Otherwise… Hi there! How’re you keepin’?
Well, Final Fantasy VII taught me everything I know. Yep, that’s right, a computer game. Whenever someone tries to run down the video game medium as an enriching source of entertainment I always pull this wee rant on them. I thought it might be worth while to explain how exactly this one game changed me for the better.
I first played this game when I was twelve. It was stocking filler one Christmas, and I imagine my mother’s aim was to give me something that would shut me up in the evening. Keep me quiet. Sedated, if you will.
Well, it fuckin’ worked. Maybe too well. I immediately fell into this wonderful world, head-first.
The first lesson I learned was to be wary of gigantic corporations. Initially, being part of a group of mercenaries, I worried that we were, in fact, the bad guys. It slowly came to light, however, that Shinra, the aforementioned gigantic corporation, were sucking dry the world’s precious Mako energy source. The Mako constituted what is known as the lifestream (ain’t it pretty?), which is essentially a river of floating souls that feed the planet. Without it the planet would die. What struck me most about Shinra and their policy of Mako extraction is their disregard for the effect it had on the men and women that peopled the world. They built their giant extraction plant right above the people, and it’s enormous energy needs decimated the nearby countryside. Without the Mako to thrive flora and fauna perished, and it became a wasteland. With no arable land the people below Shinra’s headquarters in Midgar fell into poverty. I learned from the first two hours of playing this game that profit-motivated super-corporations can have detrimental consequences if not held accountable for their actions. Luckily, I was on the anti-Shinra rebel team AVALANCHE… fuck yeah.
It’s a game that encourages exploration. Going from town to town and talking to different people with different cultures and ways of life was one of the most rewarding experiences in any video game I have ever played. One side of the world looked different to the other. What is so wonderful about it is how you learn far more about yourself by interacting with people than you do anything else. It’s always a journey of self-discovery as much as a task-oriented mission. It gave me the travel bug very early on, wanting to experience and see and taste and hear as much as possible in the real world!
It taught me that we have to make an effort to meet the best people, sometimes going out of our way and making time for the less pressing, seemingly less important matters. If you don’t, then you miss out on Yuffie and Vincent, two great characters! Vincent immediately became a permanent fixture in my trio of favourites, just like a good friend can be found in the most unexpected of places. He’s a moody son-of-a-bitch, but he’s worth the occasional strop, like most best friends.
The game also makes a strong case for our furry friends, and that dogs are the best companions! One of the most badass characters in the entire game is Red XIII. Awesome, isn’t he? We save Red XIII from a lab that was testing on him (yes, they taught me everything I know about animal welfare too). He completed my gaming triumvirate.
The game showed me that mean-looking dudes with gun-arms could have huge hearts, and not to judge someone based on the size of their gun-arm. Barret Wallace is a cross between Mr. T and The Rock. But tougher than both. His soft-side only emerges whilst taking care of Marlene, his adopted daughter, who lost her parents, Barret’s friends Dyne and Eleanor. Some of the most heart-warming scenes in the game come from his sense of duty to his fallen friends, and the genuine love he has for Marlene.
At twelve I hadn’t started pondering life’s great questions all that much, but Final Fantasy VII addressed some of them in a delicate way. The main character Cloud falls in love Aeris, a beautiful, gentle soul who seems to epitomise the very concept of nurture. Their late night conversations under moonlight, the soft music playing in the background… it really seemed to be a trajectory filled with happiness at last for our troubled hero. Her death half-way through the game is a crushing blow to Cloud. How could be rebuild himself from that point on without the person he loved? The rest of the game attempts to show how life continues, and how we are all part of a very precarious circle of life and death. It taught me that both love and loss are a part of life, better than any priest or preacher ever did.
It taught me that no matter how strong your Braver or Omni-Slash (killer Limit Breaks, kinda’ like finishing moves) is, you always need the support of others at times.
It taught me that sometimes asking for help is the best policy. In the game asking for help takes the form of summoning Ifrit, or Shiva, or even Bahamut, or any of the other Summons you can find.
It also taught me that sometimes when the chips are down help can come from the most unexpected places. Like the randomly appearing Norse God Odin, who dishes out instant victory or massive damage.
Sometimes we have a seemingly insurmountable challenge placed in front of us. In the game this challenge comes in the form of the Weapons, two of them, Emerald and Ruby, basically two giant bad-ass bosses. Now to say these guys are tough to beat is a fucking understatement. I remember sitting with my best friend watching him fighting Emerald Weapon, for two hours, taking a dinner break half-way through. He persevered. He overcame. He won. He then took down Ruby, and got a fucking Gold Chocobo! A Gold Chocobo! Wark! This taught me that not every challenge could be overcome easily, but persevere and the reward at the end was super-sweet.
However, most importantly of all it taught me that no matter how serious life seems, no matter how many bad guys are after you, or how many evil corporations you have to topple, or how many super-charged Mako-infused super-soldiers with mommy issues who want to destroy the world, there should always be room for fun! Down-time! Party! The Gold fucking Saucer!
I learned pretty much all I know about life from this game. It’s my fucking Bible. If you’ve played it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, then play it! It really is that good.
I feel for my brother mercilessly caught in the friend-zone, doing his damnedest to paddle back up the rapids toward a different sort of relations with the enigmatic Holly Golightly. Breakfast At Tiffany’s is a masterful novelette, clocking in at what I approximate to be 27,000 words, a short read but an immensely satisfying one.
The characters that Capote bothered to develop well, namely the narrative voice main character and Holly Golightly, are steeped in what could only have been Capote’s own personal experiences. Most of us will have known a Holly Golightly ourselves, someone charismatic yet incredibly fragile, charming and impossible to pin down in one place for very long despite our best efforts.
It’s a love story, but it goes beyond a love of a mere romantic nature and dwells instead on our love of people and how other people enhance our own lives, broadening and challenging who we are before we even know who we are exactly, if we are ever anything in particular.
And that’s the great lesson of the novel: that people might not be who we think they are, and we are nothing at all what we thought we were and are susceptible to being ever-changing.
While Holly Golightly and her escapades dominate the novelette, it’s all the other characters that gravitate toward her, some strange and downright alien at times, that give the story it’s colour.
For those of you who haven’t ever read Truman Capote, here’s where to start. If you’ve ever been friend-zoned and you’ve watched helplessly as your Holly makes mistake after mistake then this story will resonate with you in a very humorous way. If not, then read it anyway. It’s fantastic.
Winner of the Davy Byrnes Award in 2009 this little-novelette-that-could is an astounding work of meticulously constructed prose and perspective, namely that of a preadolescent girl, that never says more than is necessary.
The overwhelming achievement of this work is its ability to allow the reader slip behind the shoulder of a young girl who gets uprooted and torn from the familiar and placed in the different and unfamiliar. While events unfold from the young girl’s perspective the narrative is constructed in such a way that the reader nods knowingly at the true reality of the situation which is usually beyond the grasp of the naive, young girleen at the centre of the tale.
It is a remarkable story capturing much of the essence of the parochial, while still retaining a gilded edge that dissects efficiently (once again, no superfluous narrative here) the state of human relationships regardless of locality.
For someone like myself who grew up rurally there are many instances of descriptive narrative that ignite old memories of cattle-grids, pale buckets and religious observance.
The clang of dirty dinner plates being neatly stacked on the draining board halted a conversation’s flow in the smoky kitchen for about as much time as it took Maggie to reach into her cardigan pocket, pull out her packet of Major extra-sized cigarettes, purse one in her lips and light it, inhaling the first deep breath of her twenty-fourth of the day. The first after dinner is always the best. She had been smoking since she was sixteen, and never more than now at sixty-five years old.
Her husband and her three grown up sons retired to the living room to digest their food as always, and she was left in the kitchen with her three daughters for their after-dinner chat. They would have anywhere between fifteen minutes to half an hour before the men would return to the kitchen to clean the delft (Maggie always insisted that the cook never cleaned). The length of time depended on how many servings the men had dished themselves. Today Maggie reckoned it would be the full half hour.
She took a few more lungfuls of her Major extra-sized, and extinguished it in her glass ashtray. The weather was not particularly pleasant; it was cool, and there was a constant drizzle that kept the windows wet with little rolling droplets. She looked outside while in the comforting warmth of her home, and smiled to herself.
‘What’re ya’ smilin’ at Mammy?’ Claire asked, who was filling a kettle with water from the tap to make them all tea.
‘Ah… nothin’ really, just smilin’ to me’self.’
Her children were all fully grown, and had warm homes of their own. All were married, most had children, yet they would all reconvene here in the homestead of their childhoods from time to time to spend an evening with their parents and catch up on each other’s lives.
Wishing the moment would sit still, and knowing nothing lasted forever, Maggie took a snapshot in her mind of the girls, or rather women, chatting busily, paying no heed to their words meaning yet finding them comforting, like a warm blanket or a glass of hot whiskey. Without knowing it they gave Maggie the rare gift of utter contentment. She had done a good job.
She reached into her cardigan pocket, pulled out her packet of Major extra-sized cigarettes, pursed one in her lips, and lit number twenty-five just in time for her cup of tea.