How playing an old Final Fantasy game helped make sense of the pandemic

Our writer found that playing an old Final Fantasy game is a great way to escape a stressful pandemic.

COVID-19 has changed life as we know it.

These changes aren’t just unique to you. For instance, researchers from the U.K. have found that people aren’t buying as much breakfast biscuits and yogurt, getting more professional-grade coffee machines and baking ingredients instead. The same report shows how lunchtime has shifted from individual choice to a household consensus under COVID-19, the latter marked by family-size servings and whatever’s on the fridge.

And then there’s sleep—or the lack of it, for some people. Sleep scientists have seen a surge of sleeping disorders linked to COVID-19, that they now have a word for it: COVID-somnia. The condition, which involves a range of conditions from insomnia, hypersomnia (where you sleep too much), to even night terrors, is often seen in people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic. This is often the case with those who fear being infected, or having their loved ones be infected by the virus, and those who miss social contact with other people.

But the most significant change that COVID-19 brought is how it made feeling stressed and anxious a common part of anyone’s day. A new study done in the U.S. says that one in three adults report either anxiety- or depression-related symptoms. According to the authors of the study, many of the adults they looked at during the study said that being overwhelmed with the number of unknowns caused by the pandemic was a primary source of concern.

To cope with the mental toll of the pandemic, more people are starting to turn to gaming. Looking at data, though, it might seem “turn to” is an understatement. A recent study on the effects of COVID-19 in entertainment choices showed that 47% of participants reported playing video games to keep them entertained.

Market research reports also predict that COVID-19 will drive smartphone usage to 3.5 billion—or half the world’s population—and potentially increase consumer engagement with mobile games.

The video game industry, in particular, has grown rapidly in emerging economies, with COVID-19 containment measures being a primary driver for the growth. In fact, the industry is expected to grow at least 9.3% this year, thanks to a captive audience spending more on games, says a recent report from analytics firm Newzoo. The report identifies two high-potential segments in the industry: e-sports, with China being the leading market, and cloud gaming.

For the rest of us, that just means we’re buying more titles to help us deal with the loneliness, depression and anxiety that comes with this pandemic. There’s even research to back it up: Multiple studies have shown that video games can relieve stress and anxiety, as well as improve mood.

You don’t need to tell me about these benefits since I’ve experienced them first-hand.

Growing up, there is something magical about seeing the PlayStation logo on your TV. The logo of the game developer usually follows; afterward, a quick montage to get you hyped up to press start. I grew up loving JRPGs, mainly because of the storyline. Weekends—and some weeknights—would be spent slaying dragons, killing gods, exploring worlds, and sometimes, dying because of an ill-prepared party. (Read: 5 Important Final Fantasy deaths that aren’t Aerith)

Those halcyon days of youth, however, had to give way for other parts of my life. Working 16-hour days, for instance. Waking up early for a long commute. Dealing with loss and failing at it. Navigating adult life. The list goes on.

When the pandemic put many of my plans on hold, I found myself resetting my Steam password—it’s a good thing I rarely change emails—and browsing at familiar titles. On the RPG page, the Final Fantasy franchise appears. I selected Final Fantasy IX, and somehow, it’s as if I’m looking at it for the first time. (I also tried searching for Breath of Fire III, but only the soundtrack was available.)

The nostalgia that old games have isn’t limited to this writer. Retro gaming is big on YouTube and social media, with many channels and forums dedicated to specific games or consoles. This nostalgic comfort—and the difficulty of getting old games and consoles—is also the reason why prices for retro games have now risen dramatically.

Psychologists say that nostalgia does have its benefit, especially during these trying times. People report finding comfort in listening to old songs and watching reruns, says research. It’s a trend seen currently in games (hello, Final Fantasy VII Remake), fashion and even dreams.

In addition, nostalgia is an effective buffer against that existential crisis you’re feeling, with a 2018 report saying that it helps people attain a more meaningful life. It also helps regulate the times where you seek meaning in your life when you’re bored.

Nostalgia comes with a caveat. Experts say nostalgia is healthy when it reminds a person of their own past. In contrast, the practice becomes harmful if the individual “gets lost” in it, often attempting to recreate or relive it in the present.

For now, as the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, I’m comforted by the fact that when it all becomes a little too much to handle, I can always play as Zidane Tribal and smile as I mash buttons during the “I Want to Be Your Canary” sword fight with Blank.

It’s been a couple of years since I last played this, but I’ll impress 100 nobles.

Ralph Gurango

explainer | newsman | jrpg adventurer

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