“Ludographic Metafiction”, Metaverses, and the Ecocriticism of FFVII: Remake-Darshana Jayemanne and Ruth EJ Booth

This talk explores the concept of “ludographic metafiction” in a reading of the self-reflexive ecocritical themes in Final Fantasy VII: Remake (Square-Enix 2020). Ludographic metafiction modifies Hutcheon’s concept of Historiographic Metafiction’ with Fantasy, Fan and Game Studies perspectives. On the one hand, LM designates the ways that fantastic metafictional and adaptational devices, such as alternative universes, are increasingly mediating relations between digital games and other contexts: for example, in the Mortal Kombat series and Fortnite. On the other hand, LM designates emergent ludic practices that such references to gaming’s history bring to reception, interpretation and creation.
Final Fantasy VII (1997) occupies a storied place in the Fantasy Games canon as one of the PlayStation platform’s most audio-visually impressive early releases. The storyline followed eco-terrorist group Avalanche as they recruit laconic mercenary Cloud Strife in order to fight back against energy corporation Shinra. The company is creating power and profit by unsustainably drawing on the “Lifestream” which circulates through the planet. In their quest, Cloud and Avalanche discover a larger threat even than Shinra – the super soldier Sephiroth, created by Shinra by combining human cells with that of an ancient alien being called Jenova, “the Calamity From the Skies”. Final Fantasy VII: Remake reworks the formerly anthropocentric ecocritical themes and the ludography of the original game by giving new agency to the Planet itself through metafictional characters the ‘Whispers’.
Whispers are spectral hooded figures, “arbiters of fate”, who selectively appear to characters in the game at significant points in the story and enact “the will of the planet itself”. This represents a departure from typical anthropomorphizations of Nature in Western Fantasy as a victim of harmful human action, such as the Summer Lady (Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith). As a metafictional device, players are encouraged identify with the Whispers, who share the Final Fantasy VII fan community’s interest in preserving the original narrative. However, this creates tension in the narrative. Player characters Red XIII and Aerith also have metafictional awareness that following the original narrative would mean the elimination of mankind and her death respectively. Furthermore, antagonist Sephiroth and Aerith both have powers that allow them to resist the will of the Whispers, creating additional temptation in Sephiroth’s offer to Cloud to join him. While players are not given the choice to follow Sephiroth, players negotiate these conflict needs through the ludographic narrative of the game, culminating in the climactic battle against both Sephiroth and the Whispers. In the original, players were encouraged to identify solely with their own player characters, each with their own stakes in saving the planet, and against Sephiroth. The metafictional elements of Remake present a more nuanced reading of the current ecocritical discourse, where the question is no longer whether we can stop our planet responding to pollution through climate change, but by how we mitigate this response to save ourselves and the planet. As this exploration shows, Ludographical Metafiction has implications for future explorations of increasingly popular ecocritical themes in games, and their responsiveness to cultural discourse.

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