In the game world, he pulls out a piece of bright purple nethicite to demonstrate. The nethicite he holds is a man-made version of magicite, a naturally occurring element in Ivalice that contains magical powers. In Final Fantasy XII, the Archadian Empire strip mines natural magicite in order to create nethicite and use it for nefarious, power mongering purposes. Zukowski admits that one could draw parallels between the nethicite of Ivalice and Earth's weapons of mass destruction and nuclear power capabilities. He is cautious, however, of calling the game a parable. "Truthfully, I don't think Final Fantasy XII reflects on current events that much. Most of the game is about war, tyrants, gods, revenge and oppressed people. Those are some pretty basic archetypes that we have seen in narratives before."
Although it may be as manufactured as nethicite, what Zukowski enjoys most about FAQ writing is finding hidden meaning in stories. "I love to deconstruct works of fiction. I minored in art history and enjoy bleeding pieces of all the meaning and aesthetics." To break down a game's themes, he applies a technique he learned during his days as a student: "zooming out," which is the process of looking at a work on three levels - its composition, its subject and its context. "First, you look at it formally - for example, the colors and shapes and texture of a work," he says. "Then, you pull back and look at what the work is about. Then, you pull back further and look at how that work fits into a time period. The practice of doing that can work in any medium - books, movies, games, etc."
Zukowski's irreverent walkthroughs and innovative analyses may help him make a name for himself in the game-writing arena, but his primary motivation for writing FAQs is to create a dialogue between himself and other gamers. "I think the biggest reason I did it was to get some of my ideas out there and see what other people think about them and then respond," he says.
But he also does it for the love of the game. "The way I write FAQs are kind of like the most intimate way to explore a work. That is why I did a Final Fantasy XII FAQ. I don't really like Final Fantasy games or even RPGs, but they always have so much meaning built into them that they are begging to be deconstructed like this."
Just then, a Skull Knight materializes and attacks. Zukalous tears into it with his sword. The fiend responds with a swift jab to his gut. I throw him a Hi-Potion to repair the damage and send a lightning-infused arrow into the skeleton's ribcage. It collapses and disappears. We each earn one license point - good toward learning a new ability. I let Zukalous take the cloth pouch the skeleton dropped; after all, he came all this way. He tucks it away in his mysteriously infinite, compact inventory and nods before moving on to the Feywood to combat enemies far beyond my reach.