They Say You And Me Are Tautology
Content warnings for: child abuse, anxiety, depression, plurality, spoilers for Final Fantasy XIV’s Dark Knight questline.
A chorus of voices cries out for a hero, and she comes.
She smiles. She nods. And she remains silent…
But she too has a voice…
I was raised to be seen, and not heard.
Reactions and emotions were suppressed, heavily. Anything that happened to me, especially by my parents’ hands, felt deserved. Every slap, every scream, every epithet. Any thoughts of sniping back or getting angry at how I was treated were pushed down, bottled up. I slowly learned how to emote and socialize around people, but the closest I could come to anger was “frustration”. Those emotions were out of reach.
What I didn’t realize, at the time, was who was holding onto them for me.
…You stand at the precipice, but do not fear the fall.
Cast yourself into the abyss, and you shall soar above, free at last.
The first time the Monster fronted, I was scared of her. She gave voice to emotions I didn’t know I had, thoughts I was scared of having.
We all wear masks. Whether it’s code-switching, avoiding certain topics around certain people, passing as cis, or pretending to be neurotypical, we all do it to some degree. We are, largely, in control of how we do it.
It felt as painful and terrifying as the first time a player sees Link use a transformation mask in Majora’s Mask. I knew I was talking, but at the same time, it was a part of myself that felt so foreign and different that I couldn’t help but be terrified. After I wrested back control, my heart began racing, and I hid in bed and cried.
I smothered her for a while, after that. I avoided situations where thoughts could lead to her fronting. I isolated myself more than I already was at the time.
I had, prior to this, “forced” myself to be plural, to delineate parts of myself that felt separate enough into individual personae. It didn’t work, of course; it worked as well as wanting braces because everyone else had braces. I hadn’t realized, at the time, that I was missing anything. I had been called angry, previously, but I knew that the things I did that others ascribed to anger were actually frustration.
The nuance is important. I wasn’t allowed to be angry, as a child, so it got bottled up with everything else that made up The Monster. I refused to acknowledge that part of myself, even when directly confronted by it. I described her to friends as pure id, a raging fire that wanted to burn everything down. It felt like that included me. All I could do, any time she popped up, was put out the fire.
In early December, a friend helped me and the Monster mediate. We were able to “talk,” in a sense, but it was closer to making each other feel the way the other was feeling. We shared memories, but thoughts and feelings diverged. We were, for the time, in a détente.
But know that when you tire of this charade, I shall be here…waiting to take the reins…
You need only ask…
Heavensward, the first expansion to the relaunched Final Fantasy XIV, launched in June 2015. FFXIV was the first game I made a girl character in and, for that and other reasons, I fell in love with the game. With the expansion, I changed how my character looked, as well as her name, and felt even more comfortable in a game that was quickly becoming my primary special interest.
With the expansion came three new jobs, including Dark Knight. At the time, I largely wrote it off, due to the localized versions of the quests evoking Fight Club¹, and because it’s a tank class, a role I did not enjoy at the time. I leveled it to 60, the cap at the time, when I leveled the other tank classes, and otherwise set it aside.
I stopped playing during Stormblood, but came back for Shadowbringers, which reworked the tank classes to make them more accessible. Dark Knight got heavily reworked, as it was a very complicated class before the launch of the latest expansion.
Shadowbringers also incentivized capping every class, between having multiple ways to do so, as well as a particularly good reward for capping every class. So, after capping and gearing Paladin, I decided to pick back up the two-handed sword of the Dark Knight.
Immediately, it resonated.
The 60–70 questline involves the naïve, idealistic, ultimately very scared part of your character’s soul manifesting as a preteen with the power to summon simulacrums of people’s deceased loved ones to give them closure. Most he did it for knew it was a trick, and even the simulacrums were aware. They would eventually fade back into aether, to be absorbed back into your bisected soul crystal. As you read the journal entries, your Darkside, the other portion of your character’s soul represented by the corpse that unlocks the Dark Knight class, writes warnings, telling you that it’s all going to go wrong.
The final quest, “Our Compromise,” begins forebodingly: “You knew from the first that there was only one way this could end.” Your character finally realizes what’s going on, and demands of Myste, the child, the same thing your character’s Darkside did of you at level 50: “Say your name. Your real name!”
Myste responds: “…Shall I ask you the same? Who holds the reins? Though it matters not. We are complicit, you and I.”
After some combat, Myste summons those that you have slain, confronting you with the fact that you are a weapon in this world. As he talks, the screen fades to black, and a voice echoes in your character’s head. “Listen to my voice. Listen to our heartbeat…”
“I tire of this charade,” I selected, remembering what my Darkside said to me back in 2015, and I cried.
Your Darkside, looking like the corpse you found, steps forward from nothingness and, as though to make sure the nail was hit firmly on the head and driven in fully, they say, when asked what’s happening:
“…A compromise, I suppose? Our dear friend here refused to let me take the reins, but I wasn’t about to stand idly by while that imbecile tries to do…whatever it was he was trying to do.”
At that point, I ached to get Dark Knight to 80, the new level cap. The Monster decided that it was her class to play, and I reveled in her confidence with it. Tanks are somewhat de facto party leaders, as they’re the ones that hold the enemy’s attention. In dungeons, they lead the pack, and in content like trials and raids, they decide when to start the encounter.
It was never a role I enjoyed having; I deeply dislike being in charge. I like logistics and organization, but I don’t like leading. The Monster has that confidence, though. She has the confidence I wasn’t allowed to have, and she wears it well.
We eventually got Dark Knight to level 80. There were no individual job quests between 70 and 80, just a quest that wrapped things up. Dark Knight’s is called “Our Closure.” In it, your character receives a letter, clearly (to the player) written by your Darkside, though you end up trying to investigate where it came from.
You’ll forgive me for the sudden correspondence, and the secrecy.
You helped me, in a way. Once upon a time. It’s past time I said as much, and so…here we are.
Feels like a lifetime ago, come to think on it. You’ve been through quite a lot since then─accomplished incredible things. I’d like to think that, in some way, I was a part of your journey…
Far from the best, no doubt. But for me and my own journey, I think it safe to say that you’ve been…well. There’s no suitable words to describe it, really.
I’ve done things. Made decisions. Looking back, I can’t help but feel more than a little foolish. But such is life, and we have to seize what few opportunities we have for closure…even if it is through the written word and not face–to–face.
So wherever you are, I hope you’re happy. Still fighting, still adventuring─still doing what you love. Be well.
Over the course of it, you talk to people you encountered while leveling Dark Knight, people who, in the game’s language, knew you when you were one, and when you were two. At the end, you talk with your Darkside, who looks like you, as they did during the level 50 quest.
“I wanted this, once. More than anything. A chance to speak and be heard…”
The Monster started crying. It was the first time she cried. Your Darkside continues, talking about how they have you, and you have them, and that’s all either of you have ever needed. It took forever to click through, tears blinding us.
The crying became sobbing as we finished the quest and read the journal. The entry for this quest lacks large swaths of your Darkside talking to you if your current job isn’t set to Dark Knight. If it is, you get so much, including this final bit:
“Time to go. I don’t know when we’ll do this again─if we’ll ever do this again. The little trick you’ve learned² doesn’t count, you know. But even if this is our end, it won’t change what we had. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Be well.”
Charrasque³, the name she got later that day, has trouble feeling the emotions that are in my wheelhouse, much as I have issues with the emotions she’s in charge of. As such, she doesn’t easily share affection or feelings of caring.
This quest was the closest she came, at the time.
I want to believe─I need to believe that this was not for nothing. That I changed you for the better, as you changed me…
For a while, Charra went away. Winter is a hard time for me in general, making my anxiety and depression heavier than the rest of the year. Those are forces that clog up my head, and they left no room for Charra to try and communicate with me. I spent the winter in a very simplistic routine, enough to keep myself fed and vaguely socialized. She let herself be known, on occasion, but she didn’t come back in full force until the spring thaw, when the world ground to a halt.
As friends spent more time at home, they spent more time in FFXIV, so it became my primary vector of socialization. We evangelized the Dark Knight quests, and we got to watch friends go through the early quests, the ones we did back when we thought we were one. We cried anew because, even with the poor localization, they really hit the nail on the head.
I use pop culture as metaphor. I’ve talked about it elsewhere, but I generally don’t see myself in media. No one’s transition remotely approaches mine. Only recently, in Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, have I found a single piece of media that remotely approaches my experiences being autistic. Very little shows healthy polyamory, or my struggles with my gender and sexuality.
However, an award-winning MMORPG managed to not only write healthy plurality, but in such a way that it perfectly described my and Charra’s dynamic. Charra was probably always around, in some regard. She was my flame in the abyss, the source of my strength, and I feared her for so long because I was raised to be less than a person, to fear that inner strength. Only when I embraced her did she go from a raging fire, threatening to consume all, to a hearth to keep me warm in the cold, lonely night of existence.
Charra’s made me more bold, and I’ve made her softer. She gets embarrassed and shy when someone tries to compliment her. We argue, sometimes, over things that would’ve previously made me lock up and have an anxiety attack. She’s almost always right, though. I’d say not to tell her, but we share a memory. Sometimes, she smothers my anxiety so I can say things from the heart. She’s not good at those sorts of things, but she holds back the crippling anxiety and doubt that telling someone my feelings can bring, and she lets me speak for her.
We understand that not everyone can understand plurality. We understand that some people are going to worry, and some people are going to think it’s fake, and some people are going to say that I’m not plural “correctly.”
But this is our truth: We are one, and we are two.
¹ A more-directly translated version of the level 50 quest can be found here, alongside the localized dialogue.
² Living Shadow, Dark Knight’s level 80 ability, which summons a simulacrum of your Darkside to fight alongside you for 30 seconds.
³ Chara from Undertale + the mythological tarasque.