Tuesday, March 30, 2021

[grcatcep] lynching Sephiroth

the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy 7 caused a lot of grief (various stages of grief) in players.  why?  inspired by https://xkcd.com/299/, exemplifying denial.

one hypothesis is that the game developers (writers) did a very good job at creating a character to whom players felt emotionally connected.  given how much Aerith's death stands out among all video games, if this hypothesis is true, then the writers must have done a monumentally good job, a feat of writing that has rarely been approached before or since.

(digression: one alternate hypothesis for why Aerith's death hit so hard (in some) is its historical context.   FF7 was the first (Western) video game which had a deep and expansive story.  gamers were not expecting it, not psychologically prepared for it.  subsequent games may have done story just as well or better, but the surprise was gone.)

some possibly important points of Aerith characterization:

  1. meeting at the church: be my bodyguard to go on a date with me.
  2. lack of fear in entering a situation with a high probability of being sexually violated (Wall Market in general, Don Corneo's mansion specifically).
  3. Golden Saucer date: conversation at the end of the gondola ride looking forward to a future date.
  4. quickly forgiving after Cloud hands over the Black Materia to Sephiroth at the Temple of the Ancients.
  5. quickly forgiving after Cloud beats her at the Temple of the Ancients.  we assume the dream sequence in the forest was actual telepathic communication (not wishful thinking) because it also provided correct information about where Aerith went.
  6. nice theme song (used effectively in the boss battle immediately after her death)

1 and 3 set up good hopes for the future.

1, 2 and 5 (and others) suggest that her character has high mental fortitude, high self-qi, a rare and valuable quality in a person, so therefore someone heartbreaking to lose.  she wants to spend time with, is seemingly attracted to, a flawed (seemingly schizophrenic) character / player surrogate.  perhaps gamers saw themselves in the flawed Cloud, feeling undeserving of affection from such a rare person?

many of these characterization points could be explained away by the need to advance plot.  others are very standard literary tropes, e.g., girl in love with protagonist, setting up hopes for the future only to dash them, that have been done and continue to be done over and over again.  although gamers might not have encountered the tropes in games, they certainly must have encountered them in other fiction.  there doesn't seem to be anything monumentally special in Aerith's characterization.

(this post was also inspired by Final Fantasy 7 Remake which put a lot of effort into more characterization of many of its characters; we'll see whether it "sticks", whether players feel emotionally connected to the characters.)

some players were less emotionally affected by Aerith's death than others.  why?  one traditional explanation is Cloud/Tifa shippers versus Cloud/Aerith shippers, though i doubt that is the whole story.

another hypothesis is that (some) players became emotionally invested in Aerith because they had expended effort in leveling her up ("grinding").  but grinding happens in many games, as does character death.  why did Aerith's death cause so much grief compared to other games with similar mechanics?

this question of what caused the grief is important, because grief over someone In Real Life dying (or even getting hurt), grief comparable to (or greater than) what some felt over Aerith, can motivate significant Real Life actions.  for example, consider this Youtube comment about Aerith's death: "Ah yes, the exact moment when the game became a grind-fest for max level and max stats, just so I could brutally murder a self-styled god for this heresy. Good times."

if a large number of people were to take such an angry attitude of grief over a real life person, the group's desire for violent retribution might result in a lynching.  many historical lynchings center around a young woman being hurt.

is understanding the psychology of grief and subsequent actions over a fictional character in a game useful for understanding grief and actions in real life?  can such understanding help predict actions?  can it predict lynchings or other grief-driven violence?

expounding further on the "grinding" theory: hypothesize significant grief occurs if someone feels they have expended a lot of their own personal effort in producing the person who has been hurt or killed.  "producing" means effort in having made the victim a "high quality" person.  this might be dark: manipulation, ownership of (part of) a person, "grooming" (in the context of pedophilia).  previously, hypothesizing a tribe claiming ownership over a young woman's romantic relationships.  is "it takes a village" sinister?

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