January 03, 2005

FFX and the Tsunami

I was reading news about the terrible Tsunami in Sumatra, and I was reminded of a scene in a PlayStation game called "Final Fantasy X" that I am playing. It might seem trivial and silly to compare the two, but this is how I am subconsciously dealing with the tragedy. Early in the game, a huge monster called Sin causes a tidal wave and devistates a small country called Kilika. After coming ashore, your character walks through the demolished huts and talk to the survivors. Then, Yuna, another member of the party, performs a "Sending" of the dead, so their spirits pass on to "The Farplane."

Call it juvenile, but to truly comprehend world events, stories are sometimes needed. The human mind cannot wrap itself around the idea of 120,000+ people dead, whole generations and even cultures lost to the sea. So you have to think smaller scale, and work your way back up.

The largest tragedy that I've dealt with in my lifetime is 9/11, with around 3,400 dead, and it took quite a lot to fully comprehend that number. 35 times that number died in the wake of this Tsunami. Looking for a comparable number, I go back to World War II. 19,000 Americans died in the Battle of the Bulge. Six times that number died in this disaster.

Along with the sheer number of casualties, most of us just can't imagine desruction on such a large scale. So subconsciously, I think about this part of my game. Once I have this in my mind, I push the image further. I see the sterilized representation of disaster that is shown in the game, and I look past it.

Instead of five screens of thatched huts with storm damage, I see whole villages pulvarized by the waves and half-dragged out to sea. Instead of the lingering spirits of the victims floating like fireflies, I see the scores of bodies stacked in the street, under tarps, and bloated corpses clogging the rivers and inlets. I think of the cruel irony that while people are wading knee-deep through the flooded remains of their towns, that drinkable water is dangerously scarce. Today health concerns were raised about eating the fish, pretty much the only plentiful food source left, since the fish may have fed on the rotted flesh of the dead.

This is how I arrive at as near full-comprehension as I can muster. So don't call it trite or trivializing. People need to connect with the tragedy to even get past the sheer numbers and pictures, and I consider this less shallow than making the rescue of a Czech Supermodel or a couple of dolphins headline news.

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