Avoice called out over Ul’Dah’s crushing throng. P’molminn the Miqo’te, newly arrived in the city with big dreams, asked for assistance. I had better things to do, like saving the world for starters, but decided to see what she needed anyway. She’s an aspiring dancer from a rural village and wanted help contacting the city’s dance master. Several exchanges and tedious runs around the building later, and she had a revelation.
“I want to learn the craft… of adventuring!” P’molminn decided, abandoning her dream for a new, probably equally fleeting, one. My aid was pointless. The only reward was learning how to dance, plus some bits of scrap metal.
Final Fantasy XIV asked so much and gave almost nothing in return. This wasn’t the first quest to seemingly waste my time either. Instead of logging out or getting annoyed, I smiled and shook my head slightly, wondering whether I’d see P’molminn following her new passion later in the story. By that point, Final Fantasy XIV already had a significant effect on how I saw such undertakings.
Fans (rightly) regard A Realm Reborn as Final Fantasy XIV’s most boring component. Yet ARR’s mundane tasks quickly developed into something much more than expected, shattering a toxic view of accomplishments and value that I’d held for more than a decade.
I studied history for six years at the undergraduate and graduate level. Only one thing matters for historians in the academy, students or professionals: publishing new research. It’s the big byline of academia, how students get their names noticed and the only way to land a job in the field after graduation. How you get that research or even what topic you choose matters little, so long as it’s a fresh perspective.
It’s an attitude drilled in from the beginning. Every assignment, every piece of writing and all the long hours of research beforehand, prepares students to write their own journal article at the end of their undergraduate program. You’re a step behind already if you don’t get it published, and it was a daunting prospect for someone like me, a co-caregiver for two grandparents with dementia and no chance of getting to a decent library, let alone an archive.
Graduate school, where publication of your final project is practically a requirement, wasn’t much better. In theory, you can transfer skills gained through the program to any job. It’s not a view the faculty supports, however. One call with my advisor, who also taught half my grad-level classes, stands out. I decided against pursuing a Ph.D and asked for some advice on moving into mainstream work. The advice was “You can do that, but this field of study obviously isn’t for you. You’ve been wasting your time the past few years.”
It’s not unique to academia, of course. Professional life of any kind is the same. In my line of work, small bylines are only useful for gaining published clips for a portfolio. However proud of it you might be or whatever potential for growth it holds, your eye is always on landing a bigger role or crafting that award-winning piece. Any position is just a stepping stone to the next, better one, whatever the line of work is.
Until I started playing FFXIV, I didn’t realize how much of that attitude seeped into other areas of my life or how it affected my work. Hobbies with no transferable skills were pointless, and it went beyond prioritizing or smart time management. Even playing games became an arduous task, something only worthwhile if I felt like I accomplished something or could use it for my job. Work itself was the same. Nothing was good enough unless it had the chance of leading to something bigger.
I never planned on playing Final Fantasy XIV until a friend and co-worker started talking about it and sharing character screenshots. The massive world and sweeping story intrigued me, but she warned me several times it probably wasn’t my kind of game. A Realm Reborn in particular was a slog, she said, and nothing happened in it for 30 hours or more. I was in the mood for something new, though, and pandemic stress made socializing more appealing than usual, even for an introvert like me. It was free Final Fantasy, and more importantly, Final Fantasy with friends. That was surely worth a try.
A Realm Reborn lived up to its promise. The first few quests shuttle you around your starting city and offer paltry rewards — local fast travel for starters, then actual garbage worth only a pittance at the nearby shop. The scope broadens soon after and branches into substories through your job class, though the general structure stays the same. One instance that vividly stands out involved a dock worker whose colleague didn’t turn up, so they wanted me to deliver their cargo a few feet away. In three consecutive quests.
It should have been a nightmare for someone like me. Side quests were essentially pointless, and even main quests offered minimal satisfaction. The narrative’s plodding nature means story quests are frequently longer versions of “arrive at point A, attack monster B.” On top of that, it’s hard to feel like your steps in the story carry significance when you report The Big Thing you just finished, only to see five other people reporting the same quest.
That’s when I realized FFXIV’s real value is in those wordy, unrewarding quests. I don’t have to know my Conjurer uses the natural world for healing spells. That bereaved widow railing against the beasts who killed her husband will find someone else to slay precisely three of them in revenge. None of this offers any tangible rewards in real life or the game. Yet it has changed how I view the world and the context of my actions.
If I could find meaning in it, then it was worthwhile regardless of whether it led to anything significant. A Realm Reborn is certainly full of opportunities to do that, whether it’s finding humor in the mundane, empathizing with someone you don’t have a true connection with, or just appreciating the context surrounding your task, however unimportant that task might be.
It applies to work too. An invisible or routine task offers a chance to grow, for example, or to learn something new about the topic I might have ignored otherwise because it wasn’t on the path to greater things. Ideally, that knowledge or growth would help prime me for a better job or offer tangible rewards, but A Realm Reborn showed me the reward doesn’t have to be tangible. New knowledge or even just a simple sense of accomplishment can be enough. There’s something to be said for finishing a task and making it one’s own, even if nobody else cares about it.
Everyone’s pursuing the same thing. FFXIV made me ask whether it mattered when so many other people were saving Eorzea right under my nose, and it made me ask the same thing about life, studying, and work. Assuming I had a big break or accomplished a major goal — what then? If I’m incapable of finding value or learning in the small tasks — the articles few people see or even the years as a teenage caregiver — that success is just as empty as everything else before it.
Those big achievements won’t go anywhere. They’re on the horizon for somewhere in the eventual future. And if they don’t happen, that’s okay too. At least I learned to dance along the way.