Recently I received an eviction notice. I was going to be booted out of my house in a matter of weeks, with my property demolished shortly after. There would be a new property developer on the way in no time, swooping in like a vulture to erect a new building on the ground where my home once stood. That is, unless I pay the low-low price of £7.69 to save my place from the seedy landowners known as Square Enix.
You see, this isn't my real-life house we're talking about. This is my Final Fantasy 14 home, the one I spent nine hours relentlessly clicking on a placard to get. I've been a proud virtual homeowner for over 18 months now, but I've also been a proud unsubscribed from Final Fantasy virtual homeowner for a good chunk of 2023. It's one of those all-or-nothing games for me, and in the interest of broadening my horizons and pursuing other hobbies, I've relegated myself to enjoying most of the MMO from afar this year.
You know the one thing I can't enjoy from a distance, though? My home if it becomes a pile of rubble amongst the cool white bricks of Limsa Lominsa's residential ward. You see, for the uninitiated, Final Fantasy 14's housing system is sort of a mess. None of the houses are instanced, which is real neat for seeing your neighbours and having everything feel a little more immersive, but for quality-of-life and ensuring everyone gets a roof over their head? It's a bloody nightmare.
It means that to try and keep things moving, anyone who doesn't turn up to their house for 45 days automatically has it bulldozed. It seems harsh on the surface, but when the game is heaving with players it's a great way to give everyone a fair shot at being a homeowner. After all, if you're gone for almost two months do you really need that real estate?
In my case, absolutely yes I do. I have an awful lot of sentimental attachment to that place at this point and—terribly sorry to all my non-homeowning Warriors of Light out there—I'm not willing to give it up so easily.
Due to the devastating Turkey-Syria earthquakes, Square Enix had actually paused automatic demolition rules on EU servers. It was a considerate gesture towards those dealing with very real, very serious events, but also one that let a freeloader like me avoid the subscription tax for longer than I technically should have. Now it was time to pay up...
Home is where the heart is
One begrudging subscription and a hefty update later and I was back, standing in the same spot I had logged out from months before, as if time in Eorzea had kindly stopped while I decided to bugger off for over half a year. Nothing had changed, and yet it felt so oddly alien.
I teleported over to my house, walked in and was kindly informed that my home was saved from impending doom. But… now what? Was I really just going to pay almost £10 to log in once and then disappear for the rest of the month? Of course not. Even if I wanted to I couldn't, because when I say nothing had really changed, I meant it.
My friends and former guildmates were still gallivanting around—sure they might have had different names, appearances or been in different guilds, but they were all still here. And they missed me. I missed them, too. Being able to virtually reunite with someone you've never met in real life is a strange feeling. Having friends repeatedly hug emote me—their arms flailing back and forth as the animation looped—or my slightly more chaotic friends sending me direct messages that were little more than incoherent all-caps garbling reminded me that I had really missed this game and the people who inhabit it.
I had kept in touch with some of my Final Fantasy pals through Discord and Instagram, but being able to stand next to them in a virtual world and catch up felt like sitting down with a friend and a cup of tea. Being able to run roulettes and have them help me get up to speed on the latest dungeons pulled me straight back into a world I'd spent most of this year keeping my distance from.
Honestly, if I hadn't felt compelled to come back and save my house, I don't think I would have returned to Final Fantasy 14 any time soon. Maybe that's Square Enix's trick—reeling you back in and reminding you of all the cool reasons you lost thousands of hours of your life. I'm fully back in the throes of everything Eorzea has to offer now, and I even managed to bring friends along with me.
Around eight of my real-life pals have just picked up the game too, giving me a whole new reason to spend my time playing. Ferrying them between quests, helping them in dungeons and having even more people I can give the house tour to is a real blessing.
I'll never be super happy to pay rent—for a real-life home or a videogame one—but in this particular case, I'm glad the Square Enix landlords came knocking. I've got loads of cool stuff to catch up on, friends to do it all with, and a beautiful home to retire to at the end of a long day. That's pretty neat if you ask me.