It is a season for kindness and goodwill towards men. Yet amongst the maddening crowds and the dazzling lights, wandering the maze-like malls adrift on a sea of humanity one can feel a sense of loneliness and longing. The reason for the season forgotten in avalanche of advertising and unchecked commercialism.
Across the globe on Christmas Day millions will celebrate, but what is the nature of their celebration? Followers of the faith the day marks proclaim that it is commemoration of an event transcending history: where the world of faith and the world of Man were united in the birth of a child. "For God so loved the world...." as the story goes.
Regardless of whatever faith one follows or not, I think there is much that day speaks to even now. On that cold December day, how could that child know of the expectations that would be lain at his feet? On that cold December day, as the sun rose and shed its light upon the sleeping child, how was he to know that the world he newly entered would demand that he justify all its history and horrors?
"Who am I?" "Why am I here?" These questions are as valid today as they were two millenia ago, and today of all days, on this cold December day, they have many earnestly seeking, if not justification, meaning.
Philosophy, politics, science and art have all addressed these questions. It speaks to the magnitude of that which the questions demand and imply that all have come up with less than satisfactory answers.
With the advent of new forms of expression, art and ideas, these age-old questions were explored anew. Video games are no different in this regard. In the realm of video games perhaps no other effort comes as close as Final Fantasy 6 does in reaching towards a form of understanding both the nature of the questions of "Who am I? Why am I here?" and speaking towards the world in which those asking such questions find themselves.
The world of Final Fantasy 6 is introduced with an ominous march across a vast frozen wasteland. Mechanized mobile weapons of war approach an isolated town. Machinery clanks and black smoke lingers in the wintry dark of night. The protagonist Terra finds herself thrust into a world of violence and darkness. Her first words are "Who am I?" as Terra wonders why she finds herself in this strange alien world.
FF6 is a story about the loss of meaning: the loss of wondrous things in an increasingly rote world where woe and misery are mass produced. Magic is relegated to myth as the world ceaselessly marches towards mundane modernity. Terra herself loses her memories, her identity. Her humanity itself is called into question upon the realization of her heritage from a race of legendary creatures, the mystical Espers. Rejected by her fellow man, labeled a demon and a monster, Terra struggles to reconcile her birthright with the person she seeks to choose to be.
Like Terra, how often have we wondered, "Why am I here? Who am I?" How often have we felt pulled between worlds, and felt like love and peace could be found in none. These questions explored in games have especially poignant meaning for many gamers, who have recently found themselves once more vilified and proclaimed to be sub-human monsters.
These accusations are nothing new; they are as old as video games themselves. They are the remnants of the slings and arrows of long-ago wars now hurled forth by crusaders seeking what they thought to be a weak and easily conquered foe. Against this legion of misery and hate arose a ragtag rebel alliance who called themselves GamerGate. The movement itself, like Terra, has no easy answers to the questions of who they are, and what they seek to be. Such is the nature of a movement that is open to all, and welcomes all unhesitantly and without reserve or prejudice in regard to identity or ideology.
Yet such transparency, that very inclusivity is what those opposed to the movement fought against to begin with: a movement based on the principle of universal humanity finds itself no stranger to the gathered forces of discord and discontent which have swarmed and plagued the world since its founding. In an almost Kakfa-esque series of events, those that have fought for the inclusion of all, for the silencing of none, have found themselves deigned the irate and irrational mob, and their foes paragons of virtue on the side of angels even as they ceaselessly unleash the most vile vitriol, wielding the levers of power of a political and societal machine fueled by envy, jealousy, and outrageous gibbering hate and loathing.
Like many gamers, Terra and her allies find their world turned upside down. Kefka, the megalomaniacal self-appointed deity of the world of Final Fantasy 6, spares no effort, no one and nothing in the mad quest to remake the world in his nihilistic self-image.
But the greatest challenge Terra and her allies face is not Kefka. Likewise, the greatest challenge faced by GamerGate and humanity is not those who would appoint themselves the arbiters of what is sacred and profane. The greatest challenge brought on by the question "Who am I? Why am I here?" is the burden of love.
On this day millions across the globe celebrate a birth, "For God so loved the world." But the greater meaning, regardless of faith or lack thereof, is to understand that the world in its abundant mysteries gives birth to an innumerable diversity of peoples, but all of whom share a unifying commandment to love and be loved, issued forth, if not by some supreme being, by the mandate and moral imperative of a common and enduring humanity.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. For some this is the time of year where such things are rediscovered; for some this cold December day may when they are discovered for the first time. For many who call themselves gamers it is that which has been their creed and their calling as they find themselves opposing the forces of misery and misanthropy.
It is not easy to find the answer to "Who am I? Why am I here?" It is not easy to love, and for so many it can seem so, so hard to believe that one can or should be loved. Their worlds no different than that of Terra after the nihilist forces of hate shattered and sundered them. This world, so often, can itself seem no different than that of Terra. An entire world orphaned and displaced.
The old longings are there. Passion bestirs humanity to claw out of the rubble, hope still pulses forth from the heavens of which Mankind ever reaches for. And on that fragile, orphaned, displaced sphere limping through a seemingly cold and uncaring cosmos which neither records nor remembers the tragedies and triumphs of the tribe known as Mankind, its inhabitants find within themselves and in each other the might to refute the great dark and numbness of nihilism: a revolution which topples Empires and the thrones of kings and self-appointed gods. They discover an unparalleled Magic. They find themselves confirmed by, and capable and deserving of, love.
I am not a participant of GamerGate. But I have observed it. I have observed strangers reach out and walk one another away from the edge. I have watched strangers discover within themselves a power heretofore they did not know they had, and have taken that strength and freely shared it with others. I have seen their foes block, ban, and blacklist them and created walled gardens, "hugboxes" where dissent is forbidden and contempt is the currency of the land while those "misogynistic monsters" demonstrate through genuine compassion what a community founded on equality and empowerment for all looks like. I have watched strangers realize they are not strangers, but participants in the human struggle.
And so, no matter who or where you are on this cold December day, realize you are not alone, for as gamers, as human beings, we are all united in the grand game of life.
Larry Carney is the author of Dreams of A Distant Planet: Chrono Trigger and the World Revolution of Video Games. A scholar of the culture and industry of gaming, he can be reached on Twitter @JazzKatCritic