When Cheating isn’t Cheating: Final Fantasy, Minecraft, and Life

The original Final Fantasy for the NES was and continues to be one of the highlights of my video gaming existence. Not because the game was so awesome (though it was!), but because of the experience I had playing it. It was brand new, and the family rule at the time was no video game systems in the house. At all. However, the family had also just bought a conversion van–one of those cool ones with mood lights and a back seat that converted to a bed.

And a built-in TV, VCR, and (wait for it) Nintendo Entertainment System.

So whenever we went on a drive, us kids could sit in the back and play video games. Talk about living large. We played Mario and Duck Hunt at first, of course. Games that came with the system. But soon thereafter, we got our paws on Final Fantasy. I could regale you with the hours and hours we spent on that game. Playing through all the levels. Beating the bosses. True, only one person could use the controller at a time, but it was a shared experience as we discussed how best to beat the next challenge. (Of course, just because it was hours and hours in my memory doesn’t mean it actually took us that long. I wonder now how long we were literally playing the game–how many weeks it actually took us to beat it. Time goes slower when you’re a kid, after all.)

I have a copy of Final Fantasy for my iPhone. I’ve played it some, and I still love it. But while I’ve been playing, I’ve noticed something important:

It’s not as much fun when I can’t cheat.

I don’t mean cheat cheat. I wouldn’t do that. But back when we were playing the game the first time, we had the game guide open right next to us. So when we met a new boss, we’d consult the Nintendo Power guide to find out the weaknesses and the keys to conquering it. We had the inside scoop, always. And it didn’t matter–we still had fun. So as an adult now, I didn’t want to cheat. I wanted to beat the game the right way. No guides allowed.

But it isn’t the same.

The game wasn’t fun because it was impossible to figure out where to go next, or because you had to use trial and error eighty-five times to figure out how to beat the boss. It was fun because it was a shared storytelling experience. Not like a book, not like a movie–we got to participate in the action and feel like we were having an effect on the story. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but cooler. More than that, it was a chance to feel special. To go to school and talk over strategy with friends. To feel like you’re finding a secret, even if the secret is right there in black and white in your guide book for everyone else to find, too.

It didn’t matter.

And when I look at TRC these days and his obsession for Minecraft, it suddenly makes sense to me. He’s tapping into that same special feeling you get of secret knowledge. Discovery and exploration. He plays Minecraft and consults online guides for tips and tricks. He knows it inside and out. Does it matter that he isn’t finding it all out on his own? Not a whit. Why would it? Because when you’re that age, you’re still young enough not to care that your “unique” experience isn’t actually unique. That it’s the same experience everyone else is having. No–you just enjoy it and don’t ask questions.

This also explains why for many people, spoilers don’t hurt a book or movie–they make it better.

So I’ve given up trying to beat the original Final Fantasy without the guide. It’s a different experience, and it’s one I don’t like as much as the one that involves cheating and using the hints feature. Which is something I think can be extended to more than just video games.

Don’t feel bad for enjoying something the way you like to enjoy it. There’s no right or wrong way to have a fun time (staying within certain legal and moral codes, of course . . .) If you love going to Disney World just to people watch and eat food and skip all the rides, great. If you like to read the end of a book before the beginning, go for it. If you play World of Warcraft and do nothing but game the auction house, more power to you.

It’s fun people. As long as you’re having a good time, then that’s all that matters.

Leave a comment