Eat. Sleep. Play. This is a motto a lot of gamers live by, but not to the extreme of literally only eating, sleeping, and gaming, with a shower thrown in here and there when they can pause for a moment. Massively multiplayer online games are as popular as ever, and more and more players find themselves sucked into the rolling landscapes, the camaraderie found within a guild, and the seemingly endless number of quests available at their fingertips. I was no exception to the draw of the MMO. 2006, senior year of high school, I invested in Final Fantasy XI. The game had already been around for a number of years, and before I even bought the game, I spent days researching information on the game, the class system, the areas I could explore. I purchased the game and all of its expansions on the launch day of then-newest expansion Treasures of Aht Urhgan and immediately went to installing it on my Xbox 360. I couldn’t wait to delve into the magical lands I had read so much about. Finally, installation was complete and I went about creating my character, a red-headed Hume from the industrial nation of Bastok. I had plans to take the Monk class to level 75, the highest level achievable in the game at the time, and began with that class. It was an amazing feeling, running out into the field and punching the crap out of…worms? I had to admit, the first set of monsters available to fight weren’t the most impressive. Worms, lizards, and the beastmen Quadav, a large turtle-like humanoid. Nevertheless, I stuck with it until level ten, when I could finally make the trek to the Valkurm Dunes, find my first party, and really start leveling.
Let me tell you, running to the Dunes was no easy task. I was slaughtered at least a dozen times, having to home-point back into Bastok and begin my run over. But finally, I made it to those sandy beaches full of more death and destruction. Before this point, it was just another game. But once I was invited into my first party, taking on harder and harder monsters with a group of peers, I was hooked. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was still terrible at this game. I hadn’t quite mastered the concept of aggro and killed quite a few parties, but even with the hiccups, the levels came quickly and before I knew it I was level twenty and moving to yet another area.
Fast-forward to 2008. Not only had I gotten the Monk job to level 75, but also Bard, Dark Knight, and Black Mage. I had what I then thought was an ungodly amount of hours logged into my character. I had joined an end-game Linkshell, the FFXI version of a guild, one that hunted the biggest and baddest monsters in the game. I participated in events that got me gear that was not only cool-looking, but the stats were amazing. And then, I lost my job. No matter, I had thought to myself. The time had finally come for me to stop slacking and enroll in college, and I did just that. I enrolled in classes that I never went to, because for the next nine months, I hardly left my room, my sanctuary, the attic of my grandmother’s house. I became that girl. I went downstairs a few times a day to get food, take a shower, actually interact with a human being that I could see, not one that was only at the other end of a keyboard and an internet connection. My typical day was playing the game for ten, twelve hours a day. I finished quest after quest, mission after mission. I achieved the highest rank in two of the three nations of Vana’diel. I gained full access to all of the end-game areas, fought the toughest of monsters, continued my quest for the best gear. I leveled more and more jobs to the highest level and worked to get the best gear for those jobs, as well. The only job I wasn’t interested in getting was a real one. This fantasy land was becoming my reality. As opposed to the stereotype of the fat guy in the basement, I became the skinny girl in the attic; eating took too much time away from the game, so I limited myself to going downstairs as little as possible. I ate maybe once a day, with a snack here or there thrown in. I quit answering phone calls from friends, unless they were friends from the game calling to wake me up and get online, though even this was rare – sleep was neglected just as much as eating was. By the end of my Final Fantasy bender, I had clocked roughly ten thousand hours on my character. Just let that sink in. That is a lot of hours.
Then, just like that, unemployment ran out and I was forced to get another job. I was miserable. All I thought about was the game. I hated work for taking me away from my game. I was a creepy little female Gollum, and the game was my precious. I literally felt as though I was having withdrawals from the time I had to spend away from my fantasy land. But, just as it had begun, the addiction slowly dwindled away as I became more social again, actually began leaving my house on purpose for things other than my job, rekindled friendships. I still played Final Fantasy XI, right up until June of 2013, when I finally hung up my sword, my staff, my shield for good. The game no longer controlled my life. I was back in control. But it would be a lie to say that sometimes, even to this day, my thoughts don’t drift back to Vana’diel.