Spoiler Alert: Persona 5 Makes Social and Political Issues Relevant and Relatable

[Am super proud to present the following guest essay by my good friend Haniya Rae. Though a word of warning; spoilers for P5 lie ahead.]

If watching E3 a few weeks back made you weep for the future of video games, I offer Atlus’s Persona 5 as a tissue to wipe your tears. While fans of quirky JRPGs aren’t as numerous as Assassin’s Creed zealots, Persona 5 is certainly a game that everyone should play for story substance and as a social awareness guide.

Take for example Persona 5’s character Kamoshida, the burly Volleyball coach who abuses his team and makes unwanted advances on female players. All too often, this bullshit plays out in real life — just take a look at all these cases I’ve linked. I’m sure much more bullshit has happened at public and private schools across the country that’s never made it to the local news.

For a game written and developed in Japan, this is extremely ballsy of its creators, as Japanese culture is notoriously silent on a variety of issues, like sexual orientation, bullying, and suicide, to name a few. Persona 5 tackles those three issues, among others, with no regrets. It doesn’t step lightly, so to speak — within the first hour of the game, a character attempts suicide due to abuse.

That brings me to the central question: What other games delve so boldly into topical societal problems without being too conclusive?

Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost tweeted last month that this is typical of video games in response to a tweet about how Far Cry 5 avoids dealing with American issues by making villains outsiders. It’s a theme commonly found in many first-person shooters, sure — and perhaps those players aren’t interested in introspection.

Within the first two in-game days of playing Persona 5, a teacher within the main character’s class brings up a quote from Socrates as written in Plato’s works. “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.” That is to say that immediately within the game, the philosophical question of how good and evil should be judged is discussed. “Evil is born of ignorance” is an actual response you can choose.

If we look at the United States in the present moment, and for much of human history’s past, this is a fitting statement that has certainly given rise to many totalitarian governments. If there is only one right way, everything else must be eliminated.

In Persona 5, this line of thinking is not tolerated. In fact, one of the game’s central characters, Sae Nijima, struggles with this concept until she’s ultimately liberated from society’s unquestioning norms. Nijima is an investigator, and she’s bent on upholding the law for furthering her career. At a point within the game, it becomes clear that if she chooses to remain ignorant and unsympathetic, she’ll gain a promotion. Once again, Persona 5 is proposing the question to the player, ‘If law rewards the ignorant, what hope is there for justice?’

One could argue that the United States is centrally wrapped up in a delusion centered around Abrahamic religion that the ultimate judgement is coming. Many politicians create a self-fulfilling prophecy, delaying the realization that their delusions further perpetuate injustice as they pray for the end of the world, therefore remaining ignorant on purpose. God is on their side.

I am not trying to belittle the pious, I’m merely saying that if one is religious, then God or the Gods have the ultimate judgement, not humanity. This certainly has effects worldwide. If we think about Japan, a nation that isn’t heavily swayed by Abrahamic ideals, we still see economic pressure mounting to conform to nations that do.

Now back to Persona 5, and spoiler alert, there is a time during the true ending of the game where you shoot God in the face. I don’t interpret this as a group of angsty teenagers trying to be righteous. The game is literally, and metaphorically, trying to destroy the God delusion.

Throughout the game, the main character and his team of teenage friends, along with the help of some adults, enter the minds of criminals to destroy their “distorted thoughts” and force them into having a “change of heart.” By destroying the characters illusion of how they see themselves, the character ultimately confesses to his or her crimes and acknowledges that they were wrong about their views of the world. At the end of this process, another spoiler, God is the final enemy, and one who willingly admits to having corrupted the hearts of man.

In a sense, these actions could symbolically be taken to mean that the main characters, who aren’t gods, are challenging God’s control of human minds.

Furthermore, each character faces their own delusions about how the world works during the game. The characters face, and even accept, the failure of society and mankind. At the end of the game, spoiler, the team reaches the depths of the human collective unconscious (a Jungian psychology idea) as a final dungeon. This is where they meet God, and see him enslave the human race.

Importantly, though, they don’t blame God or fate, and actively seek to change ignorance and evil within the world. By further exploring this literal depiction of the human collective unconscious, they realize that humans have to put their faith not in delusions of an all-powerful being that will save them, but in the youth that is actually the future of our race. The game shows a approval ratings percentage of the public’s support of the team throughout the game, but what this really serves as is an awareness measurement.

When humans are fully aware and understanding that the future is not The Second Coming, human collective unconsciousness will be less evil.

[Haniya Rae writes about the intersection of art and video games for a variety of outlets, such as Hyperallergic, Killscreen, and Paste Magazine. Though it didn’t come to fruition, she was planning on forcing her real-life wedding guests to level up characters in Final Fantasy XIV so that they could virtually attend her Ceremony of Eternal Bonding at the Sanctum of the Twelve.]

Originally published at blog.attractmo.de.

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