Recently I was on one of my usual rabbit hole explorations on YouTube and came across a very interesting story by Fredrik Knudsen who, funnily enough, has a great YouTube channel known as "Down the Rabbit Hole" (video will be provided at the end of this blog post). What this particular video delved into was a story about some people who lived together in a house who believed in parallel universes and who were so entrenched in their beliefs that they were living characters from "Final Fantasy VII" that they took it from online to real life.
I looked further into this and found that there are a sub-culture of people who identify as non-human either having a spiritual or metaphoric connection with an animal or character they perceive themselves to be whilst others try to completely embody the animal or character they feel they have a deeper understanding or connection with. These people personify the animal or character they feel they were in a past life or are "soulbound" to. Sounds like a horror movie or a video game unto itself but these people do exist and are known as "otherkin".
Otherkin are not what many know as Furries. Whilst furry culture does have its place in otherkin culture it is not in itself the same thing but probably the most popular or common reference to otherkin culture. Otherkin's believe they are spiritually a dragon, fox, lion or elf and they emulate who they feel they are or were as they have been "awakened" to their other self and strongly believe that they are not entirely human. This also stems from Pagan religion where they feel they were a reincarnation of an animal in a past life.
This is very different to Cosplay or acting out and role playing a character online and the reason this is important is it will help give you a greater understanding and some context of what this story is about.
There are many otherkin Reddit posts and forums online. Being otherkin gives people the chance to act out creatively without judgement and anonymity on the internet. To delve into another world in which they feel safe, not unlike what many of us do when we play video games. However, what happens when this goes from online to offline? When reality blurs and characters take hold and you truly believe you are this "other" being? Is this the result of body dysphoria or dress ups gone too far? An overactive imagination or is there more to it? These are interesting questions and this is an interesting topic. I'm not going to discuss in depth whether this sub-culture is ingrained with mental health issues or anything like that as this is a story about a group of gamers who truly believed they were fictional characters from Final Fantasy VII and the downward spiral of manipulation, greed and power that ensues.
Now, firstly I cannot be 100% sure that this story is real. Could this be an elaborate hoax or old wives tale from the internet? Urban legend? It is possible. However, this is an interesting story all the same and there are many articles about it published all over the internet. You can judge for yourself if you believe the veracity of the claims being made or if this was someone who imbibed their creative writing skills and imagination. A lot of the "evidence" has been deleted by parties on both sides of this story as well as other people that had their own stories to recount.
This story begins with a Live Journal post in 2002 where the author says he is exposing a dangerous group of people who are taking Fandom way too far and who live out their FF7 characters in real life. This author says he ran a fan site for "Cloud" and "Zack" from FF7. For the purpose of this blog I will refer to the original author as his FF7 character, Zack, as well as the others involved in the same way. Zack was contacted by "Hojo" (Professor Hojo) and was subsequently then introduced to "Jenova" (one of the protagonists in Final Fantasy VII) who asked Zack whether or not he believed in alternate universes, past lives and had flash backs of his past life to which Zack said he didn't but believed in these ideals and that was what sent Zack down a slippery slope. Jenova said she believed that the author was Zack in a past life and was then identified as such.
Zack met with Hojo and Jenova a few times in real life and stayed with them in their apartment on a few different occasions, happy to pay for food and other items as the dutiful house guest until finally he was invited to come live permanently with Hojo and Jenova. For whatever reason, perhaps wanting to belong, Zack agreed. Zack quickly realised that Jen wasn't just role playing a character but saw that Jen believed she was soulbonded to Jenova and was the living embodiment of this character (among other characters that were in her head) and acted as such.
Jenova was very controlling to say the least, using Zack to carry out chores around the apartment, buy groceries and finally to get a job so he could contribute financially. Jen also starting with other controlling behaviours such as reading e-mails Zack was writing, listening in on phone calls as well as isolating him from his friends and family from his now past life. Jen would also see who Zack was talking to online in whatever MMO or online game he was playing and then talk to them herself to vet what Zack had spoken to them about.
Things deteriorated very quickly in the house with the house quickly becoming a putrefied mess of squalor and filth. Jen had quit her babysitting job and relied on Zack to pay the bills as well as for buying any magic items she felt she needed. Jen and Hojo frequently did not shower, instead, covering themselves in essential oils and purfume, adding to the stench of sweat and BO that hung over the apartment. Jen had become belligerent, causing drama and arguments just for the sake of it, intimidating those around her into silence and to bend to her will.
Those that lived in the house would take part in rituals which included fairy rings, magic crystals and seances, taking on cult like behaviour to control and influence those within the circle to keep them close and attempting to destroy anyone who didn't believe or who questioned the soulbonders behaviours and ideals. Jen would frequently wake Zack up at 3am to take part in magic rituals or to magically defend against some apparent evil, depriving him of sleep.
Then there was the emotional abuse and emotional blackmail. Jen would constantly pit those in the house against each other, as well as any guests that came over that Jen didn't like. There was always a side to take and a line to be drawn by those who lived in the house. Jen even "attempted suicide" to garner more attention from her followers, however, the attempt was in vain because all she had really done was scratch up her wrists with a drawing pin or something similar.
What began as an online friendship group descended into a real life psychological and somewhat schizophrenic chasm of darkness. In the dank filth that surrounded the occupants of the house the emotional and financial abuse as well as the isolation took its toll on Zack and whilst he had been successfully brainwashed there would be a turning point.
What finally did it for Zack was the day his shoes were stolen. By this stage Zack's job had cut his hours, he had no money and he was desperate to leave the situation he had now found himself in. When his shoes were stolen he knew it was by Jen who was not only controlling his movements online she was no trying to control his physical movement in real life. Zack left the apartment and was homeless for a few days, trying to scrimp whatever money he could so he could eat and work out his next move. Zack finally contacted his mother who Zack didn't ask for any money or for a ride back home and didn't even fill her in fully about his situation but his mother did give him the option to babysit his sister on a certain day which was the olive branch that Zack needed.
One of Zack's friends, cid, knew of his situation and came in to help. He took Zack to his place to stay for a couple of days and also helped Zack in getting all of his stuff out of his apartment. Without that physical and emotional support from cid that Zack would likely be roped back into Jen's world and never be able to leave.
Zack finally contacted his father and filled him in on some of the details of what was happening to which his father immediately booked him a plane ticket home to escape the turmoil and the cult that he had been so influenced by.
Zack returned to college after the help from his father and whilst Jen had tried reaching out to Zack, he was having none of it. This is one story from one person that lived in the Final Fantasy 7 house, there are others who have given their account of what happened.
"Jenova" also comes up again elsewhere on the internet and a story about her was depicted on "Something Awful" - A forum about bad housemates and the story whilst interesting has since been removed due to the author getting some pressure from Jen AKA Catherine Rain. More about this can be seen in the fantastic YouTube video below by Fredrik Knudsen and his "Down the Rabbit Hole" YT channel.
I hope you all found this article as interesting to read as I did researching and writing it. Until the next one!