In a touching and unexpected show of community, thousands of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn players gathered on April 11 within the digital world of Square Enix's online role-playing game to pay tribute to the player known as Ferne Le'roy, who recently died from complications related to COVID-19.
Le'roy was a member of a small, close-knit group of players — known as a Free Company (FC) in the game's terminology — who organized a funeral march in her memory. The virtual memorial service united players from across the game’s 24 servers, who spent an hour walking in a single file line from one of Final Fantasy XIV's largest cities to a landmark called the Guardian Tree.
One the event's organizers, Leafelda Moonchild tells Inverse over Facebook Messenger that they never expected such a large turnout.
“When I made the post on Facebook, I didn't expect anyone to actually show up,” they said. “I made the post so that those that may have known her would be informed. The fact that so many people showed up, not only from Zalera but from other servers, really took me by surprise.”
There's no way to track exactly how many players were in attendance, but the procession could have numbered well into the hundreds of thousands, each of them a unique player from somewhere in the world. Moonchild originally posted about the march on the FFXIV: Zalera Facebook group on April 8, which has almost 3,000 members.
The post solicited an immediate outpouring of responses that unified the entire game's community. Final Fantasy XIV had amassed 18 million registered users, as of December 2019.
“Gamers take a lot of grief, but for a lot of people, that’s what community looks like.” — Roke Leonas
The funeral march was recorded by dozens of attendees, who shared their experiences across Twitter and Reddit. MMORPG players have held vigils for dead friends and loved ones in the past, but nothing seems to compare to the scale of this one.
None of the people who Inverse spoke to about the funeral march knew Ferne Le'roy's real name or much about her life outside the game. Some didn't even know her in the game, including, a Roke Leonas, a moderator for the FFXIV: Zalera Facebook group, who helped organize the event.
“I didn't know them. I wasn’t even in their Free Company,” Leonas tells Inverse. “When the leader posted about it asking people to come, we made the event page for it to help them. The least we could do to get the word out... Gamers take a lot of grief, but for a lot of people, that’s what community looks like. We didn't have to know them to show our support for a player that was tragically taken and to help FC mourn in their own way.”
Leonas recalls that on the day of the march, attendees and bystanders flooded the game chat with heartfelt messages like “love from Hawaii” or “love from California <3.” Strangers from around the globe came together to commemorate their fellow gamer, but also to celebrate the vibrant community they’re all a part of.
MMORPGs like FFXIV: Online and World of Warcraft often require an immense time commitment from players, which has historically associated their players with negative stereotypes like antisocial behavior. But members of FFXIV: Zalera are prime examples of the exact opposite. Online games can help people form life-long bonds and loving relationships, like the one between Ferne Le'roy and Leafelda Moonchild.
“We had never met in person as we lived in different states," Moonchild says. "But we had talked in-game and over Discord. She was one of my [FC] officers and a great friend. She didn't really like to do endgame things almost at all but loved to help people ... Ferne was a great player, and if she even thought you were not doing okay in real life, she would find a way in-game to at the very least bring a smile to your face.”
What would you call that other than a best-friend?