The frantic pace of my 8-week calculus 2 sad time has meant that I’ve pushed “difficult” video games aside in the last few weeks to reap the pure relaxation of an easier video game experience between the integrals and vectors. Recently, this has led me back to Final Fantasy XIII, a game that I still think is better than most.
I played it through in December of last year and I decided that I would pick that save up and get though all of the postgame content. “Postgame content” in this case comes in the form of Mark missions, where you talk to a “C’ieth Stone” and then you go kill the monster (Mark) it asks you to kill.
Things were going well until I got to mission 54, which is to kill the Gigantuar. He’s a big, surprised cactus who makes a formidable foe, and a side trip to level up a little bit has led me into a black hole of adamantoise* farming. That is to say, I’ve been running in circles killing adamantoises for the last 4 game hours.
I don’t really have any excuse for farming except that it’s fun to hold x while the Crystarium fills up, but this is my relaxing time, so an excuse isn’t really needed. What I want to talk about is that this is the first time that Final Fantasy XIII has made me feel bad about my actions.
You can kill an adamantoise the “real” way by using your weapons and magic like a standard enemy, or you can be “cheap” by using Vanille’s Death spell to kill them instantly if you’re lucky. I’ve been using the latter way and am working up to killing them legitimately so that I don’t have to farm so much before each fight, but there are a few moral difficulties with the fight that I’d like to look at. We’ll go through the fight as if we were using Vanille’s Death spell:
Let’s start with before the fight, when these creatures are completely docile. They won’t fight you unless you actively seek it out. There the adamantoise goes, lumbering by, not noticing my party until they attempt to tackle the ankle of the great beast. Once you’ve started a fight with one of the innocent creatures, it starts out like this:
Your tiny, human sized party is going to try to kill this hulking turtle. The turtle’s attacks are stomps and earthquakes that can hit your whole party for massive damage. How do you stop them from hurting you? In this case, you call Vanille’s summon, Hecatoncheir:
The summon instantly knocks out the adamantoise’s front legs and knocks it down. That looks like this:
It’s not even on it’s knees…I have actually injured it to the point where it can’t support itself. It can’t attack in this state, so this, of course, is when I start casting status abnormalities on it and trying to cast Death on it to kill it. Death is a spell with a 12% chance of hitting. If you and the adamantoise are both lucky, Death will hit and you’ll get tons of experience and some fly loot. If not, the adamantoise will hoist itself back to it’s feet and kill you in about 30 seconds with it’s stomps.
There are other games where you kill, or at least have the option of killing, innocent creatures. Pat Robertson points to classics like Grand Theft Auto and Maim Kill. Metroid and Shadow of the Colossus both come to mind, but the most recent one I’ve played is Dark Souls.
In the Painted World of Ariamis, you leave by jumping off a ledge behind the “boss” enemy, Priscilla the Crossbreed. When you get into her area, Priscilla the Crossbreed just wants to have a conversation:
- First time speaking to her
Who art thou?
One of us, thou art not.
If thou hast misstepped into this world,
plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.
If thou seekest I,
thine desires shall be requited not.
- Speak to her after the first time
Thou must returneth whence thou came.
This land is peaceful, its inhabitants kind, but thou dost not belong.
I beg of thee, plunge down from the plank, and hurry home.
Then you attack her, because you’re a person playing a video game and she’s there to be attacked:
- When attacked
I expected as much from thee.
Why dost thee hurry toward thine death?
Then the fight’s over:
- When killed
But, why… What seeketh thee?
- When she kills the player
Why could thou not let us be?
Didst thou not see why Ariamis created this world?
JEEPERS CATS. No matter how it ends its depressing. She’s so disappointed! In spite of this, the atmosphere of Dark Souls colors this fight in such a way that I’ve never felt especially “guilty” about killing Priscilla. The fight itself is outside of the “requirements” for completing the game, but this is a game where the closest thing I ever get to camaraderie is when someone invades my world to kill me. All you really have in Dark Souls are your enemies. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure this is the worst thing you do in Dark Souls. Besides, in Dark Souls, nothing matters.
The adamantoise example from Final Fantasy XIII strikes me differently because it’s only in the postgame that you can reasonably farm them, rendering fighting with them completely unnecessary to getting through the game’s story. In fact, most gamers probably don’t even experience this fight. They all know well enough to quit after the final boss is dead. It’s something you have to seek out. You have to set yourself a goal, like this:
Kill big cactus asshole.
After that, you have to decide that the best way to meet your goal is to start fights with innocent adamantoises. Then, you kill them by knocking their legs out from under them and shooting them like Old Yeller.
It might not even be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that I’m farming them, but I am, meaning that this imagery is pretty much all that I’ve seen in the last four game hours. It makes me feel like a ruthless turtle killer, which is not a feeling I am familiar with.
If we say, for the sake of argument, that the goal of a video game is “immersion,” is this an unanticipated part of the developer meeting this goal? Let’s define immersion for this post: Immersion is the state of “flow” a player enters when they’ve been “sucked in” to a game. The player is operating at the highest level they’re capable of and loses track of time. Developers want you to be immersed so that you feel the world they’ve created.
If a developer wants me to be immersed, I can see where they might want me to feel joy or grief, but the price I’m paying to fill my Crystarium up is measured in the blood of virtual turtles, and that makes me feel guilty. There aren’t any extensions of the themes from the main game involved in the fights…these are fights for the sake of fighting and getting stronger so that I can fight and win with greater ease. The guilt I’m feeling isn’t plot driven; I bring it upon myself my engaging in optional activities.
Let me be clear: I don’t actually feel bad about farming adamantoises. In real world terms, every time I reload the game, all of the adamantoises are back where they were before I killed them, none the worse for wear. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was running and I helped a real turtle out of the middle of the road. I like turtles and turtle things. However, the imagery of the adamantoise falling over and struggling to get up before my pink haired death monster of a party leader kills them is something I’m very familiar with now, and if I am to be “immersed” in Final Fantasy XIII, is Adamantoise Guilt part of what the developers want me to feel as I work my way through the postgame? Nothing else explains the systematic way that one has to go about killing the adamantoises or their animations once you’ve knocked them over. Nothing else explains the near necessity to use them for endgame experience and item farming since no other enemy comes close to them in terms of value.
Maybe killing them is tied into the main game thematically. The tie might be something like:
You’ve just saved the world from imminent destruction and vanquished evil. To obtain even more power, you have to trample the innocent.
That would be funny, since the adamantoise attacks by stomping.
More to the point, doesn’t that make me as bad as the tyrant I spent the entirety of the main game opposing?
*In the game, there are several variants of the “turtle” class of monsters: adamantoises, adamantortoises, shao long guis, and long guis. All of them look and behave similarly, so I’m just going to lump them all under the name “adamantoise” for simplicity.