As someone who both plays video games and has worked in retail, my faith in humanity has long since taken on the form of a stain in the carpet of my brain. I've thought about scrubbing it away and starting afresh, but it's been baked in for so long, I didn't even think a double dose of Daz would do the job.
That is, until I started playing MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. So far, all the cat people and elves and gnomes I've encountered have been - dare I say it - alright. They've actually been really quite, well... nice?
Final Fantasy XIV sports that "massively-multiplayer" label that suggests other people are a key component, and yet here I am, playing this game solo. I login most evenings, take the reins of my beloved Shadow Hulk (whose run is growing on me) and do some questing. I literally don't utter a word to anyone - unless I'm forced to tackle a dungeon. Even then, I'll hesitantly announce that I'm a newbie in the chat and to please tell me if I'm doing anything wrong with a few polite words. It's so similar in energy to a speculative work email that I might as well end my messages with "No worries if not! Best, Hulk".
And I don't mind playing Final Fantasy XIV like I've caught the central line to New Gridania. I'm happy keeping my head down and churning through EXP as others mill about around me, perhaps playing instruments or clunking hammers on metal, or pretending to be a fallen Gregor Clegane amidst a plane of cracked ice.
Slowly but steadily, I'm coming to realise that I should break out of this protective shell. People in Final Fantasy XIV seem strangely nice, as if they actually want everyone to have a good time. Case in point: the replies to my speculative emails are usually ones of support. As a tank, I feel huge pressure to perform in dungeons I'm new to, especially as I'm the one who's meant to lead the charge and steer the team through each encounter. But if I ever get anything a bit wrong, the first thing that flies into the chat box is patience and understanding, not abuse. I flinch for no reason.
One time someone ran up to me and gifted me a cookie. I stood there like a big stupid baby, all sheepish, and was about to type "Thanks!" when they did this emote that showered me in sparkles and ran off. I ate the cookie in a state of bafflement, then realised that it gave me a little EXP boost for thirty minutes. I'm guessing they saw the sprout next to my name that signalled I was new to Final Fantasy XIV, and thought it would be a sweet gesture. I'm pretty sure I welled up with each bite.
Only recently was I wandering around slaying some skeletons when a random cat boy appeared and asked if I'd got the two free items from the spirit pot. Immediately, I got my back up. What the heck was he on about? Was he just the cat boy equivalent of a spam call? But against my own better judgement and life experience, I went along with him.
Dodgy cat boy ran over to this unassuming pot with a devilish face on it. Again, I assumed he was having me on. "Ah, okay, this is the bit where I die then is it?", I thought to myself, as he hopped up and down by the pot; body language for "follow my lead". All of a sudden a trade window opened and he shot a couple of potions my way. "Give them to the pot", he said sharply. I did, and waited for lightning to strike my poor Shadow Hulk dead. Instead, I received two cute minions I would've totally missed otherwise. In a state of bafflement similar to that of cookie-gate, I thanked him, and he responded with something like, "No problem, I hope you enjoy the game :)". Then he hopped on his winged mount and flew into the sky like a goddamn angel sent from heaven.
I genuinely don't think I've played a multiplayer game where everyone's so positive. It seems like every Final Fantasy XIV player wants you to enjoy the experience. So much so, I've considered whether these encounters were actually co-ordinated by Square Enix agents in rooms lined with surveillance screens. But this can't be the case! There have simply been too many instances of generosity for it to be lying on an executive's desk in a folder emblazoned with "TOP SECRET BE KIND TO ED".
So to all those folks who've been patient or handed me cookies: you're very nice. Give it a few months and it'll be my turn to hand a sprout a cookie. I just need to figure out how to bake one, but I haven't taken up the cooking skill and I don't know how it works. Maybe I should ask someone, which isn't that frightening any more! Also, sorry to Daz. I should have more faith in your power to clean stains. I better get scrubbing. God, so much to do.