The Lonely World

I heard some strange things, in my fortune-telling days. Take this one guy—he told me he worked for a security company, in a…in an “area of greatest concern,” was how he put it. He used a lot of terms like that, sort of military-sounding. Like one of those mercenary guys.

Anyway, he said he’d been ordered to stir the pot, y’know, agitate things instead of cooling them down, so his contract would last longer. Do they do that, I wonder? You’d hope not, but this guy called a lot. He never asked any questions, just talked about his job. About his guilt. He said he needed the money. He never said for what.

Then, on a lighter note—then, there were several customers, really a lot of them, who’d fallen for fictional characters. Often, these crushes were accompanied by the idea that everything’s real, in an infinite array of universes…and by the fantasy of crossing that expanse to unite with a loved one. After a while, most of them ran together in my head: Sephiroth’s wives, I called them, because Sephiroth is the Pidgey* of videogame erotomania**. The man with a thousand soulmates.

I mean, I get it, to an extent. I remember playing King’s Quest V, thinking Mordack had thighs of steel. Like, that wizard never skipped leg day. He was hotttttt, with a whole lot of “t”s. I never thought he was real, never drew him in compromising positions (though I might’ve done, had I known that was a thing), but I noticed. Oh, yeah. I saw him.

I see you, baby, shaking those thighs! Shaking those thighs!

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. This one lady. She really bugged me. She told me she’d spent thousands of hours playing Final Fantasy VII—close to four thousand, which would add up to more than 166 days—because Sephiroth had come to her in a dream and begged her to save his life. He’d hidden a magic rose in the game, one that would resurrect him after the final battle. All she had to do was find it, and they’d be together forever.

So she searched. And she searched. And she updated me on her progress, which was none, always none…but thousands of hours. Think about that. Thousands, playing Final Fantasy VII—and all on one save. She kept mentioning that. She was afraid of losing her file, of it getting corrupted before she found the rose.

Now, here’s the thing: Final Fantasy VII hits lonely world mode maybe 70 hours in. Lonely world mode, ah…that’s the point where you’ve found everything there is to find, heard every line of dialogue, maxed out all your stats, and there’s nothing left to do. I mean, sure, you could talk to everyone again, fight infinite monsters, go round admiring the scenery, but that’s all. There’s nothing left but the end.

Lonely world mode isn’t so bad, these days. You’ve got Internet walkthroughs to tell you when you’re done. But, oh, in the ’80s, the early ’90s—I first noticed the lonely world in King’s Quest. It was the only game I had, and I played it to death. I played it every night, even after I’d got a perfect score, searching for…more. I don’t know. I thought there had to be stuff you didn’t get points for, things that were there just for fun. And I got this hollow feeling, this…this sad, grasping awareness of the edges of the world. And I hated it. I hated it so much.

That was the first time I found the lonely world, but the worst time was Final Fantasy VI. I was certain there was some way to discover Gogo’s identity. I wandered the world for months, restarted the game a dozen times, took every combination of characters to every location—I must’ve gone two, three hundred hours, and it felt like getting old. I watched the newness go out of everything, the excitement fade away. My eyes hurt from staring at the screen. And that was two or three hundred hours, spread out over a year (I got a new game every birthday).

Now, think of Final Fantasy VII again: thousands of hours, no restarts, no loading up one’s favourite scenes, no going back to look for secrets. Just thousands of hours in the lonely world, looking for something that isn’t there.

What did she do in there? Collect 99 of everything? Kill every monster a million times? She must’ve wandered through that stagnant landscape till she’d memorised every crag…man, Final Fantasy VII doesn’t even have weather.

Me and my ex used to do “goth poses,” in games like that. We’d find a rocky promontory, stand on the tip of it, and shout “Goth pose!” (I don’t know. It was funny, I guess.)

In Shadow of the Colossus, I’d sit close to the TV and leap to my death, just to give myself vertigo.

In Katamari Damacy, I never hit lonely world mode. I wasn’t good enough to complete my collection. But even there, I’d restart once in a while, to replay my favourite bits.

Thousands of hours. Thousands…thousands.

I can’t wrap my mind around it.

I used to have this dream where I’d hack into her Playstation and put a rose in her save file. And Sephiroth would come and get her, because why not? Why the hell not? Thousands of hours…oh….

* A really common Pokémon

** You’d think it’d be Vincent or Tseng, in the context of Final Fantasy VII—y’know, tall, dark, and handsome—but it’s almost always Sephiroth. Him and his big sword.

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