It was the summer after Grade 11—or the summer of Final Fantasy X, Smirnoff Ice, Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”, and Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition. I had won a five day trip to scout out the university that ended up becoming my stomping grounds for the five years after high school. My sylvan elf rogue is a great scout—as am I.
I arrived at the retreat in what I deemed to be perfect university student attire. I must have rolled a natural-20 in Disguise, or at least a 17 in Self-Deception, to warrant my success. As I walked around campus, old computer speakers lashed to the sides of my backpack scratchily, and between skips, played The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch” as the theme song of my group: Team DC (Discovery Channel). I also brought badminton racquets to show off what I liked to think of as my cool, athletic side. The tunes and sports equipment apparently worked, because I met a girl who shared my (newly bullshitted to get her to kiss me) love of penguins and who said “fromage” at the same time as me in a group photo when instructed to say “cheese”. Oh l’amour, does it get any better than that? But this story is not about her. It’s about a much stronger love that lasted longer than the two years I spent dating her.
The retreat exposed us to university life, and I continued to roll skill checks to fit in. A lecture on “Checks and Balances in South America” required Bluff, fencing demanded Weapon Proficiency in Foil, and the cafeteria proved the greatest challenge in Diplomacy. I survived the trials and was rewarded with the worst treasure the Dungeon Master of my life has ever come up with: a talent show.
Talent shows never deliver what they advertise. At least not in my experience, and I’ve been responsible on occasion for perpetuating this sad truth. I had to survive Will Save after Will Save to avoid either a) falling asleep, or b) backstabbing someone (Foil: 1d6+4d6). Karaoke “Complicated”, a Spice Girls dance, a tone deaf rendition of “What a Wonderful World”, and several other acts my memory has graciously blocked. Which Demon Prince of the Abyss concocted such an event? Which of the nine Arch Devils did I somehow offend to deserve this?
When all seemed lost and I was certain that at least one more attempt at “Complicated” was imminent, my saviour arrived. Like an unassuming yet tall, yellow bird ready to act as my steed across a 32-bit giant-snake infested mire, a lanky, bespectacled boy took a seat at the piano. I settled into my kindergarten-inspired plastic chair and nudged my soon-to-be girlfriend to deliver a “WTF?” look. And then, the plot twist.
The first chord and three slightly misplayed notes froze me. Will Save failed. What Bard was this with such an evocative melody? Where had I heard the tune before? Why was I crying?
Two more notes and I knew. I saw her die all over again.
I had been 12 years old when I met her; 13 when she died. She was one of my two first loves—part of a love triangle to guide me through puberty. The other girl was sexy as sin with large breasts, tight tops, long black hair, and short skirts, while she was the girl next door type: brown hair, conservative dresses, mouse-ish demeanour. Together, they were the ideal girl, so I loved them both. My fantasies generally starred the hotter girl, but I spent more time with the girl next door. I even had my first date with her at an amusement park.
I saw them both intermittently over the next few months whenever I didn’t have any homework to do and, as often as possible, when my parents were not around. We had fantastic adventures together, battling monsters and exploring new landscapes. But then she died.
I didn’t see it coming. I had—to the credit of my friends who had fallen in love with both girls before—avoided spoilers on the subject. When Sephiroth fell from the sky and impaled her on his awe-inspiring katana Masamune, I couldn’t believe it was real. I didn’t want it to be. The Holy materia bounced from her hand across the surface of the water in rhythm with the music. And then she died.
I was frozen. How? How could a video game do this to me? I had beefed up her statistics higher than Cloud’s (the main character, re-named as James). Now all that work was for naught…and yet, that was secondary to the fact that she was actually dead, never to return to me. I had lost her. And I was crying. Crying at the death of a video game character!
I immediately went to my dial-up Internet to check FAQs about bringing her back to life. Oh, some claimed to have the answers, but they were liars all. Squaresoft had not allowed any glitches to revive my love. And good for them. When you’re dead, you’re dead. Phoenix downs don’t work in real life.
The Bard continued playing Aerith’s (or Aeris, depending on your personal preference) Theme from the masterpiece of all videogames: Final Fantasy VII. That game had taken my RPG v-card, not only as my first role-playing game but also as the first game to inspire me to masturbate while looking at a pixellated character. (Oh Tifa, not even the DOA girls can compare to you.)
FFVII also, embarrassingly enough, taught me more than any novel (save The Lord of the Rings) that I read at that awkward age. And I wasn’t alone.
As the pianist played, tears streamed down my cheeks just as they had on the day of Aerith’s death. My in-the-distant-future-hook-up-with-an-ex touched my shoulder to make sure that I was okay. I gave up trying to mop up all the tears and turned towards her, but my gaze never reached her eyes. Over her shoulder were two other wannabe university students with whom I had become five-day friends.
Both of these boys were, like me, wiping tears away from their pimply faces.