Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

Je hoeft niet zo sociaal afstandelijk te zijn als je <em>Final Fantasy XIV</em> playing online.”/><figcaption class=

You don’t have to be so socially distant while playing Final Fantasy XIV online.

My friends and I were making a pit stop after an aimless drive when we heard a stranger loudly inviting everyone within earshot to her friends’ party. Our plans had ended with “take a ride;” before that we were hanging out between some collapsed columns in a crystal clear wasteland.

We debated whether to come from our car. The party seemed a little raunchy – the promoter, Nina, a tiny woman with pink blushes on either side of her button nose, advertised “drinks and good company,” as well as “ERP,” which stands for “erotic role play.” “That’s generally not our thing. We’re more flashy types than those who cast a flashy glamor spell and chat with the nearest cat girl. But hey it is Final Fantasy XIV online, and where my body was in New York, the epicenter of the US Covid-19 outbreak, there were certainly no parties.

On Fridays, Saturdays, and basically every weeknight, my Brooklyn neighborhood is alive with throbbing house music, heartfelt open mics, DJ sets, swirling flat bashes and cars blasting reggaeton. In this new-normal world, events as we know them no longer exist unless you stop texting your 20 closest acquaintances by email. DRINKS ON ZOOM!!!! need, give or take some sticky emojis. With all this newfound time to contemplate the mundane, I now recognize that social outings are dedicated units of time for self-expression, coloring book pages on which we and our friends draw outlines that we pour ourselves into. Social distancing has separated us from our social context; without them all color runs out.

It quickly became apparent that those of us whose social lives revolve around online video games had a fail-safe for entertaining indoors. Floating on my back in a virtual fountain lined with Byzantine-style turquoise tiles, I felt a new gratitude for massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. I’ve been playing compulsively for weeks Final Fantasy XIV and world of warcraft classic, online games in which my meticulously modified characters fight monsters and complete missions in vast, biologically diverse, digital worlds. At my Final Fantasy XIV server, 13,000 strangers, plus a few of my real neighborhood friends, roam the ancient forests, the densely populated cities, and the cramped, rocky caves.

One of them was Cid, who lives a 20 minute walk from me in Brooklyn. On a catwalk in someone’s virtual basement, we had just staged an impromptu fashion show for two. (She posed lanky and pouted in her reindeer onesie.) Once we got tired of that, she found me in that fountain and entered the “/waterfloat” command next to me. The sun was shining.

It’s easy to get poetic about how video games let you do things you can’t do in real life. You can have house parties in Animal Crossing† You can play basketball with your friends in NBA 2K20† Whatever. The easy sell for MMORPGs in times of pandemic is simply that you can coexist, even /hug. Perhaps that’s no different from Zoom happy hours or Skype trivia in an age when there are plenty of digital channels to connect to. To feel like myself again, I had to divert my personality from a new experience, and do it together with people who know me.

Now is a good time to take out your OG armor sets in <em>WoW Classic</em>.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/WoW-Classic-2-640×359.jpg” width=”640″ height=”359″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/WoW-Classic-2-1280×717.jpg 2x”/><figcaption class=
enlarge Now is a good time to take out your OG armor sets in WoW Classic.

A group of us plodded through a checklist of everyday quests in World of Warcraft Classic when our undead friend Baen Chunch – named after Ben Chunch, Martha Stewart’s pony – suddenly went into the mountains. As she sprinted, she turned toward the highest ridge we could see, a jagged, tan peak looming over a vast desert. Through the voice chat of the Discord app, we encouraged her and they enthusiastically followed her lead one by one.

Because the game changes the experience of World of Warcraft as it was in 2001, climbing is not just a bull’s eye. Most steep geometries provide only a small window for forward movement, and to find it, players rhythmically alternate between the space bar, which makes them jump, and the W key, which is “forward.” As the rest of us climbed this frenzied zigzag, Trollthan the troll hit a rare slippery path and fired at it. Meanwhile, Baen Chunch and the rest of us missed jumps and fell.

One by one we all eventually reached the top. It was nice to look out at the dusty desert together, but not demanding, like a walk every other day. It was just one thing we all decided to do.

Transferring my social energy into MMORPGs has been surprisingly seamless. In World of Warcraft, I can /burp and /cackle. My partner, if he feels tolerant, might chuckle. In Final Fantasy XIV, I can conjure my high level armor into the kind of outfit I would buy from Urban Outfitters. Then I could beg Cid to meet me in town and judge if my orange leggings are too loud. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the social validation of others is something I miss greatly; expressing myself in a void is not so satisfying. One question I continue to have, locked in and isolated inside, is who I am without the connections that normally define me, and to what extent this sense of self I use in MMORPG is a viable alternative.

In-game, Cid looks a lot like himself: androgynous, with short hair and an all-black outfit that could have come from a more trendy army surplus store. Cid has been on Final Fantasy XIV a lot lately since the cafe where she works was closed, and together with my partner and our friend Responsible, who lives 20 minutes from both of us, we drove to Nina’s party.

We stopped at a mansion in the Lavender Beds, a quiet residential area separated from the monstrous landscapes that Final Fantasy XIV is known for. We walked through the garden and up the high double doors, where we saw the receptionist, played by another person, standing in the opulent burgundy foyer. It was strangely quiet. After welcoming us, he told us the party was in the basement and we should go downstairs for some fun.

When Cid and I manage to get together in Brooklyn, we meet at a tiki bar that serves over-powered cocktails in ridiculous inflatable flamingos. Responsible and I like to go to dive bars with cheap spring drinks, and when we get tired of the crowds we sit in my little yard and drink cold vodka. Downstairs in this digital mansion, across the room full of dancing cat boys and shirtless beast men, we sat down on the four open stools at the bar. The music boomed. Embarrassed to show up in combat gear, I quickly changed into a tank top and leather pants.

Once we found our seats, we tried to get the bartender, another cat boy, down. He took the time to serve the other partygoers, probably regulars. Impatiently I begged my partner to get his attention. When he finally turned to us, he offered us his signature fruit slush cocktails, which he sold for an exorbitant 5,000 gil each. We inhaled them right away. During the party, we didn’t dance or talk to anyone except the one human woman whose pants I complimented. (She obliging/smiling.)

We were bored and it was getting late, so we walked back to the stairs. It was a mediocre outing. Not really our scene, plus the service was lousy and the drinks expensive. As I left the mansion, again with no plan, I turned to my friends and asked, “Would you like to break into some houses?”

This story originally appeared on wired.com

By akfire1

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