On September 21st a man named Stephen Critchlow passed away. He was an actor of several roles, but the one he is most known for among my social circle is being the voice of Count Edmont de Fortemps from the critically acclaimed online RPG, Final Fantasy XIV.
The basic concept of Final Fantasy XIV—FFXIV for short—is that you are a person blessed by the goddess of Light, Hydaelyn, and are capable of slaying lesser gods, which you do on many occasions in an effort to keep the world balanced. Because of your immense power and who you represent, you’ve come to be known as the Warrior of Light. This is what the player base of the game often refers to themselves as, Warriors of Light, often shortened to WoL or WoLs.
In the wake of Critchlow’s passing, a dozen communities and hundreds of players came together to hold vigils and ceremonies in honor of him in the city where his character lived. Screenshots and videos spread across social media of lines upon lines of Warriors of Light gathered together, some giving speeches in honor of the late Critchlow, with campfires in place of candles. “Those of us gathered here are more than knights of House Fortemps,” said player Rishon Stormshadow when giving their eulogy. “We are wards of the Count, each and every one of us his children in some way.” Critchlow’s character was special to thousands of players, as he took each Warrior of Light into his home and gave them shelter from the persecution chasing them.
“Why does this matter?” you might be wondering. I tell this story to give you a glimpse into the community of FFXIV, in hopes that you can see why it’s so special compared to other gaming communities. Online games have a long, storied reputation of being toxic environments in one way or another. I am somewhat of a veteran of online games, having played them since I was a child and continuing to play them today, and I’ve experienced the toxicity of many communities firsthand. But FFXIV is different. It’s not devoid of this behavior by any means, especially as players from other online games flock to it in the wake of recent events among other popular MMORPGs (a story for another time) but that behavior is overshadowed by the immense kindness and feeling of community that the Warriors of Light have fostered over the years. Critchlow’s virtual funeral is not the first of its kind on FFXIV. In fact, dozens of vigils and funerals have been held in the game for players who have passed. It’s not just times of mourning that bring the community together, either. There are a plethora of events and special occasions hosted on FFXIV, from drawing parties to concert performances to actual live plays, the community comes together again and again to celebrate this game and world they love so much, and the people they play it with. In fact, due to the Covid epidemic, I held my own wedding on FFXIV, with about fifty of my friends in attendance. I even had a photographer.
Video games have played an important role in my life, and after seven years of playing Final Fantasy XIV, I can say with complete confidence that the FFXIV community is the best I’ve ever played with. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve shared space with players from this world, and I’ve seen how generous and special they can be. The Warriors of Light prove time and again how much they love the community they’ve created and the game we play together, and in turn the development team has proven how much they love and listen to the community they’ve made. Every year the creators of FFXIV hold an official game event expressing their gratitude to the players, something I’ve never seen in any other online game I’ve played.
Oh, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Final Fantasy XIV has been called “the best Final Fantasy game in years” several times over by video game journals and players alike and was awarded PC Gamer’s ‘Best Ongoing Game’ award in 2020. The soundtrack is also phenomenal. Did I mention you can play the game and first expansion completely for free?
So, if you find yourself itching to have an adventure, if you want to become part of something grand, if you want a world and story that will capture your heart, perhaps you might consider suiting up and becoming a Warrior of Light.
May you ever walk in the light of the Crystal.