I had a videogame phase. Longer than a “phase.” Final Fantasy 7 was big. You play as Cloud: quiet, brooding; mysterious past.

Unlike later “open world” RPGs, in FF7 the plot is linear: you have a clear “main quest.” At first, you’re confined to one place, but the farther you get in the game, the more you’re allowed to explore: side quests. The world gets bigger. And usually better. Once you’ve caroused at the Gold Saucer, why would you go back to Kalm?

I’d never really kissed anyone when I started playing. The summer before my junior year of high school, Rachael made out with me at nerd camp.

When I came back, FF7 was a shadow of itself. That was a blow; FF7 had been a joy. But my world was bigger now. My dopamine threshold was higher. The Gold Saucer, yes, glittered less.

Obviously, I wouldn’t unkiss Rachael. It was the next step in my main quest. But once you level up, you can’t level down again. Not happily, anyway.

Cloud was wrong about himself: he was much less unique than he thought. I’m like that too. Turns out the real battle is inside me, but real power is inside me too, where it was all along, like all the other protagonists.

Alex Howe is a copywriter, a writer-writer, and an editor at Blunderbuss.