[Intangirble’s note: My wife Whisper often has interesting thoughts on gaming, so I asked if she’d compose some guest posts for this blog from time to time. Today’s post is the first fruit of that request.]
Hello. I’m your guest blogger today, here to talk about Final Fantasy Record Keeper.
The game itself needs a little introducing, because the premise is a meta-story. FFRK is a game about being a fan of FF games. The story goes that there’s a magic kingdom powered by stories, specifically the stories of all the FF games, and Record Keepers are the people who keep the memories of these stories alive. When the paintings start to vanish, the young Record Keeper– whom the game subtly hints at you to rename after yourself– goes into the paintings to relive memories of the plotlines of the FF games.
It really speaks for how beloved the FF series is when Square-Enix can successfully market a freemium game that’s one long advertisement for their expensive games, and make no particular effort to conceal this fact, and it’s reached millions of downloads. FF fans don’t care that S-E is marketing them a reminder of how much they love FF games, because it’s just that true. There are enough “shut up and take my money” fans to give a game like this a good reception. They– we– are so enthusiastic about the series, or at least parts of it, that we’re proud of being such hardcore fans that we’d put hours of play into an ongoing commercial for our fandom. The business brilliance of encouraging us to wallow in their products aside, it’s legitimately a fun game if you’re familiar with all, or even most, of the stories. People aren’t just playing it to prove they love FF, but because it’s fun to surf through the pages of nostalgia, and the game even has a sense of humour about it.
Moreover, though, I feel really close to this game because it’s so much like what I used to imagine when I was just a kid. I used to pretend I was apprenticed to tribal elders whose job it was to carry on the tradition of remembering these legends exactly as they happened, so that one day if a hero came along needing this knowledge in order to find the magic that could seal an ancient evil, the details of those legends could be passed on; perhaps I could even join the party as a sage with secret wisdom, providing the hidden clues necessary to save the world. Which isn’t that far off from what’s going on in FFRK.
Despite the “friending” feature that lets you use an extra ability from some other player’s character, FFRK is essentially a single-player game, like the FFs it references; the quest is a private venture undertaken between you and the characters you love, resembling the adventures you’re meant to remember together. Its effect on the series, however, is social; it manipulates the way fans are meant to position themselves in relation to the games, each other, and S-E itself. Recently I read this article on save data as a historical artifact, which talks about how the experience of single-player games is also part of the collective shared history of all gamers. It’s a good article, but what’s relevant here is this part:
“When something as tiny as a save file gets passed around from person to person, it acts as a reminder that we’re all united by these common struggles and victories. It forms an invisible thread linking two strangers on an epic quest to save the (digital) world; strangers who will likely never meet. […] It also makes me feel like history’s greatest monster when I’m forced to delete someone’s save data to start a new game. My fellow adventurer has left behind this final record of their journey, and here I am casting it aside and undoing everything they accomplished. Monstrous!”
I’ve always loved the idea that the players themselves have gone on the journey, e-journey though it may be, and accomplished something in the world of that game. We want our adventures to mean something. And it turns out they do, after all.
In Record Keeper, what’s important is your fandom itself: your memories and knowledge of it, which you keep close because you love FF and revisit it and care about it. You’re told that you are doing a very important job by caring about and remembering these stories. It’s a thread that goes through a lot of FF, this idea that as long as you remember the games’ stories, you are actually, literally keeping these worlds and their inhabitants alive:
“If I should leave this lonely world behind /Your voice will still remember our melody. /Now I know we’ll carry on; /Melodies of life will circle round and grow deep in our hearts /As long as we remember.” (Melodies of Life, FFIX)
The idea repeats itself anywhere that S-E engages with the fandom qua fandom. FFIX was, after all, not just admitted but outright marketed as a nostalgia trip for people who liked the older FFs– a proto-Record-Keeper in premise, although when actually realized it was a quite individual game. The message is not only clear, it’s repeated through the generations: By remembering these games, we ourselves are contributing meaningfully to the games themselves.
That’s how we keep the worlds alive. Running parallel to this is the idea of keeping them safe. Of course our adventures in saving the world protect it on a storyline level, but on a meta-level, so do the conflicts. If the adventure weren’t presented in all its detail, if it weren’t the story we came to love, we wouldn’t have finished it. It’s the drama of the story and its conflicts that keep us playing. Ironically, by threatening the safety of the worlds, the villains summon us to come play the game and motivate us to follow through to defeat them. Often in the process we end up cleaning up various political messes and/or disasters that would have threatened the world, so it ends up far safer than it would have been if we hadn’t arrived.
“So what if I don’t finish the game myself?” we might think. “The story still goes that it gets saved, and it doesn’t matter whether I’ve seen the whole story or not.” That’s one way of looking at it. But it contradicts what S-E keeps putting forth about our memories being the living essence of the game’s world. If we didn’t complete the adventure ourselves, we don’t remember doing it. We never actually made it happen in our memories, and therefore we never actually made it happen in truth. In order to remember that the heroes saved the world that we were experiencing, we have to actually make sure they do it. It does matter that you finished that game and saved the world, because it has to be like that in your memory in order for it to be real.
This is the fragility of fictional worlds, but it’s also the really cool thing about them: they completely depend on us to keep alive and safe. Without us playing the game, the worlds really would fall into darkness and ruin. What does that mean? It means that all the things you care about when you are being a fan– the story, the characters, the places, even the pairings– these things you care about would actually be destroyed if you weren’t there to relive them. Yes, it’s you and a million other fans, but not a single one of those other people are more important in the preservation of the world than you are.
You have to do it. You have to try your best. For their sake. Because you are really saving them. So say the canon creators.
(And whenever they send out news and messages, they address it to “all the Record Keepers out there” and it’s super adorable because, for all that you get a little Record Keeper avatar in your party and stuff, ultimately you know that they know that you know that they know that you really are the Record Keeper yourself.)