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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: Final Fantasy VII's Midgar

I'm just an average guy of average age living in an average town working an average job. Sounds pretty average, right?

I don't claim to know much about economics, finances, or the stock market. I imagine that if I had, I wouldn't have nearly the average life I currently live today, now would I? But, I don't really get what's going on with the economy, and it's not because of ignorance as much as it is me just being completely clueless.

I keep reading about all of these Occupy Wall Street movements that are popping up all over the world.  It is true that as of this writing, most of these groups have been dispelled or asked to vacate their protest spots, but there's still a few people protesting away.

It all kicked off in September 2011 when a group of people started protesting in Zuccotti Park, which was near New York City's Wall Street financial district. Some of the things the group was protesting were economic and social inequality, high unemployment, greed, corruption amongst financial leaders, and undue influences of corporations and the government.

I'm also hearing a lot of talk about the 99% and the 1%. The 1% supposedly representing the wealthiest people in the world, and the other 99% being the rest of the world, and how the divide between rich and poor keeps dividing.

But, is it really that dire?

Some statistics and charts seem to say that it is. Reportedly, in 2006, the top 1% of the world earned 18.8% of all income made...which is a little more than double the percentage of the same amount earned by the top 1% in 1980. And a study done in 2007 reported that only 20% of all Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth, while the bottom 80% only owned 15%.

Some rather sobering statistics there.

And, I'm not saying that things aren't grim in the economical aspect. I'm getting by, yes, but I certainly would not classify my own status as being within the 1%. And yes, I'm sure that there are some business owners and heads of huge conglomerates that have done some rather shady business dealings, and have ended up causing more harm than good. Just Google Bernie Madoff to see what I mean.

But at the same time, there are lots of people who have legitimately worked their fingers to the bone to get everything that they have gotten in their lives. They've scrimped and saved everything to be able to afford the lifestyle they live, much to the expense of spending time away from their homes and families to do this.

So, I guess my opinion of Occupy Wall Street is this. I can understand the message behind it, and I can even understand the frustration that a lot of people are feeling over it...but I don't think I myself can fully support the least not one hundred per cent. If I knew that everyone in the 1% was a corrupt, evil individual whose only purpose in life is to make money, I suppose I might feel differently. It would be so much simpler if everything was so cut and dry, but the truth is, it just isn't so.

That's really all I have to say about that. But it's interesting that today's featured video game is set in a world that much like ours seemed to be experiencing the same thing in regards to the 1% vs. 99% mentality that some in our world seem to have.

Have any of you played the video game Final Fantasy VII? It was released worldwide in 1997 by Square, and depending on who you ask, it can either be the best game in the whole Final Fantasy franchise, or the most overrated.

Myself? I enjoyed the game very much. Apparently, so did a lot of others. There were spinoffs, and mobile games, and movies made from Final Fantasy VII. And nearly fifteen years since its release on the PlayStation console, the game is still debated and discussed by players all over the world.

(SPOILER ALERT: Yes, Aeris Gainsborough dies in the game, and no, you CANNOT bring her back to life. EVER.)

Final Fantasy VII is a HUGE game to get through. The last time I played the game myself, I think the timer read something like fifty-six hours or somewhere around that number.  And, no, I didn't play those fifty-six hours consecutively. That would be insanely stupid.  And besides, I saw the episode of 1000 Ways To Die that dealt with people dying after marathon video game sessions to verify my stance on the matter.

But just to give you an idea as to how big the game was to play, the first six to eight hours of the game are spent in ONE city. One gigantic metropolis of a city which could have easily had an Occupy Wall Street protest group within its limits if it were real.

And that city is what this blog topic is about.

Welcome to Midgar. The largest city in the entire world of Final Fantasy VII. A city where some of the richest and most prosperous people in the world live on the upper levels of the city. The city is divided into nine sectors, numbered from 0-8. There's always lots to do on the upper levels of the town. If you wanted to see a play called Loveless, you could. If you wanted to buy a car, you could. If you wanted to live a life of luxury, you could.

The centerpiece of MIdgar was the massive skyscraper, located in the heart of Sector 0. The skyscraper was the official headquarters of the Shinra Electric Power Company. The employees of the company were well paid, and the company was a moneymaker from the get-go. It originally started off as a weapons manufacturer, but over the last few years, the company made the decision to provide electric power to the global population. The more that people paid, the easier life became. The way that Shinra provided the electric power was through the use of newly discovered mako energy. The company initially started extracting mako from the planet to use for powering up appliances and keeping lights turned on, but soon the company got greedy. Headed by President Shinra, his son Rufus, and such minions as Heidegger, Scarlet, Palmer, and Professor Hojo, the Shinra Company started building reactors in other towns, and began infusing mako energy into powerful weapons. The company used some of the profits to hire a huge military force, even building a military base in the town of Junon to send a message to the world.

The message was that they were in full control, and that the world better appreciate them or else.

The company even injected young men with mako energy to turn them into SOLDIERS, whose sole purpose was to defend the company against everyone who tried to stop them.

And certainly, there were people who wanted to stop them.

The main group being that of AVALANCHE, a group that Shinra has dubbed a terrorist organization. When we first meet the group, there are a total of six members. There's Barret Wallace, the leader of the group, who orders the team to destroy each and every one of Midgar's Mako Reactors. There's Tifa Lockhart, a bartender who doubles as an expert in martial arts. Then there's Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, a trio of people who specialize in building bombs, breaking codes to secret rooms, and creating fake identification cards.

And then we have Cloud Strife, the newest member of AVALANCHE, who has a childhood connection to Tifa, and who seems to have brief moments of deja vu during the course of the game, but he's unsure of what they mean.

We quickly learn by playing through the first few minutes of the game, and blowing up Sector 1's reactor why AVALANCHE is against Shinra.

Immediately after blowing up Sector 1's reactor, the group escape to Sector 7. But, not the part of the sector that is above ground, where all the nice, rich folk live their lives. No, the group's hideout in Sector 7 is actually below the upper level of the city of Midgar.

It could be best described as this. On the upper level of Midgar, the whole city (save for Sector 6 which at the time of the game was still under construction) was built on a gigantic platform, which could be described as a gigantic pizza. On top of the plate were lavish condos, expensive stores, and multimillion dollar factories.

Underneath the plate though were a whole bunch of towns. It was said that long before the construction of upper Midgar, the towns all had their own names and individual identities, but since Midgar was built, the towns lost their names, and are now referred to by the sector number directly above them.

There was another side effect to being underneath the plate. The people who lived underneath them lived a life of poverty. The homes they lived in were run-down and usually haphazardly constructed from old cardboard boxes and pieces of torn down buildings. The people in the slums basically did whatever they could to survive. They sold broken objects and repaired used things to make a living. Some got lucky by setting up shop in the seedy Sector 6 Wall Market. Mostly, they resorted to mugging and stealing from people to get money for food. Things were that bad.

The AVALANCHE headquarters were located underneath Sector 7, and unlike most of the other slums, Sector 7 at least had a tight-knit community feel to it. Sure, the structures were dilapidated and falling apart, but the people of Sector 7 were like a family to one another. Tifa ran a bar in the area called Tifa's Seventh Heaven, and this bar was the meeting spot for AVALANCHE. It was where they spied on Shinra from below, and where they plotted their next attacks against their reactors.

But before you go thinking that AVALANCHE was a bunch of terrorists who just wanted to cause trouble, consider this. You've seen pictures of Midgar in this blog entry. Does it not seem a little dark to you? That's because one side effect of the extraction of Mako energy for electric power was the huge levels of pollution it caused. Sure, the people in Midgar lived in climate-control comfort inside their towers of glass and steel, but the people in the slums had to breathe in all the smoke and pollution that billowed from the city. Many got sick and even died as a result of it. And the effects weren't just being felt in Midgar.  In Shinra's secondary base at Junon, the fish nearby were dying, and the water was too polluted to fish or even swim in. A real devastating blow to the community, considering that it once had a great fishing industry prior to Shinra's expansion.

There's also some personal reasons behind why AVALANCHE wants to shut Shinra down.

For Barret, his hometown of Corel was razed to the ground by Shinra after the reactor there went haywire, and Shinra blamed the town, despite the fact that Shinra's cutting of costs in building the reactor was likely to blame.  The same could be said for Tifa and Cloud, as the same fate befell their hometown of Nibelheim (though ironically enough, not by Shinra). Another reactor exploded in the village of Gongaga, which is how Aeris joins the party (her boyfriend Zack lived in Gongaga and was executed by Shinra SOLDIERS).

You see what's happening here? Seems as though everything Shinra touches turns to dust. Nibelheim, Corel, Gongaga, and Junon were all negatively affected by Shinra. Some of these towns suffered hardships, and some were even destroyed.

You can see why Barret, Tifa, Cloud, and the others want to do everything in their power to stop Shinra from destroying even more lives.

So, on their next journey, they successfully destroy Sector 5's Reactor, but in the struggle, Cloud ends up separated from the rest of the group, and it's in the slums of Sector 5 that Cloud meets Aeris. An interesting note to make in Cloud's meeting of Aeris is that around Aeris' house, flowers and plants are not only growing, but thriving nearby. Odd that this one place in Midgar looks like a happy, serene place, while the rest of the city is dark and gloomy. But, that's a different story altogether. Just a little bit of a footnote.

Anyway, Cloud and Aeris manage to reunite with Tifa in the middle of Wall Market, and end up arriving in Sector 7 just in time to witness a Shinra attack outside of the pillar separating the upper plate from the slums. Cloud and Tifa rush up the pillar where Barret is holding off the troops, and try to fight the Shinra people off to their best advantage. But when Aeris is kidnapped, and taken off to Shinra Headquarters, AVALANCHE is forced to withdraw. To add insult to injury, a time bomb, ordered to be placed by President Shinra, explodes just as Barret, Cloud, and Tifa escape. 

The bomb takes out the pillar, and the upper portion of Sector 7 collapses right onto the Sector 7 slums. Everyone underneath the plate is killed instantly, including Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. The only survivor from Sector 7 is Barret's daughter, Marlene, who Aeris took to safety just before she was kidnapped by the Shinra.

The loss of Sector 7 is a devastating one for all involved, as the AVALANCHE team lost three members as well as everything they owned. Yet, it gave them even more ammunition for them to use against the Shinra company. For the Shinra company in that moment proved that they weren't above killing hundreds of innocent people just to protect their wealth and their prestige against those who wanted to take it away.

It was almost as if the company was getting a high from making the lives of those around them as miserable as possible, all for the incentive of a high salary and a life of luxury.

And really, corporations like that (and believe me, I'm sure that a few of them do exist in the world), are the types of corporations that the Occupy movement SHOULD be protesting against. Not the entire 1%. Just the part of the 1% that really need it.

I won't go on with describing the rest of the game in detail as it would take forever to talk about all the twists and turns. Heck, I'd need to do a whole entry on Sephiroth (the main antagonist of the game) alone. You'll just have to play it yourself.

But, I really wanted to talk about the city of Midgar in this blog entry. Because it's probably the best example I can think of to describe a worst case scenario. A place where dreams go to die a painful death, and where your every move is controlled by a corporation. I would also like to think that we're nowhere near experiencing this in the real world as of now, but you don't need to tell me how uncertain the future is. As I explained in this blog entry earlier, it would be easy to protest against companies like this if they all acted like Shinra Electric Power Company in Midgar, but we don't know that they are ALL like that. If they were, I would say, bring on the protest.

I guess for now, all we can hope for (especially for all of you in America who are celebrating Thanksgiving right now) is to look back, even if just for one day, and think how grateful we are to have what we have right now in the moment. Maybe some of you will take a look and see that you might have it pretty good right now, even if you are in the bottom 99% of the world.

After could be in Midgar where the divide between rich and poor is so great that you could put the entire Midwest in that gap.

1 comment:

  1. Let me just say this: the right-wing of the Republican Party has long been hell-bent on the kind of policies that will gradually make America look more and more like Midgar! Have you read the new Piketty book CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY? The kind of inequality levels it predicts 50-100 years from now are very frightening - and in a slow-growth economy of the kind Piketty is predicting, the only way to keep returns on existing wealth high will be if the working and middle classes see an ABSOLUTE decline in their living standards.

    So we're not just looking at wage growth lagging behind productivity growth. Real wages and median incomes might actually start trending downwards in the decades to come!

    If we're serious about preventing the Midgarization of America, we need to demand a lot more aggressive reforms than the current Democratic Party establishment is willing to consider. Getting both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to run in the 2016 primary would be a good start, though.