"The Train is Life": Flash Reason
and the Notorious Monster Train in Final Fantasy XIV
Marc C. Santos is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. His research interests include rhetoric, digital media, ethics, postpedagogy, and gaming. His work has appeared in Kairos, Computers and Composition, Philosophy and Rhetoric, and Composition Forum.
I want to share my own tautegorical experience. An instant of wit. See, I had an epiphany in Eureka, the end game zone in Final Fantasy XIV. Like any MMO, FFXIV involves inordinate amounts of grinding. The Final Fantasy series have a particularly notorious reputation for being extra-grindy. I still shudder at the thought of racing a chocobo. But, upon its release, many players insisted that the grind in Eureka was the worst of the worst.
If you dangle a carrot in front of an MMO player, they will be drawn to it, and so I was drawn to Eureka. I had grinded for about 4 hours when I sent a message out to the zone: “Ugh, this is such terrible game design. I can’t stand this grinding.” My message elicited one response: “The train is life.”
I had seen a few references to “the train” in the game’s chat box—mostly high level players messaging “LFG for the NM train.” I had no idea what the NM train was, but figured it was the Eureka’s final encounter--some other horrible grindy thing I could do after I finished the other horrible grindy things. I was wrong.
Eureka has a unique mechanic. Kill enough of a particular kind of monster and a Notorious Monster will spawn. These monsters were designed to be incredibly challenging for the game’s typical 8 person teams. But Eureka has another interesting dimension to its design--while groups were still limited to 8 players, the zone itself could hold 140 players at any given time. You could walk around and see and help other groups.
The NM train represents the spontaneous realization amongst players (Eureka) of how to collectively overcome the game’s programmed boundaries. Instead of a bunch of individuated groups, folks in Eureka move as one large trailing mass--often a full 140 players—moving together from spot to spot to summon and easily defeat monsters. Beyond a collective, rational solution to the game’s poor design, they signify a tautological, “phronetic,” affective, electrate, experience.
Those experiencing the Notorious Monster train share a flash of care. They are, in Butler’s terms, an assembly, “a provisional and plural form of coexistence that constitutes a distinct ethical and social alternative” to neoliberal, individualistic, responsibility (16). My own wonderment came as I saw level 20 players waiting to make sure lower level players made it to the train’s next stop. People putting their own gear and XP at risk to raise those who have fallen. In a gaming environment often noted for toxic behavior, I saw the spontaneous assemblage of care as a social, distributed obligation. Eureka, I thought to myself, maybe the kids are alright, because the train is life.