Corporate power has effectively taken over the government. Private military forces commit atrocities all across the world. The political system has been co-opted by corporations that have become so large they are effectively their own state. The poor and the rich are separated through housing zones. Meanwhile, the planet is dying. Greed and desire for power are killing the planet at a record pace. The extraction of energy from the ground is constant and unending, despite it being a limited resource. At a certain point, the knowledge of the planet’s destruction becomes obvious, but it is ignored by the corporations that are to blame for the sad state of affairs. The growing problem is even ignored by normal people, more concerned with making ends meet.
The world I described isn’t modern society. It’s the setting of Final Fantasy VII, the most popular traditional JRPG ever sold, pushing a staggering 11 million units worldwide as of 2015.
Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997, the same year the Kyoto Protocol was signed by the major countries of the world. At the time the treaty was a major success in reducing greenhouse gases and slowing the destruction of the planet. (George W. Bush removed the US from Kyoto in 2002).
Final Fantasy VII asks a provocative question. The beginning of the game essentially makes the player play the role of an environmental terrorist, tasked with causing damage to a corporation named Shinra that is destroying the world. The game leaves the question open as to whether the terrorists were justified in their act, but makes it clear that Shinra must be destroyed somehow.
Final Fantasy VII answers the question of what happens when business runs the government. In 2019, this cautionary tale clearly applies to the United States. Donald Trump is the epitome of business in America, and his Cabinet is riddled with the highest echelons of the corporate sector. Trump even meets regularly with Erik Prince-a villainous man who runs a private military that has committed atrocities. He even awarded Prince’s sister (Betsy Devos) with a Cabinet position. Like the President of Shinra, Trump doesn’t seem to care that the destruction of the planet is imminent. Shinra continues to extract the game’s version of oil, Mako Energy, even as the planet’s self defense mechanism threatens to kill everything that stands in its way. Likewise, Trump has doubled down on his love of coal (one of the most dirty energy sources on the planet) and has removed us from the one international climate treaty that could have made a shred of difference.
The real world even has a corporation similar to one found in Final Fantasy VII. Exxonmobil bears similarity to Shinra. Both corporations were warned that their extraction of energy from the planet would contribute to its eventual destruction (Exxon’s CEO was warned as early as the 1980’s). Shinra committed a genocide in a region of the Final Fantasy VII world called Wutai. Exxon similiarly contributed to slaughter in regional conflicts all over Africa. Shinra effectively owns the government. Exxon Mobile’s CEO was recently our Secretary of State. Both Shinra and Exxon are among the most powerful corporations in their respective worlds, and have used their money to corrupt and exacerbate political strife.
In Final Fantasy VII, everything works out in the end, but a significant cost is paid to both the planet and the heroes of the main story,. In the endgame, the Planet’s life force causes sickness to much of the world’s inhabitants. An epologue 500 years later shows that the planet has survived, and even thrived, but only after the destruction of mankind.
The reason Final FAntasy VII remains so popular to this day is mainly because it’s a fun game, but part of it’s lasting appeal is the fact that the story so closely resembles an exaggerated form of modern society.
Unlike the game, a group of half dozen heroes can’t save us. The only thing that can is our political will and ability to grasp the danger that now is imminent.
Final Fantasy VII is being remade in 2020, just months before the Presidential election. Like the original game’s release- the timing could not be more perfect. On the ballot will be a choice between a poisoned corporate hellscape or a world that heeds the warnings of a dying planet. Like the Heroes of Final Fantasy VII, let’s hope the US makes the right choice.