From toxic and abusive experiences to a reformed sense of community, Dustin opens up about the hardships he faced and how one FINAL FANTASY XIV community changed his experiences for the better.
In 32 years of gaming, I’ve experienced quite a lot. I’ve seen the effects of the gaming industry crash of the 80s, the downfall of SEGA consoles, and I even got to see technology bring games to life in unfathomable ways. I got to experience games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter in their early days, slapping a few sticks around, before ultimately being popped into the pit by my baby brother, Shane.
Over the years, I’d see online gaming come to life through services such as AOL, NetScape, and plenty of other services on the market at the time. Eventually, I’d take to it, dabbling in games like DOOM II: Hell on Earth, Quake, SWAT, DELTA FORCE, and even Warcraft Battle.net Edition. Before long, I’d hear murmurings of an MMO, something we’d seen little of in the early days of gaming as Ultima Online started to get teased.
A few more years down the road and I would begin to dabble in them myself, learning the ropes in World of Warcraft around the time the Burning Crusade expansion released. Eventually, I would join a high-tier raid guild, working my way through their ranks starting out in their 10-man groups, and eventually began to improve upon my skills there before joining the 24-man raids.
“Fun turned into chores, chores turned into tasks, and eventually, it became a job.”
Over time, I’d hop a few guilds, before landing at home in a hardcore raid guild at the turn of Wrath of the Lich King. There, I would find a home, staying there with friends, and even some I considered family at the time. We’d clear content, taking pride in our accomplishments, but as it happens with all good things, eventually the rust began to show in the cracks in the polish.
Fun turned into chores, chores turned into tasks, and eventually, it became a job. Eventually, we’d become jaded, getting annoyed with one another, threatening a council meeting to have a problem child removed from the team or even docking their DKP (loot points) in order to begin settling the dust. To be honest, behind the scenes, things got toxic.
I’d find myself facing vitriol from those I once respected. I’d face threats of being removed if I took to a job that would delay our start times or progress of any form. To be honest, I was afraid to disappoint those I’d played with for so many years that I gave in, and eventually, I’d begin scheduling my job (at the time I was a janitor for a casino) around their raid times, opting for an availability I knew would do more harm than good.
What I had loved, I hated, and eventually, I walked away from World of Warcraft, leaving a game I called my passion game behind, never looking back except to see how far it had fallen as the news continued churning out. Over time, I’d begin to look a new experience, going through titles such as Warframe (which I love to this very day), Tera, and eventually, I’d stumble upon FINAL FANTASY XIV as my friends would plead with me to give it a try.
Just as one would expect, I’d put my training wheels on once again, purchase a mouse, a keyboard, a PlayStation 4 copy of the Final Fantasy XIV Complete Edition, and off I went. I’d adventure in, astonished by the graphics, how smooth it played, and what it had to offer. A few dollars cheaper than World of Warcraft, a community that was a lot easier to get along with, and those who, like myself, absolutely love the stories the series it’s apart of has to offer.
“But again… I’d begin to experience what I’d once before gone through with WoW.”
I’d join my very first Free Company just a few months in, working my way through FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn. I’d chosen to join their ranks since they were a PS4 focused FC, joining in their fun, what little they had to offer, but the toxicity once more reappeared. The FC leader required us to add him on Steam and PlayStation Network. He wanted to be able to call upon us if need be.
If our attendance fell to low, he’d begin to message me and those few that got me to start (which resulted in my hastily blocking him without hesitation), and eventually, he’d start to denounce us across the FC chat and the Link Shells (where multiple FCs, players, and dozens of members could join) if we fell too far behind in content progression.
Just like before, I game I was enjoying was turning into a chore of its own. Over time, it’d drill into me, chipping away at me little by little. Eventually, I’d begin to stop playing, fighting back against the request of my pals Darth, Raven, Arias Gil (real name omitted for privacy purposes), and parting ways with the game for several months.
Eventually, I’d come back in the Spring of 2016, joining Azure Infinitum, a free company that welcomed me with open arms after a brief rundown of their rules, regulations, and how the free company itself actually functions. Instantly, it was home. Not just home, I was welcomed in as a member of the family, a regular who came and went as he pleased based on my journalistic duties.
“It didn’t take long, but I was brought into the fold, and it changed how I perceived clans, guilds and free companies to be.”
However, in the back of my head, things hadn’t changed in some ways. I had that silent voice nagging at me, waiting for everything I’d experienced in my previous FC and guilds to unfold once again. After all, I was used to it, I was used to the idea that gaming communities weren’t inclusive, but rather, they had cliques, and that’s what helped them function as they did.
With time, I would encounter Alexander Winter (Lionheart then) who offered up a friendship I’d never once expected. He’d open up, listening when someone needed to talk to or just to chat. No matter the situation, he proved that something was different here. Before long came Arikajumonji, Kihona, Siegfried, and even the FC leader, Reika who began to treat me much the same.
Before long, it became apparent. Not all communities are as toxic or vitriolic as the ones I’d previously encountered. Here, I didn’t have to keep my guard up, I didn’t have to wait to see myself or others being told, “we aren’t cut from the cloth this group needs to continue moving forward.”
Truth was. No matter who you are, what your story is, or how you played: They accept you as one of their own. To be quite frank, it didn’t take long, but I was brought into the fold, and it changed how I perceived clans, guilds, and free companies to be (across all games and media platforms). Over the years, I’d grow fond of this group, taking the time to participate in their free company events such as Azure Days, Monstrous Monday’s, and even their FC raids on Friday’s.
Before I knew it, I’d pitch the idea of joining their ranks as not just a member, but a Scout, someone who helps others as I’d been helped in the past. I’ve begun to offer an ear, words of advice, and even assist those who need it. My perception of how MMO’s are has changed and for the better.
“My story here isn’t done, but it taught me something: This isn’t just Azure Infinitum, but a FINAL FANTASY XIV experience, one Square Enix has given us the tools to build.”
However, it took me time to realize. This isn’t just an Azure Infinitum thing. They stand by the love, the care, and the kindness that Square Enix promotes within their communities within the FINAL FANTASY XIV umbrella. They are a shining example of inclusion, friendship, and care for one another. In truth, while we do have a few rowdy ones like Merrel, we love them, and they’re the lights that help guide us on our way home when we need it.
But they aren’t just an FC. They’ve become a family. We’re all unique, we all come from a separate origin than one another, and each of us has our very own story to tell, but we accept the hardships, the joys, and the mishaps that they have. It’s what makes our group human, it’s what has helped me once again enjoy gaming the way I have in recent times. Not just me, but they’ve done the same for plenty of others.
Reika, the leader of Azure Infinitum has gone further than just making Azure Infinitum a part of the FINAL FANTASY XIV community, but something even bigger thanks to the use of Discord and the inclusion of many others no matter what games they play or what kind of entertainment that they enjoy (within reason of course). Now, Kazushime or as many of us know him as, Reika, is continuing to include us all, growing us past just the barriers of an FC, and it’s been an absolute delight to call myself apart of this grand adventure.
However, my story here isn’t done, but it taught me something incredibly: This isn’t just an Azure Infinitum experience, but a FINAL FANTASY XIV experience, one Square Enix has given us the tools to build. It has changed how I perceive the MMO communities I’ve been a part of and it’s changed how I perceive those I game with in many ways.
As they say, sometimes, a third try can help us become as Free as the Azure Sky.
If you or someone you know is going through hardships, bullying, or depression, please remember it’s dangerous to go alone and to seek help when you need it. Please visit TakeThis.org to find out how today.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.