slipping into a beautiful new world. I felt like I could be free here—a distraction from all the other problems I was facing in my world. I explored. I made mistakes. I made some friends.
As I watch Akio’s father begin his own journey in Eorzea, I found myself recalling my own wonder with the game. And much like the father, I kept to myself initially. I felt really awkward partying up with people that I didn’t know. Video games were typically a solo experience for me and gaming with others a largely foreign concept. Then while running around in some desert town a random player character ran up to me and invited me to join their clan. I had no idea what that entailed but I accepted his invitation.
The next day when I signed into the game, I was greeted warmly by members of the clan (all of whom I had never met before). They typed welcome messages and asked how I was doing. I had never talked to anyone in the game before, so they taught me how to use my cellphone as a keyboard to message other clan members. They took me to some of the more challenging dungeons, offering their services as guides so that I could make my character stronger. That night, they spent three hours just showing me around the game, opening up the experience to new levels.
I was shocked by how nice they were—these people that I had only met the night before.
The Mechanics of Relationships
There’s a scene in the second episode where Akio’s father character is about to be killed by a monster, and Akio, playing from his computer, rushes in to save him from doom. After the battle is over, Akio sends a friend request to his father’s character. This results in Akio’s father knocking on the door to ask him a question.
“I got a friend request. Is it ok to accept that kind of thing?”
With a smile Akio tells his father that it’s ok, that those people will be his friends.
The father is shocked at this. “My friends? I guess there are kind people even in the game world.”
At the heart of the show is the question of what makes a relationship. Is it purely the physical interactions you have with a person? Can you build a relationship on the shared experiences you have with someone? Those of you that have played a video game that has sucked you into its world know the feeling of living two different lives. On the physical world, you have your limitations. You have your life that may feel like a cage.
In the digital world, you’re anyone you want to be. The digital world can feel more real than reality. The people you meet online are more than avatars and heroes. And this is where the series really shines. The show effectively uses the game as a medium for the characters to build a relationship, showing that a friendship does not have to fully exist in the physical world to be real.
Typically video games are portrayed as “evil” tools in media. They are the causes of increased violence. Crime shows us it as a killing ground—serial killers prey upon victims through their connections in video games. These portrayals could not be further from the truth. In reality, games like FFXIV exist as a shared world experience, a place where people can connect and reconnect.
I once had a student that played World of Warcraft with his brother in Peru. Their family had been on the wrong side of immigration and as a result, half of the family was deported and the other half left in America. The only way for these brothers to hang out and spend time with each other was through World of Warcraft. To a lesser extent, I use multiplayer games like Destiny to keep in touch with old college friends in different countries. It may not be quite the same as meeting up to watch a football game in a bar somewhere, but you can bet that we still have a ton of laughs.
Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light is more than just a story of a father son relationship. It’s a great example of how people use video games to keep in touch, and ultimately push the definition of relationships.