Judson King loves Sonic the Hedgehog.
His story made the rounds a while back: Kid loves Sonic the Hedgehog. Kid wants his own hedgehog. Since they’re illegal in Lawrence, Kansas, kid spends three years of his young life rallying to legalize hedgehogs so he could have his very own Sonic.
Fandom is weird. Sure, it’s kind of cool sometimes to see grown adults put aside their Serious Business and cosplay as Mega Man every now and then, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to find a few classic Star Wars collectibles sitting around the apartments of a few friends of mine. (One had a bust of a TIE fighter pilot mask and a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head, the other had models of the Lambda Shuttle and the Assault Gunboat.) At a certain point, however, things go too far, and I’m pretty sure that point is well before “I WANT HIM TO VOMIT IN MY MOUTH.”
It is ridiculous, of course. As a community of people who play videogames, we can sit around all day and question the sanity of someone who would marry a videogame character. (Isn’t Sonic just going to drop the wedding ring the next time he gets hit, anyway?) But why don’t we ask ourselves why this happens with videogames? To be sure, there are a number of factors that draw people to the distasteful outskirts of gaming fandom that we as a community could never hope to change – family abuse, developmental disorders, social trauma, etc. But there has to be more we can take from these stories than schadenfreude-driven delight. After all, they’re gamers too, and it couldn’t hurt to offer a hand of fraternal compassion – even if it’s partly motivated by the desire to stop Normal People from associating them with the hobby at large.
Another story I stumbled across of fandom gone wrong is commonly referred to by several Internet communities as the “FF7 House.” The saga is fully detailed here by a former resident of the house in hopes that no one else gets sucked into the drama and abuse, so I’ll stick to the Cliff’s Notes version.
The story starts with an innocent, if slightly eccentric, Final Fantasy 7 fangirl who, during lulls in freshman-year drinking, maintains a fan shrine for FF7 characters Cloud and Zack. Amid the daily duties of administering to Cloud and Zack fandom, she’s contacted by a supposed husband and wife couple who run a similar fan shrine for FF7‘s Professor Hojo. After a series of online exchanges, they convince her that she is, in fact, the real-world reincarnation of Zack, and she has finally found her fellow FF7 reincarnates (“soulbonds”) of Professor Hojo and Jenova. Then the “husband and wife” couple of Hojo and Jenova (who were actual lesbians) invite her to live with them for summer break.
From there, you can of course see how the situation would devolve into LARP magic fights, emotional abuse, very real fights followed by very real lesbian sex, suicide attempts, starvation and incredible financial drain. Supplementary accounts provided by others indicate that “Hojo” and “Jenova” may have manipulated tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses, gifts, etc. from those ensnared in their crazy Final Fantasy 7 cult. The Internet is serious business indeed.
Interestingly enough, one of the characters associated with the FF7 House (known only as “Aeris”) later became the subject of another roommate horror story. The tale was initially related by Pete, a retail manager by day and furry porn/hentai artist by night who posted his saga to a LiveJournal community called Housemate Horror. (Yes, this tale of game fandom gone awry was enough to weird out a guy who draws anthropomorphic animal characters having sex with each other.) While the original story has been taken down, the SomethingAwful Goons managed to save most of it here (scroll down to find working links).
This setting is a communal living situation in Southern California when a bunch of working professionals in their late 20s realize they need to find a new roommate after losing one to marriage. After an apparently rigorous screening process (over 500 inquiries, 150 applications and 17 interviews – did I mention rent was $500 a month including utilities?) they ended up with “Sarah,” a 27-year-old programmer whose only real blips seemed to be a boyfriend (who was out of town) and a few legal name changes. Naturally, it wasn’t until after she started getting a little weird that they discovered she a) was actually the head of a cult that believes they are reincarnations of characters from Suikoden, b) funded her living expenses by extracting donations from said cult members, and c) had legally changed her name to match that of her “soulbonded” character. That’s a twist you won’t find on The Real World. Highlights include: Sarah Gets A Job, Meet Sarah’s Boyfriend, and Sarah’s Suikoden Cultmates Come To Play.
To be sure, there isn’t a game we could design that would discourage this kind of behavior. That Sonic the Hedgehog grabs rings and spins does not lead us to the inevitable conclusion that someone out there will want to marry him, and while JRPGs may cater to a more obsessive crowd, level grinding doesn’t necessarily lead one down the path of abusive fan LARPing communes. I don’t think this kind of behavior is to be wholeheartedly scorned or feared, either. We’ve probably all known somebody whom the FF7 House or the Sarah Saga reminds us of. What’s more, we’ve probably all seen a little bit of ourselves in some of these people. As jaded as I am now to the adolescent escapism that gaming, anim