I don't know when I first saw Final Fantasy IX, but I remember my reaction to it: I immediately fell deeply in love with it - where I remain today - and I knew instantly that I would have to lie to my grandmother in order to get my hands on it.
My grandmother has always been adept at technology - after retiring from a position as a high school physics and chemistry teacher, she organized at least one cross-country extramarital affair through MSN chatrooms - and her house was always stocked with game consoles. At various points in my childhood, my grandmother's antebellum home housed an Atari 2600, an NES, a Sega Genesis (with a 32X attachment, oddly), an N64, and, finally, a PlayStation.
I knew instantly that I would have to lie to my grandmother in order to get my hands on it.
Simply asking my grandmother to buy me a videogame was a delicate proposition: Her pockets ran deeper than her children's, and hers was the only PlayStation I had access to. However, my grandmother didn't particularly like me, and a sprawling, single-player role-playing game was a hard sell when a more multiplayer-focused game could satisfy more grandchildren at once.
The source of the bitterness between my grandmother and I isn't particularly clear to me. One story, perhaps apocryphal, is that she particularly disliked my father, and that I inherited her scorn along with his genes. A more concrete explanation might be that I wasn't a particularly lovable grandson: Convinced that my grandmother hated me, I routinely launched pre-emptive strikes against her. I once spent an afternoon putting boogers all over the wall of her bedroom. I once peed in an out-of-the-way trashcan and left it to sour. In retrospect, I am not proud.
By time Final Fantasy IX was released in 2000, several years had passed and the bodily fluid-related attacks had abated, but the distrust remained. I recruited my younger, and better-loved, brother to my cause. I forget the specifics of the scheme, but it worked: my grandmother bought a copy of the game - ostensibly for everyone to share - but I monopolized it totally. I played it religiously, eventually taking my grandmother's PlayStation home after my cousins' interest in games waned.
Making my younger brother complicit in extorting a videogame out of my grandmother was probably - in most moral systems - wrong, but the weight of the lie doesn't compare to the effect the game itself had on my life.
I played Final Fantasy IX again during my first semester at a small, liberal arts university in Appalachia.
My first night there, I was upbraided by an upperclassman for neglecting to bring more than one blazer to school. Before I matriculated, all-male private boarding schools were the purview of turn-of-the-century England, but I soon learned that they continue to be the domain of young men from Virginia and Texas whose family heirlooms were emblazoned with crests and coats of arms. I later met and befriended a young woman rumored to be the heiress of whatever fortune is left in Kodak's coffers.
It's not that I didn't have friends, it's that the socio-economic gap between us rendered them completely, utterly alien to me. In comparison, a hometown friend of mine was once pistol-whipped by a drug dealer. I didn't belong there, my homesickness compounded by culture shock.
So, I dove back into the dual-worlds of Terra and Gaia, trying to suppress Kuja's black-market arms trade and navigate the geopolitics of various city-states like Alexandria, Lindblum, and Burmecia. Final Fantasy IX reminded me of home, and it was cheaper than driving the four hours back to Mississippi and less emotionally turbulent than the long-distance relationship I was trying to maintain.