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Catharsis: Part IV (or, The Dawn of a New Legacy)

This is a multi-part post on how my depression came to be, and how a video game not only pulled me out of it, but helped me stand up for myself and change my fate. As such, this is deeply personal, and if stories of this nature bother you, it is advised that you skip this series of posts, and join me for my Top 10 Favourite Video Games post, coming in a couple short weeks.

Part I will focus on the plot of Final Fantasy XIII. Part II will focus on my journey to adulthood amidst heavy abuse of all kinds, from all angles. Parts III and IV will tie the two together, explaining how the game literally changed my life.


I was on the bus to the Grand Canyon. I had finally escaped my torture. Finally escaped the very thing that defined my life for the past decade. I was happy. I talked with my friends on Facebook for as much of the bus ride as I could. I helped a lady take care of her fussy child, who rode all the way to Denver with me. Most importantly, I finally had the guts to start going by my preferred name: Matthias.

-XXX-

After her parents died, she started going by Lightning. While guiding Hope through the underground of Palumpolum, she has a revelation. “Lightning flashes bright, and then fades away. It cannot create. It only destroys.” Her fight was a flash that was now fading, destroying everything she stood for and taking everyone around her down with her. How would she find the will to go on? How could she possibly continue taking care of this boy who hadn’t seen his father since he was turned into a l’cie?

After a few minutes of contemplation, she found the will to keep going through one small change. She turned to Hope and said, “Call me Light.”

-XXX-

I got to the Grand Canyon and introduced myself to my new boss and soon-to-be best friend at the Canyon with my legal name. I instantly regretted it. I talked to him two days later about it, asking if he could call me Matthias instead. I explained myself, and he took to my new name easily. Only called me by my legal name twice in the weeks following.

The season was drawing to a close, and I needed a place to stay. I was frantically looking for apartments in Seattle to no avail, and going back to Nebraska to live a horrendous life of abuse all over again was absolutely not an option. I started asking around if anyone had the spare space for me to crash with them for a bit while I get things figured out, and my boss, knowing my relationship with the Midwest and what it meant for me, offered his parent’s spare bedroom, as well as moving up with him and his new fiancé to Ashland, Oregon.

That didn’t quite pan out. I did stay with him and his parents for a month and a half, but he pulled out of me moving up with him and his fiance, at the request of said fiance. However, he’d get my stuff up there for me if I found a place. So the hunt for an apartment in Ashland had begun. I scoured Craigslist for three days, and found a guy who was also looking for a roommate. We got approved for an apartment (where I still live to this day), and I moved up.

I guess I got lucky. Very, very lucky. And I am thankful every day for the people who got me to where I am today. Those ten people are folks I will forever be indebted to, and if you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thank you so much for helping me get out of that horrible situation. I am forever in your debt.

Now, let us all witness the dawn of a new crystal legend. My legend. The legend of the man who came from nothing, and managed to get somewhere and do something thanks to the people around him. The man who’s moving to Portland this coming summer. The man who has no fear towards what was. The man who made it out.

The rest of my life awaits.

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Catharsis: Part III (or, The Fight for Liberation)

This is a multi-part post on how my depression came to be, and how a video game not only pulled me out of it, but helped me stand up for myself and change my fate. As such, this is deeply personal, and if stories of this nature bother you, it is advised that you skip this series of posts, and join me for my Top 10 Favourite Video Games post, coming in a couple short weeks.

Part I will focus on the plot of Final Fantasy XIII. Part II will focus on my journey to adulthood amidst heavy abuse of all kinds, from all angles. Parts III and IV will tie the two together, explaining how the game literally changed my life.


So, there comes a point in all hero’s lives when they have to choose a path, and what those paths are varies. The paths available to me at the time I decided to do something about the abuse were marked as follows: “Stay in Abusive Household/Town Forever”, “Bring Litigation Against My Abusers”, “Start Planning to Get Out”, or “Jump In Headfirst and Hope for the Best”. I chose the last one.


Upon defeating Barthandelus, the l’cie’s goal is still the same: to protect Cocoon. The torrent of innocent lives that the Fal’cie would take to bring back their ‘sleeping God’ is a cost too great for the six l’cie to bear. Their cause is true: protect Cocoon, and bring with their victory a new crystal legend.


Running like my life depended on it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of fundraising to get me out that I was spearheading and had to hide, telling my parents (who were way too interested in my sudden income after being jobless for six months) that my writing was taking off and I was getting a lot of commission requests, with pre-payment for each one asked of me. This was a half-truth: while I did ask for blind donations from people, I did offer my skills as a writer/musician to write/play whatever they wanted, within my abilities, to pay them back. I even offered to pay them back penny-for-penny when I had enough money to my name. Out of the 30-odd people that donated, no one asked for anything in return. It was a gesture made out of the kindness of their hearts, and therefore debts I will never truly be able to repay. To those who got me out, thank you all so much. This article would literally not exist if it weren’t for you.


Lightning and the others escape the Palamecia aboard an airship provided by the Fal’cie Barthandelus. After a brief firefight in which an unknown force protects the airship and, by extension, the l’cie from harm; the craft vanishes from sight, much to the dismay of PSICOM Director Yaag Rosch. The l’cie find themselves in an Ark, an ancient training ground built by Pulsian Fal’cie to train their l’cie thralls for the fighting needed to complete their Focus. This ‘Fifth Ark’ was located directly below Cocoon’s capital city of Eden, completely unknown to the Pulse-hating populace living right above it. Right under their feet, the l’cie were being forced to train for their Focus.

The l’cie’s true Focus? The antithesis of their goal: For one of them must take the form of the demon Ragnarok, destroy Cocoon, and everyone living in it, so that the Maker may be re-awakened by a sacrifice befitting an absolute deity.


After a couple weeks, I got contacted on Tumblr by a person named Amoury who suggested that if I really needed to get out, I should apply to work at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. I did. After three days, they called me back for a phone interview and offered me a position on the spot in the deli run by the resort. I feverishly accepted, because after filling out 56 applications over a period of six months, only getting called for three interviews and then hearing nothing back, it was clear that someone in the town (namely my stepfather) was slandering my name to keep me unemployed. Being an out gay man in a very conservative, homophobic town wasn’t helping, either. After my parents heard the news, I was put on total lockdown. Our house didn’t have internet, and seeing as that was where I was shackled if I wanted a roof over my head, talking to Amoury to coordinate the trip out to Arizona was incredibly difficult. In fact, if I didn’t have my mom helping me out here and there, I’m pretty sure my desperate struggle to escape an inhospitable environment would have failed, and eventually led to my suicide.

After securing my Greyhound ticket to the pick-up point on the promise that I pay Amoury back, and my mom’s full support, my stepdad had zero choice but to begrudgingly help me get to the Greyhound station in Omaha, over a 90-minute drive away.

It seemed like Mother Nature was trying to stop my escape as well, as the hours before my departure saw a tornado warning and golf ball-sized hail beating down on the area I was living in. After a few tense, tornado-worrying moments and several “We might not make it to your bus”‘s from my stepdad, I was packed down to two suitcases and a small duffel bag, camping out on the couch one last time, waiting for 5am to hit so that I could finally, FINALLY escape the Hell that was Nebraska. We piled into the truck with my luggage secured in the back, got coffee, and headed out for Omaha. My stepdad didn’t give a shit. He was still trying to ruin my life by conveniently “forgetting” the $100 my mom had promised me for emergencies, and still taking $50 out of it to pay for my extra suitcase on the bus.

I’ll give the man credit, he still looked me in the eye as he shook my hand, wishing me the most genuine “good luck” I’ve ever heard from him. Maybe he finally realized I was going away for good, and wouldn’t be his “problem” anymore. Who knows. My mom was almost in tears, seeing her then 23 years-old boy leaving home and finally passing into adulthood. It was a transformative moment for me, and their family dynamic. They left and waved one last time before pulling out. It’s the last I’ve ever physically seen of them, and a moment from which I’ve honestly never looked back.

I was free.


The final part of this series will conclude with Part IV, where I will detail my trip to the canyon, my time there, and what led me to my current situation, still tying in the game as I go. It’ll be a long article, and probably more than a week or two in coming. Stay classy, folks.

Catharsis: Part I (or, The Paraphrased Storyline of Final Fantasy XIII)

This is a multi-part post on how my depression came to be, and how a video game not only pulled me out of it, but helped me stand up for myself and change my fate. As such, this is deeply personal, and if stories of this nature bother you, it is advised that you skip this series of posts, and join me for my Top 10 Favourite Video Games post, coming in a couple short weeks.

Part I will focus on the plot of Final Fantasy XIII. Part II will focus on my journey to adulthood amidst heavy abuse of all kinds, from all angles. Parts III and IV will tie the two together, explaining how the game literally changed my life.

 

All of the following is taken directly from the Beginner’s Primer, accessible from the main menu of Final Fantasy XIII-2.


Cocoon—a utopia in the sky.

The populace live a life of ease under the protection of almost godlike beings, known as the ‘fal’Cie.’ The lowerworld, Pulse, over which Cocoon floats, is believed to be a land both hostile and uninhabitable.

One day, on Cocoon, a dangerous Pulse fal’Cie is uncovered in the seaside settlement of Bodhum. The governing body, known as the Sanctum, announces that all residents of the town are now contaminated. The Purge is enacted—legislation that requires every citizen from the infected area to be forcibly relocated to Pulse.

The Purge has begun.

A band of young rebels emerges to oppose the army and its attempts to exile innocent civilians to Pulse.

Moving through the midst of the confusion is Lightning, a soldier who fights against the Sanctum’s forces, along with Sazh, a middle-aged man with his own purpose. She makes her way towards the structure where the Pulse fal’Cie was found. In that lowerworld ‘vestige,’ her sister Serah is being held prisoner. Others also converge on the same location: Snow, Serah’s fiancé; Hope, the teenager who watched his mother perish; and Vanille, a young girl of unknown origin.

All those who would play a part in Cocoon’s future are unknowingly drawn together.

Fal’Cie possess the power to transform humans into accursed l’Cie. Both Lightning and Snow have entered the vestige to rescue Serah from just such a fate.

As if guided by an unseen force, the would-be saviors arrive in the deepest part of the structure along with Sazh, Hope, and Vanille. There the five discover a bewildered Serah, only to witness her transformation into crystal.

Lightning, driven by rage at losing her sister, hurls herself at the Pulse fal’Cie. She is joined in the battle by a determined Sazh, who has his own reasons for wanting the fal’Cie destroyed.

The battle with the Pulse entity changes the destiny of the five companions forever.

They have become l’Cie—cursed servants of the fal’Cie. All l’Cie are given a ‘Focus.’ Those who complete this Focus are turned into crystal. Those who fail, however, are doomed to become mindless monsters. Their master is an enemy of Cocoon. Are they now fated to destroy their own home? As the others sink into depression, only Snow retains a positive outlook. He believes that Serah’s last wish, for them to ‘protect Cocoon,’ is their true Focus. Snow stays behind to protect her crystal, while Lightning and the rest attempt to break through the army’s rapidly closing net.

Lightning and her companions, now enemies of the state, are pursued by Sanctum forces.

The former soldier makes a decision—rather than be hunted down, she vows to take the fight to Cocoon’s capital and slay the fal’Cie in charge of the government. The young boy Hope, drawn by Lightning’s strength, chooses to follow her. Sazh and Vanille choose another route and flee through the Vile Peaks. Meanwhile, Snow is captured by an army unit under the guidance of a mysterious woman known as Fang. These soldiers are members of ‘the Cavalry’—a group that professes to be an ally of l’Cie.

As part of their journey towards the capital and the Sanctum fal’Cie, Lightning and Hope enter the Gapra Whitewood. The Whitewood serves as an experimental facility for the army, but patrols here are few and infrequent. As they walk, Hope explains his reasons for being there.

At Snow’s urging, Hope’s mother joined the battle at the Hanging Edge, and was killed in the fighting. The grief-stricken youth had then chased Snow into the vestige. Lightning tries to counsel the young man, but Hope’s desire to exact revenge on Snow burns brighter than ever.

With no place else to go, Sazh and Vanille find themselves wandering the Sunleth Waterscape. Sazh eventually spills his story to Vanille. He explains that he joined the fight for the sake of his son, Dajh, who had been chosen as a l’Cie servant by a Sanctum fal’Cie.

Sazh thought that if he could defeat an enemy of Cocoon, he might release his son from his Focus. After hearing his story, Vanille is consumed with guilt. Both she and Fang are Pulse l’Cie, and enemies of Cocoon. Their presence near the Sanctum fal’Cie is the reason Dajh was cursed in the first place. However, she cannot bring herself to tell Sazh the truth.

With the help of the Cavalry, Fang searches for the other l’Cie. She has a debt to pay—her lost memory and forgotten Focus were the reason Serah was cursed by the fal’Cie. The Gran Pulse native later encounters Lightning in the city of Palumpolum and apologizes for Serah’s fate. Lightning’s response is a blow to the jaw.

Elsewhere, Hope finally gets up the courage to confront Snow. The teenager is consumed by his lust for revenge, and attacks the NORA leader. Despite the boy’s actions, Snow puts himself in danger, protecting Hope from an army air strike. The four l’Cie later regroup at Hope’s house, and meet his father. They reconcile their differences and decide to work on finding a future, rather than dwelling in the past.

In Nautilus, the city of dreams, Sazh and Vanille’s frantic flight from the Sanctum comes to an abrupt end. Dajh, now in the custody of the army, has used his l’Cie powers to track down his father. The boy turns to crystal upon completing his focus—to locate an ‘enemy’ of Cocoon.

A PSICOM officer appears before the unbelieving Sazh, and tells him the truth: Vanille is the reason his son was made into a l’Cie. Vanille admits her guilt. She offers no resistance when Sazh raises his pistols to fire. But Sazh realizes her death will change nothing, and lets Vanille go. Such mercy is all he has left to give.

Lightning joins Snow, Hope, and Fang in an assault on the Sanctum flagship. The Cavalry has lent them its aid in rescuing the captured Sazh and Vanille. After a long search, Fang is finally reunited with Vanille. The six l’Cie then fight through the ship’s defenses and come face-to-face with the Primarch, representative of the Sanctum.

However, the truth that he reveals is beyond their wildest imagining. The Primarch who they thought to be human is actually a powerful fal’Cie by the name of Barthandelus. The fal’Cie also shocks them with knowledge that their Focus is, in fact, the destruction of Cocoon. Barthandelus guides the l’Cie to a vestige hidden beneath the capital, where other truths await them.

The companions encounter Cid Raines, the commander of the Cavalry, in the bowels of the monster-infested Fifth Ark. He explains that should they complete their Focus and destroy Cocoon, then countless lives will be lost. This sacrifice is necessary to draw a deity known as the Maker back into the world.

Raines then reveals himself as a l’Cie of Barthandelus. The soldiers of the Cavalry had been mere puppets of the fal’Cie. Now, however, the commander is acting under his own—human—will. To prevent Cocoon’s destruction, he attacks Lightning and her friends. Although he is ultimately defeated, Raines still turns to crystal. He shows them how the fate of a l’Cie can be overcome.

The six l’Cie have crashed on Gran Pulse, the terrifying lowerworld that the people of Cocoon speak of in whispers. Seeking for a way to overcome their cruel fate, the companions travel to Oerba, Fang and Vanille’s hometown. There they uncover an ancient prophecy that tells how Fang and Vanille attacked Cocoon several centuries in the past. It also speaks of how they entered into crystal stasis, and later awoke, once again driven to destroy the floating shell.

All their actions recorded and prophesized, but no mention of how to avert the catastrophe. But if they refuse to fight, then Cocoon will fall. Readying themselves for the conflict to come, the l’Cie head for Cocoon’s capital once more.

Chaos rules in the capital city of Eden.

Raines, though he wishes for the independence of mankind, is a helpless tool of the fal’Cie. And the soldiers of the Cavalry who trusted him have now risen in revolt. They mean to slay Orphan, the fal’Cie that lies at the center of Eden, unaware that its death would mean the destruction of Cocoon. To prevent this cruel catastrophe, Lightning and her fellow l’Cie battle through the streets in pursuit of the vengeful soldiers. They finally catch up with the Cavalry, only to see them transformed into hideous Cie’th. Only one thing remains to be done: the l’Cie must face Barthandelus, the mastermind behind all that has transpired.

Lightning and her companions claim victory over the mighty Barthandelus, but in doing so awake Orphan—the fal’Cie who keeps Cocoon aloft. Their first battle with Orphan ends in failure, but through the sheer force of their belief, the six rise to fight again. They have the power to make miracles happen, and the strength to change their fate. Awakened to the power within them, the l’Cie achieve the impossible and defeat Orphan.

At the moment of the fal’Cie’s death, Cocoon begins to plummet towards Gran Pulse. Then a miracle occurs—Fang and Vanille undergo a transformation into a great crystal pillar that halts the fall of Cocoon. As the dust settles, Serah is freed from her crystal stasis, and greeted by Lightning’s smiling face.