Final Fantasy VII strongly impacted my politics growing up.
Final Fantasy VII (abbreviated as FFVII) was released in 1997. At the time I was 13 years old and I was just beginning to develop my sense of identity and place in the world. FFVII was a profound moment in gaming; it’s credited as making the Playstation successful, popularizing RPGs, revolutionizing video game narratives, graphics, and sound and is frequently found on lists of the best games of all time. I am writing this, however, not to talk about how amazing the game is but because for over 20 years FFVII has been a reference point for me in how I think about messaging in games, my politics, and nerd culture.
FFVII starts you off as a member of ecoterrorist organization AVALANCHE, whose goal is to blow up power plants that are at the root of intense poverty and environmental destruction in the game world. That overt plot hook at the start taught me games could have extremely leftist messages. Messages that, during the 90s, were landing real life members of groups like the Earth Liberation Front and protestors of the World Bank and World Trade Organization in jail.
As I revisited the game throughout my teens these real life connections helped tie my personal feelings as a nerdy underdog with the political goals of AVALANCHE. I too despised injustice. I too wanted to fight against the powers that be that made the world the way it is. These ideas mixing and developing in my head pushed me to think more about the political context of my identity as a nerdy white guy: the connections with gender and masculinity, the role capitalism plays in popular culture, etc.
I also thought more about the flaws in FFVII, particularly the racist and sexist depictions of characters. I thought about how I had at first overlooked these contradictions but that friends of mine who are not white men had been quicker to recognize them. This taught me two things: that something I love can still be profoundly flawed and that who we are affects our perception of everything, even video games.
As I entered my 20s and social media was taking off I increasingly found that many other nerdy white men who had played the game had not learned the same lessons I had. Being so personally affected by FFVII always makes it hard for me to understand how people who played it could not appreciate the radical politics of AVALANCHE. I often wonder: what did other white men, some of whom are now on the conservative end of gaming culture, take away from FFVII? Did they experience it as just a fictional story with no messaging? Would they think I took the plot line too seriously in what is “just” a game? Maybe Cloud being just another heroic dude contributed to their inflated sense of importance? How many more interpretations of the game have I not even thought of?
I will always go back to these questions when I read about the latest gaming controversy, or when I hear about Gamergate or whoever the next gaming hate group is, or when I read about whether games should be considered art or not. FFVII helped put me on the path to where I am today. It pushed me to take jobs doing social work and community organizing. It made me a lifelong video game fan. It made me appreciate the positive influence games can have and my experience playing it will forever be a quintessential part of who I am.
What video games have effected you and how you see the world and your place in it? What games inspired you to become more politically conscious or active?