Video Games: The Important Message We Miss

It’s never too late to become who you might have been

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

In Final Fantasy X, you must dodge 200 consecutive lightning bolts to obtain the magician’s most powerful weapon.

The Final Fantasy series has a reputation for gruesome challenges that force players to grind for hours on end to obtain the games’ most precious rewards — but this one clearly takes the cake.

One area of this game is cast in a perpetual thunder storm. As you traverse it, the screen will randomly flash white for a split second before lightning hits you — unless you press X in perfect sync, upon which your character will dodge the strike.

To get one of two upgrades for one of the top weapons in the game, you must dodge 200 lightning strikes in a row. If you miss one, it’s game over. If you miscount in your head, it’s game over. If you accidentally get hit on your way back to where the reward is, it’s game over.

Needless to say, many a controller has been broken over this challenge. Many hours have been wasted. Even using every trick in the book, it’ll still take 20 minutes of perfect execution, which begs one question above all: Why?

If you’re not into video games, you might shake your head at someone putting 10, 20, 30 hours into something that amounts to nothing more than a shiny icon on a screen. A grey blade or a green one, what’s the difference? To you, nothing, perhaps, but to the gamer, the difference is everything.

Like the athlete exerting herself to stick the landing on an impossibly complicated gymnastic sequence or the artist furiously tossing page after page into the bin to nail the ending of his story, the gamer jumping through pixelated hoops to complete an excruciating trial isn’t after a fancy shield, troves of digital gold, or points on a leaderboard.

What all three are looking for is a message — a message they can only send to themselves, and that English poet Adelaide Anne Procter captured more eloquently in 1859 than I ever could:

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

Sitting quietly under a Youtube video discussing the hardest-to-get Final Fantasy weapons, a comment by Christopher Thomas reads as follows:

True story: After I was able to dodge the lightning on FFX over 200 times (which took me a few days to complete), my friend asked me to do it for his game too. I took his memory card, and I was able to dodge the lightning over 200 times on his game file. It took me almost an entire day of trying.

Unfortunately, when I saved the progress, I chose the wrong memory card slot and saved over my game with his. Not only did I wipe out my achievement from my save, I also lost about 10 hours of progress. I was so discouraged, I almost quit the game for good. But after taking a few days off, I decided to suck it up and try again. Not only was I able to get back to my same level of progress in less time, I also shattered my last record. I dodged the lightning over 300 times.

After I reflected on what I had just put myself through for something that had no real-world impact, I wondered what I would be capable of if I applied the same tenacity to something useful — like school. I re-enrolled in community college (I had dropped out a semester earlier after failing several classes). I shot for one of the most lofty goals I could think of: to become a doctor. I started to plug away.

Over 10 years later, I finally finished medical school and did my residency. Now, I’m a practicing internal medicine doctor, and FFX’s lightning dodging will always have a special place in my heart.

The point of video games isn’t to escape or to waste time or to master skills you can’t use elsewhere.

The point of video games is to become the hero of your own story.

Like sports, art, entrepreneurship, or any other pursuit in life, video games are an opportunity to show yourself what you’re capable of; a chance to practice excellence in a safe environment.

Focus, determination, perseverance. We teach ourselves these things in small doses. A 10-hour session won’t turn you into a doctor overnight, but it might inspire you to start the 10-year journey of becoming one.

If you love video games, know your love is valid. And if you love someone who loves them, don’t knock them. Let them take their journey in their own time.

Sometimes, like novels and movies, video games are better than the real world because they can send a message the real world at the time can’t offer. The great Neil Gaiman said it all in Coraline when he wrote:

“Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

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I write for You. That’s my promise — and the name of my daily email full of inspiration, smart ideas, and emotional support: https://youletter.substack.com/

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