Persona 5 and Capitalist Power Relationships

Two issues have risen to the surface upon the NA release of Persona 5:

A) The translation/localization has been widely recognized as below standards, not merely by ordinary consumers, but by other translators.

B) Atlus USA has released a stringent streaming policy specific to Persona 5 itself that is detailed to a degree I’m not aware of for any other game.

These two issues are textbook illustrations of how corporations within the Capitalist economic system exercise power over two groups subservient to it; labor and consumers. I think this is an excellent opportunity to use this release atmosphere to shed illumination on these power struggles. There will be no spoilers for the game itself herein. I’m going to oversimplify for the sake of not having this balloon in size by thousands of words of explanation about basic economic topics.

A) Capitalism and Labor

The entire history of Capitalism is itself a history about the struggle over labor. For a proper lesson, there are plenty of excellent references, starting with Karl Marx’s Capital. I personally recommend Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, not only for the quality of the critique contained within, but for the accessible language he uses as I understand that these types of critiques can be difficult to parse for the layperson unfamiliar with the subject matter.

I don’t know the circumstances within Atlus USA that lead to the release of a subpar localization. People outside the company may never know for sure. Therefore I think it silly to chase down the avenue of trying to figure out who to blame and should take a look at what to blame instead, that culprit being the relationship between labor and capital, which is evident without needing to acquire insider information.

Capitalism is an economic system in which money, aka wealth, aka capital, is accumulated in the hands of a few, the Capitalist class, under the theory that economic progress is best achieved in this manner. The Capitalist class — owners, shareholders, etc — employs others, Labor, to do the work of taking that hunk of Capital and making it grow.

Labor is, in a nutshell, the work performed by employees for a company. They are compensated for their work. The history of the relationship between the Capitalist and Labor is the fight over how much labor is worth. The modern corporation — especially a publicly traded one, and particularly within the neoliberal late-stage capitalist system the majority of contemporary economies function — will try to extract the highest profit possible. That’s literally their job as a corporation. One of the ways of doing this is to keep labor costs as low as possible. This rides the threshold where workers are paid in a zone where any less would negatively impact the quality of the product, losing customers and therefore profit, and any more would exceed revenue, also reducing profit.

For a product like Persona 5, monopoly comes into play. There is only one release of Persona 5, the one by Atlus USA. The license from their parent company Atlus JP grants them exclusive rights to release Persona 5. There isn’t competition in the marketplace to incentivize increased investment. There isn’t a NIS version, a Square Enix version, an XSEED version, etc. There is only one offering, the Atlus one. This has been a criticism of mine for the entire licensing system as a whole, games, anime, manga, etc. Almost every release is exclusive to a single publisher so there is no competition based incentive in regards to a particular title. Competition is only in play at the level of seeing each game as competing against each other, which isn’t how it turns out to work. If you want to read One Piece, for example, there is only the Viz version. You have to take it or leave it. There isn’t a Yen Press release, a Seven Seas release, a Kodansha release. If there were multiple versions of the same title, each corporation would have to strive to release the best they could or would lose sales to a competitor.

With a single offering for Persona 5, the need to compete is drastically reduced, so cuts can occur to compensation of labor by shifting the lower bounds of the compensation zone. This doesn’t only occur in regards to pay and benefits, but to working hours as well. Neoliberalism promotes a work-pride attitude saying that it’s morally good to invest individual identity into performing labor for Capitalists. It posits that the ultimate good is the market, and that the market should drive everything because it is supposedly Objective, even though it’s not. Workers are expected to have a passion beyond the pale, because there is always someone who will work harder. It’s difficult to articulate the dangers and widespread influence of Neoliberal thought into all arenas of life in this short piece, but suffice to say, it devalues human life in exchange for running the economic machine.

To sum up point A, the systemic structural exploits of Capital over Labor is the progenitor of the poor localization of Persona 5, with the specific details coming downstream. Address these systematic issues and fix not only this singular problem, but problems all across the board.

B) Capitalism and Consumers

As Capitalism has been engaged in a power struggle with Labor, so too have they been fighting on another front against consumers. This point is bolstered by the monopoly outlined above. To reiterate, with a monopoly, there is only one offering of Persona 5, the one by Atlus. Therefore, they are in a position to place demands of how their product is to be consumed, especially as the line between good and service has blurred in recent decades.

Atlus’ restrictions on what can/can’t be streamed are quite stringent and specific. There may have been other publishers that have done likewise, but to my knowledge most either allow everything or nothing. I’d like to call out this block quote as it’s so odd.

Ok, now let’s talk Persona 5 streaming and videos. Simply put, we don’t want the experience to be spoiled for people who haven’t played the game. Our fans have waited years for the game to come out and we really want to make sure they can experience it fully as a totally new adventure. Please read our video/streaming guidelines below:
Please, PLEASE do not post any specific plot points or story spoilers, and only talk about the game in broad strokes. (Good example: “The game deals with dark themes right off the bat, with a lecherous teacher and other corrupted individuals.” Bad example: “Players immediately run into trouble with the pervy teacher *spoiler*, whose actions go so far as to cause *spoiler*.”)
You’re more than welcome to talk/show Confidants, the new combat, the Velvet Room, the dungeons, etc. Just please keep in mind that as a singular story playthrough, viewers are *highly* wary of spoilers!

Don’t post any specific plot points and only talk about the game in broad strokes? This smells like the blandification seen in large media organizations in general and Disney specifically. To be so broad as to not offend/spoil is to remove human individuality and personality, a classic indicator of corporate capitalism. It’s only because they are able to utilize copyright takedown tools granted to publishers through platforms like Youtube and Twitch that this is even enforceable. If these guidelines were given to a traditional text-based critic, they would tear them up and write what they were going to write anyway.

This raises another point; will Atlus be drawing distinctions between ordinary players streaming the game and critics performing their critique function? Many critics reveal spoilers and to prevent that would run up against their right to make critical commentary in the public sphere, which the ACLU would be most interested in taking a look at.

Viewers are highly wary of spoilers? How do you constitute what counts as a spoiler and what doesn’t? Everything is a spoiler, in the broadest sense, every character name and appearance, every item function, every enemy, etc. The line between what is and isn’t spoiler is arbitrary and opaque and personally defined. For Atlus to define it is to take that ability away from the individual.

Additionally, players have been dealing with spoilers for decades, centuries even. To declare that Persona 5 is somehow more important is arrogant, implicitly stating that other media are lesser in value. There’s a core of paternalistic authoritarianism beneath the veneer of friendly PR-speak that I find disturbing, though is small in scope when placed in comparison with other more dangerous forms of authoritarianism.

The largest problem I have with this PR release however isn’t these arbitrary rules. The largest problem I have is that these are presented under the guise of don’t post spoilers.

This is a bald-faced lie.

The reason Atlus wants to limit streaming/sharing is so that people will buy the game instead of just watching others play it for free. So say so! Be honest! Don’t hide behind the lie of protecting fans from spoilers. There’s nothing wrong with wanting people to buy your game — critiques of capitalism itself aside. Be honest, don’t lie, and don’t use others as a shield to protect yourself. Stand on your own two feet with your head held high and state your position clearly, not fecklessly hiding behind false pretenses.

Conclusion

One point that I want to make clear above all else is how these two relationships work together to absolve corporations of having to address ethical labor practices and instead push that burden on to consumers. The source to read for understanding this point is Nicole Aschoff’s The New Prophets of Capital. She outlines how corporations abdicate from social responsibility by shifting the burden on to consumers at the point of consumption and away from the point of production. In our Persona 5 example, if the game’s sales are negatively impacted due to the localization and streaming issues outlined above, Atlus will likely respond by reducing their labor force to compensate for reduced revenue and keep profits up.

Here’s the critical point: anyone who tries to protect Atlus’ employees’ jobs by saying that you should buy the game despite these issues so the workers can remain employed is using these workers as both a shield and a sword to protect the capitalist corporation. They aren’t holding the company responsible, but allowing workers to be harmed by buying into a broken system that devalues human life and labor. People who stand up for workers in the context of encouraging purchasing but don’t hold the corporation responsible for ethical labor practices are pretenders and liars who care more about their ability to obtain the media they want to consume than for the human lives that made it possible.

This is the same critique I have for anime and manga companies, particularly towards people who speak out against piracy with the claim of protecting the animators as workers but remain silent towards the industry that pays them low wages and long working hours. To do that is to, once again, be a hypocrite who cares more about their ability to obtain the media they want to consume than for the human lives that made it possible.

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