Assisted Suicide

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VI.

Grandpa, no!!! You can’t die! What will I do? How will I live? I need you, Grandpa; you’re all I have left on this island. Everyone else is dead! No, no, not you too! Please, don’t leave me!

But, it’s too late. Grandpa…Cid…is dead.  After the cataclysm, we both woke up here, on this island. We…I…won’t have enough food to last much longer. My friends are dead. There’s no one else here. I have no reason to keep living.

Overlooking the cliff, a soft ballad plays in my head. Soothing, in a way. A fitting end to a broken life. A relic of a forever-unrequited love, it will always remain. Locke…no, I don’t think he ever knew how I felt. But that was back when I knew people among the living. They’re all gone now. They…must be waiting for me, right? It’s time to join them.

A brief surge of hesitation flashes through my mind and body. Is this wrong? Too drastic? I take a step backwards. No. I need to euthanize myself from this pain of loss and nothingness. The best hope for my current life is unrelenting agony, assuming nothing else goes wrong. But then again, what can?

Tears well up in my eyes. The music in my head grows louder. It drowns out all else, allowing me one final auditory glimpse of the past. Goodbye, faded memories. Goodbye, remnants of a promising life. Goodbye, world.

I jump.

This scene from Final Fantasy VI, in my opinion, is the single most compelling example of why a video game’s story can be more important than its gameplay, if executed correctly. Once Kefka (the main villain in the game) deforms the world by disrupting the very fabric upon which it is built, we find the rune-knight Celes alone, save for her former mentor, Cid, on a scarred, deserted island. The two become close; Celes takes to calling Cid “Grandpa” since she never really had a grandfather and needs someone to protect her. Unfortunately, Cid is old and frail; he’s dying. Having just presumably lost everyone in her life, Celes’ only goal is to make sure that Cid lives.

The player’s only available task at this point is to go get fish from the ocean and desperately feed them to Cid, hoping he lives a little longer. Apparently, it is possible to come out successful in this task, and allow Cid to live. However, no instructions are given at all with regard to the mechanics of “getting” a fish, and even when you do give Cid one, his condition doesn’t seem to improve. Indeed, it seems almost as though developer Squaresoft didn’t want the player to let Cid live because of what ensues with his death. I lost this mini-game, and Cid perished.

After Celes finishes mourning, the screen fades. On the next screen, you see Celes, now in your control, standing near the edge of a cliff. No words are used; you know exactly what her intentions are. Instinctively, you try to leave the cliff. The game does not allow you to do this, furthering the sense of Celes’ hesitant determination. In the end, you are left with no choice but to walk to the edge of the cliff and press the A button, causing her to fling herself off the ominous peak.

You don’t want to help Celes kill herself, but you know that it has to be done. Inside,  you completely sympathize with her and understand her reasoning. By having you attempt to keep Cid alive in vain, the game creates a perfect sense of futile desperation. By not allowing you to leave the cliff, this sensation is only furthered. Throughout her suicidal decision, you are made to feel exactly as Celes does.

Could this be accomplished by a book or movie? Absolutely not. I am fully confident that only interactivity could elicit feelings like this. Considering my hatred for the very concept of suicide, the fact that the game was able to make me accept its necessity is simply astounding to me. Never have I felt an emotional connection with a fictional character as strong as I felt at the precise moment I pressed that button, condemning Celes to her fate.

It turns out that Celes does not die from the fall, but all the same, the buildup to the jump is one of the most involving virtual experiences I’ve ever had. Getting that Triple Kill in Halo or 5-starring a song in Guitar Hero just does not satisfy after you have experienced this true potential of gaming. To all who claim that the mechanics of a game are more important than the enveloping narrative, I say this:

You never made Celes jump.

-Billy Bunce