On the night of my graduation, I cried. It only took about half an hour after returning to my home in Crofton before I found myself huddled in the darkness of my laundry room, sobbing and wishing I was dead. I was scared. I thought about all the people I had met and how I wouldn’t be seeing them regularly anymore. I thought about the consistent sense of security my life had—and how all of that had just been completely pulled out from under me. I thought about how I didn’t want to stay at home any longer than I needed to. I thought about how terrified I was to have to look for a job.

……For me, being told to get employed right after graduating was like being told I had to climb an invisible mountain; I knew what I had to do, but I had no clue where to start. The expectations placed at my feet felt impossible to live up to, and the first few weeks after graduation felt truly hopeless to me as a result.

You can have whatever job you want in Final Fantasy, a series of Japanese role-playing games that was created in 1987. The franchise’s first game starts you off with a party of four adventurers. As the player, you assign each of them one of six “jobs”—except the occupations available in the game aren’t anything like the ones in real life. Instead of being a firefighter or an accountant, your characters can become a sword-wielding Warrior or a Monk who uses his bare fists. Once you select what you want your four party members to be and press start, you have a team of professional adventurers ready to save the world from dark forces.

……In later installments, leveling up a party member’s job gives them certain skills and abilities depending on what they are. These can be versatile, such as a Monk being able to heal other party members or a Mage gaining the ability to cast more powerful spells. Just like in the real world, your party members can carry the skills they earned from one job to another based on their experience.

Experience was exactly what I lacked. A week after coming home, I found myself going to my local library, sitting down with some music, and looking for work. But everywhere I lookedLinkedIn, Handshake, Indeed, Glassdoor–it was all the same. Three years or more of editing experience was required for anyone to take me into consideration. It didn’t matter whether or not I felt like I had enough experience, or that I had spent the majority of the last two years working as an editor for my university’s literary magazine. I wasn’t good enough because they said so, and that was that.

……A friend of mine told me that I should ignore those kinds of requirements and send my resume out regardless. She said that kind of confidence is exactly what recruiters want to see, that that’s how I’ll get places throughout my life. Another friend, a girl who graduated at the same time as me, told me the same thing.

……I wished I had their confidence, but instead I closed out of the job site every time.

……If you have enough confidence and proper knowledge of the game’s systems, you can win almost any fight in Final Fantasy, even if you don’t have the game’s recommended amount of experience. This is especially true in titles like Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy V, where you can change the role of each of your characters with just a few button presses. Maybe your party needs a dedicated healer like a White Mage, or maybe you could make use of the Ninja who can wield two weapons instead of one and use special scrolls that have varying effects. Sometimes, when a challenge seems too difficult, all it takes is a few edits to your party’s composition, and victory is back within your grasp.

I held on to my position as an editor for my university’s literary magazine after I graduated. It was something to keep me busy while I was unemployed, so I made sure to come in twice a week, every week, just like I did when I was still a student.

……My body was hot and shaking the first time I went back to work on the magazine. Everyone I knew was more than happy to see me, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had crossed a line somehow. You always hear about those kids that never quite leave college, as if their bodies are there in the present, but their minds are dislocated, stuck in the past, as if they never received their diploma Every time I drove up went to work on the magazine, I hoped that I wasn’t becoming one of them. When I told one of my closest friends who was on the magazine with me how I felt about staying on the team, she told me that, at the very least, it was good that I was still being productive and working on something while I was between jobs. In a way she was right, but I never managed to shake the feeling that the only reason I stayed so heavily involved with the magazine was so that I could hold onto the security that college had given me, even if it was only for a little while longer. It was also an excuse to not look for work The magazine was my job, in my eyes, and it felt good to forget about the career I was supposed to try to start and focus on helping my team instead.

I played a lot of Final Fantasy XIV instead of looking for employment. Being an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), Final Fantasy XIV has you work with other players in a team to accomplish quests and fight monsters together. Interestingly enough, it differs from the traditional job system by starting your character off with a “class” instead of a job. It isn’t until you’ve gained enough experience that you are given a “job quest” for your character, which, upon completion, will allow you to obtain one of the classic jobs from previously in the series. Unlike other entries in the franchise, you need a requisite amount of experience before you can apply for your job.

……In Final Fantasy XIV, I always play as the Bard. My role is to shoot arrows from a distance while singing songs that help my teammates perform better in a fight. Initially, I was attracted to the Bard purely for the aesthetic of it all. Eventually, I discovered that I loved playing as someone that could support other people. I was never dead weight whenever I joined a party as a Bard. In fact, people were always happy to see me join, and in turn that made me happy as well. It was nice to feel needed, like I had a purpose.

……Along with the jobs you can play that are designed for combat, Final Fantasy XIV also has crafting and gathering professions. The gatherers collect materials throughout the world, while the crafters use those materials to make weapons and armor for the combat-oriented positions. Since these classes aren’t played by a large percentage of players, they’re valued highly by the people who want good equipment but don’t want to invest the time to do it themselves. These crafting classes all range from a variety of different professions, from the Blacksmith who makes armor, to the Culinarian that can prepare food for others.

I was no Culinarian, but with the help of a close friend I managed to land a part-time position as a kitchen worker at a movie theater in Annapolis. I didn’t love the idea of working with teenagers who hadn’t even finished high school yet, but I was beginning to lose my mind staying at home almost every day, and the two days a week at the literary magazine weren’t enough for me anymore. Once, at my cousin’s wedding reception, an uncle had asked me what I was doing for work now that I had graduated. “Oh, I’m just a kitchen worker,” I had told him. My uncle, who had a history of working as a chef, misunderstood what I meant. “So you’re basically a prep cook, right?” I lied and told him that I was, hoping it sounded better than what I was doing.

……I wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that I was working at a movie theater (although, it was a bit awkward every time I was reminded that, at twenty-two years old, I was one of the oldest people there). I was embarrassed by the fact that I had friends who were already so much further ahead than I was. Rachel was getting freelance editing gigs and earning valuable work experience. Morgan got offered to work in Account management with some company in Dallas. Ashley was asked to come on as a teacher at a local middle school almost two months before she even graduated. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the back of a kitchen, staring at my phone and waiting for orders to pop up onto a screen.

……After only three months of working at the theater, I ended up getting hired to work as a transcriber in the same city I had gone to college in. With the cost of gas and a limit on how many hours I could be scheduled, I was going to be making less than the movie theater paid me, but I didn’t care at all. I was too excited. It was still a part-time position, but it was the first time I’d ever use the tools and skills that I had gone to school for. It was a step in the right direction, and for the first time in the seven or so months that I had been out of school, I didn’t feel like I was a waste of space.

……That sense of joy and accomplishment didn’t last as long as I had hoped it would, though. Transcribing, while being a task that certainly exercised the skills I had learned from editing, wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped it would be. For seven to eight hours a day, I sat in front of a computer with headphones that made my ears hurt and typed away, correcting and editing subtitles that the company’s voice-to-text program missed or made a mistake on. In the beginning, none of this bothered me. I was so enamored by the fact that I got to transcribe NPR podcasts that I loved every second of what I did. But after just a few weeks, the work became routine. I wore the same painful headphones, sat at the same desk, transcribed the same podcasts and legal seminars, all in a tiny office where nobody talked to each other. Maybe I was impatient, or maybe I was ungrateful, but it didn’t feel like enough. The work was already starting to grind on me.

Like plenty of other role-playing games, sometimes in Final Fantasy you have to grind to get what you want. Maybe you want your magic-using characters to learn their next new spell, or maybe you need more money so you can splurge on new equipment for your Knight. Whatever it is, you have to be prepared to set some time aside during your day to sit down and fight the same groups of monsters over and over again until you can finally get whatever it is you need. The process itself can be incredibly dull, but it’s hard to deny the sense of satisfaction you feel when you’re done grinding and finally accomplish your goal.

Almost a month into my transcribing position, I applied to work as a Legal Marketing Editor for a company in Baltimore. I had heard through word of mouth as well as customer reviews that the company didn’t seem entirely honest in how it went about its business, but it was full-time work and it was the exact kind of experience I needed, much better than what I was doing now. I sent in my application and hoped for the best.

……The wait to hear back from them wasn’t bad at first, but after being called in for what I felt was a good interview, it became more agonizing with each passing day. After about three weeks of hearing nothing more from them, I assumed that I didn’t get the position. Then, on a Friday afternoon, I got a call from one of the hiring managers saying that I had the job. By the time I hung up the phone, I was shaking. I called and texted as many people that I could; I was so proud of myself. It really felt like the happiest day of my life. I knew that I had just gotten exactly what I needed.

No matter what jobs your party members have, their characters remain the same throughout the story. Bartz, the protagonist of Final Fantasy V, will always remain the same optimistic, cheerful young man regardless of whether you have him as a flamboyant Dancer or a protective Knight. From a game design standpoint, this makes sense. With only one story to tell and over twenty jobs to choose from, it would have been too much work to implement any kind of noticeable change in characterization based on so many different choices. Instead, the four party members of the early games act as blank slates with minimal personality. They’re a little simple, but also incredibly charming.

……Final Fantasy IV does the opposite of this. In Final Fantasy IV, each character is given a preset class that goes together with their character, such as Rosa, the softhearted White Mage, or Yang, the strict and disciplined Monk. These classifications can’t be changed apart from when the story demands them to. Cecil, the story’s protagonist, begins as a Dark Knight, burdened by the sins of war crimes he had committed under the name of his king, but later becomes a shining Paladin after taking responsibility for his wrongdoings and fighting to atone for his actions. For the duration of the story, Cecil and his friends are defined by these titles. Their occupations say everything the player needs to know about who they are.

One year after graduating and two months into my first full-time job, I’m left wondering if my occupation, too, says everything people need to know about who I am. As a Legal Marketing Editor, I’m training to edit advertisements for stock advice newsletters. My main task is to ensure that the ads are just legal enough to sway their customers—who mostly consist of middle-aged adults who know nothing about stocks—into giving companies their money without breaking any laws in the process. I knew going into this field that the company wasn’t exactly known for its integrity, but after seeing the advertisements firsthand and hearing from coworkers about the lengths the copywriters will go to get away with as much as possible, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable about the way they go about their operations. And yet here I am, still training and accepting their paychecks.

……When I was still waiting to be accepted by my current company, I went to see my previous professor read from her newest book. After the reading, I spoke with her partner and told him about the job I was applying for and how I wasn’t sure if I fully supported their business practices. In response, he told me about a friend of his in New York. “He’s the most left- leaning, liberal guy you’ll ever meet,” he told me. “But do you know what he edits? Guns and Ammo magazine. Sometimes you have to do what you can to pay the bills.”

……I took this position and applied to others because I’m confident in my skills as an editor. It’s something I’m good at, one of the only things I know I can do well. But do I enjoy editing because I enjoy editing, or do I only like what I do because I’m good at it, as if it were nothing more than an effective means to a financial end?

Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, dreamed of being a musician, but instead started working for Square Co., a Japanese video game company, to get programming experience. He ended up staying with the company, leaving behind his musical aspirations.

……That wasn’t the first crossroads that Sakaguchi arrived at during his time at Square, though. Before Final Fantasy, none of the games released during his time as Director of Planning and Development were very successful, leading him to question if he had what it took to be a game writer. He decided that if the next game he worked on didn’t do well, he would go back to school. The game Sakaguchi and his team released next was none other than Final Fantasy, and the rest was history. Sakaguchi never went back to school after that.

Sometimes, even though I’ve graduated and finished my time at the magazine, I find myself coming back to my school. I’ll park in one of the nearby garages and go for long walks on the campus, looking at the buildings where I had my classes and all my favorite spots where I would sit around with my friends. I do this with places from my past. I leave a piece of myself in the form of thoughts, emotions, and memories, and then come back to visit them long after I’ve moved on from that place. I do it because I always miss those reminders of who I was at that time, of how I felt back then. In the case of my old university, I suppose I come back because I miss the part of myself who still had faith in the “next step.” I didn’t know what was going to happen after I graduated, but I believed that something would work itself out soon after I did, that I would have more things figured out. In a way, that was true. I have a full-time job and some semblance of a plan for where I can go from here. But with it comes even more mysteries. The more confident I become, the more answers I have for myself. But the more answers I have for myself, the more possibilities there are, and the more confused I become, and the less I know about what I want from life. Then the questions return, and I’m back to being lost all over again. And so, the cycle continues.

My first instinct would be to say that, while I don’t necessarily wish life were like a game such as Final Fantasy, I can’t help but be a little envious at how easy it is to accomplish the game’s goals. More specifically, I think I’m jealous of the fact that the character’s lives are always guided by the reassuring hand of the player who takes over and makes sure they get through everything safely in the end. Not being able to choose anything for myself would be terrifying, and I would hate to lose that freedom. But if I knew someone could just take the wheel for a bit and get me to where I want to go? I can’t deny that the offer wouldn’t be a little tempting.

……Sitting at my computer at work, I once again have started wondering what’s next for me. My browser is opened to a page of apartment listings. Most adventures in RPGs start when the main character leaves their hometown. Final Fantasy is no exception to this. It signals the beginning of a character’s arc where they can figure out both the world and themselves by the end, but I doubt that anything like that will happen to me. Instead, I’m sure that I’ll only have more questions, then some answers, then more questions. I can’t count on any sort of omniscient player to guide me through my own little game of life. Instead, all I can do is wake up and go to work every day, and hope that I’m moving forward as best as I can.

 

 

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