If you’re like me, you grew up on the fringes of nerd culture, back before superhero movies were mainstream, with parents who were supportive albeit concerned with and perplexed by all of the brightly-colored garbage I funneled into my brain every day after school.
In particular, Japanese role playing games (JRPGs) were a point of confusion for mine and many other parents. These games were nothing like the Marios and Pac-Men of yesteryear — instead, they presented us with real characters and complex narratives. And when voice acting and cutscenes entered the picture, the potential for a parent to see or overhear something silly, embarrassing, or suspicious in a game skyrocketed.
Nowadays, everyone I know has a story about playing a JRPG, only to have their mother, or father, or older sister, or normie friend walk in at the absolute worst possible moment. A moment that renders this thing you love fundamentally unforgivable out-of-context, a moment that widens the cultural barrier between you and the people you love to unnavigable extremes. A moment that buries you deeper into the hole you’ve created for yourself. It’s a rite of passage for weirdos like us, so I reached out on Twitter to gather some of the best stories I could find. I was not disappointed.
5. The Son of a Preacher Man
“The first JRPG I ever touched was Final Fantasy VII. There is this one bit early on where you’ve got to seduce a crime lord in the slums, and to do so you’ve got to dress Cloud as a woman. For me, a child raised in a Southern Pentecostal home, this was an absolutely buck-wild side quest. My father walked in just as I’d finally convinced the crime lord to sleep with Cloud, and he left as soon as Tifa (I believe?) threatened to punch the crime lord’s dick off. We never talked about it, but a few weeks later my father preached a sermon on sexual temptation and I’ve always assumed it was in direct response. Oh, and yes, my father was a Pentecostal preacher.”
4. “I Can’t Pause During a Cutscene!”
“There was this one day when I was a middle school kid—my mom was out food shopping and I was home alone playing through the end of Kingdom Hearts. It was the final FMV cutscene and I was glued to the TV, taking in every moment with the breathlessness of a tween.
Right as Sora is saying his last line to Kairi—the very intense moment where they’re separating and he calls out to her, my mom came home from food shopping. She managed to yell to me from the front door to help her bring stuff in, right as Sora was saying whatever that line was. So, I missed what he said and literally burst into tears right away. I was so mad, and absolutely refused to help her take anything back into the house. It’s pretty funny how upset I got in retrospect, but yeah, I totally loaded my last save and replayed the ending just to hear what Sora said to Kairi (‘I’ll come back to you, I promise!’).”
3. Laugh Out Loud
“I first played Final Fantasy X at a friend’s house, and I immediately fell in love with its baroque, overwrought storytelling and bizarre take on underwater soccer. After I finally got a PS2 of my own a couple of years later, I decided to revisit Spira for myself, despite the game’s advancing age.
I had been warned ahead of time about some sort of ‘laughing scene’ between Tidus and Yuna – that it would make me roll my eyes, that I might want to turn the game off. I was prepared for the maudlin sentimentality, but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of their exaggerated laughter. Even as I turned down the volume of my TV from around 30 to 10, the jeers just kept getting louder and louder, until both my parents burst into my room just to see what the heck I was doing. Seeing the look of exasperation on their faces, all I could manage was something like: ‘They’re… laughing?’
Even though I remain a strident apologist for the laughing scene as a goofy, but effective piece of storytelling, like much of FFX, I still think about how confused my parents were by so many of the games I played as a teenager. Considering this is my career now, all I can say is this: sorry Mom and Dad, but JRPGs — and especially Persona 3: FES — did this to me.”
2. Chaos Jesus
“I remember my very-involved-with-the-church mom walking in on me finishing Xenosaga Episode 3. I was home from college and very engrossed in the story involving robot Mary Magdalene and small baby child Chaos Jesus and having the thought ‘is making my mom think I believe in this version of Christ’s life more complicated than telling her I’m agnostic?’ We never really talked about it but she watched a good five minutes of that cutscene before silently leaving the room.”
1. A Happy Ending
“As a young teen I didn’t have my own TV, so I had to play games in my family’s computer room. My mom was in the room working on the computer when I was playing Final Fantasy X-2 and encountered that god-awful mini game where you give Leblanc a massage. I could feel my mom’s ghastly side-glance when I hit the “right spot” and Leblanc makes that… noise. So I stopped — but then realized that the situation looked even worse with Yuna on top of this woman in a costume where she looks ass cheeks nude at a glance. I couldn’t leave, I had to power through it. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the game ever again after that night.”