07/09/2012 08:43 am ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

Worshipping Final Fantasy Video Games

They may not be Trekkies, but Final Fantasy fans can hold their own in terms of devotion to the material.

Two years ago, I visited Wolf Trap outside Washington, D.C. to watch a performance of "Distant Worlds: The Music of Final Fantasy." Dressed up fans were everywhere -- the guy with the spiked hair and giant sword a la Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, the guy in an oversized mage hat and blue robe like that of Vivi from Final Fantasy IX and an assortment of other video game characters brought to life.

For those not familiar with the iconic role-playing video game series Final Fantasy, suffice to say that Final Fantasy has a near-religious following. Similar to other fan communities, Final Fantasy fans worship through their fan art, their fan fiction and fan music.

It's been hard to avoid the Final Fantasy news in recent days. Released just last Tuesday, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy is a new rhythm video game that draws on popular music from more than 13 Final Fantasy games. Square-Enix, the publisher of the series, will be releasing a new game, Final Fantasy Dimensions, for iPhone and iPad in the next few weeks. And The Last Story, a highly anticipated game by the original creator of Final Fantasy, will be released July 31.

What makes this fan following so fascinating isn't just its instance on new games but on the continued re-re-releasing of old games.

Exhibit A: Look at the coverage of the re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions on iPad in January. Hotly expected for more than a year, the game had already been released on iPhone in Fall 2011, the Playstation Portable in 2007 and released on the original Playstation in 1998. There was full-blown digital fury that the game wasn't released at the expected time, and then further fury when it didn't meet expectations -- and this was for a re-released game. This isn't Mass Effect 3.

Exhibit B: Look at the fan obsession with a remake of Final Fantasy VII, perhaps the most popular Final Fantasy game. Square-Enix also caused an online fan fest when they announced Thursday they were re-releasing Final Fantasy VII on PC. But fans were dismayed that it was not the long called for remake.

Henry Jenkins sees this sort of attachment to a brand as a type of fan behavior that is not unlike a religion itself. It's a participatory culture that people become attached to a product from which they make meaning. And those who participate in this way are becoming increasingly important to media industry leaders. In his book "Convergence Culture," he writes:
"In the past decade, the Web has brought these consumers from the margins of the media industry into the spotlight ... What might once have been seen as "rogue readers" are now Kevin Roberts's "inspirational consumers."

This isn't the only instance when a Final Fantasy product has caused the digital masses to rise in an uproar. The Last Story originally wasn't planned for U.S. release and that oversight, accompanied by gamers' desire for Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora's Tower brought about an advocacy group called Operation Rainfall, who worked to bring all three games to the states. Thus far, they've proven successful.

What does attachment to game brand like Final Fantasy imply about the games? Is it just that they're so good that they leave gamers continually wanting more?

The stories of Final Fantasy themselves, looked at broadly, are pretty standard sword-and-sorcery fantasy fare:

  • There's some great evil confronting a horribly over matched, but determined group of heroes.
  • These heroes must confront obstacles in their own lives in order to deal with the greater threat to the world.
  • Inevitably, somebody important (and somebody the heroes care about) dies.
  • Other times, the evil is humanized and they're just horribly misled. But most often the evil is beyond reason, beyond their humanity.
This list contains many elements of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey," a myth Campbell demonstrates as appearing in stories throughout human civilization. Fans find that Final Fantasy has tapped into a deep well with that myth. And the narrative is growing with the fans that love it.