Persona 5: Almost impossible to put down

As I probably made obvious in the title of this post, I am absolutely gaga for Atlus’s fifth entry into the Megami Tensei spin-off Persona series. Persona 4: Golden was undeniably a masterpiece, and I have been looking forward to P5 ever since it was confirmed to be coming to PS4 in addition to PS3. In fact, I faithfully awaited the launch through a series of multiple delays. Also, gotta say it was a bit mean to JRPG fans that they were going to launch on Valentine’s day.

Now that I’ve had it downloaded and loved for a reasonable amount of time I wanted to share some thoughts regarding thematics and overall structure of the game. While it should be noted that I am not quite through my first play through (what can I say, finals) I feel I am currently facing a confusing set of emotions that should be articulated at this moment.

I plan to write more once I am done with the game, and my feelings and impressions will likely change as a result. But really I must say that while this is undoubtedly one of the best video games I have ever played, mechanically, stylistically, and by story it still has some parts that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Let us be fair, there are a lot of issues with social representation throughout almost all media, and in video games particularly. By these admittedly low standards, the Persona series has always been a few steps ahead of the curve where social progress is concerned. I’d look at the open-minded view they take in exploring the dungeon themed around the undefined sexuality and sexual preferences of Persona 4‘s Kanji.

Persona 5 has some similarity deep themes in the very first dungeon of Kamoshida’s castle where his abuse of his students is displayed. Given that the physical and sexual abuse is with two members of your party, Yosuke and Ann respectively, this isn’t some issue presented in the abstract, but an actual act of defiance where the victims are pursuing justice. Maybe a lesser game wouldn’t nudge me towards criticism of minutia, but Personais downright hypocritical.

This first criticism I feel I am wading into dangerous territory, but I promise I have logic if you see the argument to the end. I am very bothered by the games continued hyper-sexualization of its young female subjects, and Ann in particular.

I understand that many feel the sexualization of people considered underage in America and other Western nations. I understand that the age of consent is lower in Japan. I really don’t want to be an imperialist who tries to impose my standards onto others, but this is a piece of media that was made for myself and my market and I feel my criticism is valid. That said, P5 seems to at least somewhat agree that this is a way of depicting young women that is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character of either gender, that is kind of at the heart of any visual storytelling. I’m not going to write anything about Black Widow’s appearance being sexual because that is kind of the point and power of the character. She uses her sexuality as an a person fully capable of making her own informed decisions to manipulate the more basic parts of humans and the male gender in particular.

The problem is that the of the game seems to agree that the way the girls are depicted and treated is fundamentally wrong. The first quest is centered around stopping the “pervy” teacher who is pressuring underage girls into sexual activity. In the final boss fight, King Kamoshida drinks from a cup of lust where he literally consumes the mostly-nude bodies of young girls.

With this evidence, I think it is undeniable that the game considers Kamoshida’s view of high school girls as wrong as I would. Whether that is right or imperialistic is a discourse for another day. Now, accepting this condition, it stands to reason that Kamoshida’s distorted worldview includes a sexualized Ann in a bikini.

By cultural standards, especially those in the West, a young woman in a bikini is downright tame; however, it is hammered home that coach Kamoshida is doing something wrong by viewing Ann as a sex object. So, what does the game do? Repeatedly and heavily treat Ann as a sex object.

There is a pattern of making moments where the male characters of the Persona franchise awkwardly encounter their female counterparts in bathing suits. Personally, I find these moments at least charming, if a bit awkward. P5 is no exception to this trend. While these swimming scenes are low hanging fruits for examples, there are repeated instances where Ann is sexualized….. because.

Though I would say Ryuji is the worst explicit offender, there are multiple instances where they just stare at her or else make strange remarks. This would be fine in isolation, but it just keeps happening and I keep feeling weird. Take for instance the drive to Futaba’s pyramid. Obviously things are hot in the desert and they are trying to keep as cool as possible, but every guy in the back seat can’t help but stare down Ann’s shirt. Not subtly, they make a point of showing both Ann not being upset by this and the men not seeming to care.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Ann is an attractive young blond who is a part-time model as the result of her rich parents being fashion designers. It would have been easy to treat Ann as just an object of attraction. Persona 5 does not do that.

Ann is a romance option, and while her specific story missions do involve some work to become a better and/or more successful model, that is far from the point. She is doing it for herself so she can feel accomplishment through work and ultimately finds greater self value by side-lining modeling again. I can say all of that because she was the romance option I pursued.

Persona 5 does an exceptional job of making well rounded female characters. They are intelligent, complex, and a great sign of progress in an unfortunately misogynistic medium. While I applaud Atlus’s two steps forward, we must also acknowledge there one step back.

Only a few bits left

There was a time not so long ago I was obsessed with media. Well, to be specific, I was obsessed with owning media. Boxes of books, movies, video games, CD’s (mostly of bad bands) and all other things I had piled everywhere just taking up space in the off chance I wanted to revisit Underworld: Evolution. Okay I did that a few times (I CAN MAKE BAD CHOICES) but still, the vast majority of my possessions were just things that never saw use.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hording things, I was happy to loan things to people I and we always were good about spring cleaning. I knew how to give up things, but I was really good at holding onto things that I thought had value. That’s started to change.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time I wanted to own less, but I think it is related to the desire I had to change myself after I left Mines. I was fundamentally very unhappy, and I didn’t know why. So, I basically hit resent and started making major changes to my life.

Step one was when I shaved my head. Say what you will, I looked good. Then I started to get rid of crap. I sold video games initially and then started to donate them because I don’t really value money. I donated books and movies. Not my usual two or three here and there, I got rid of almost all of them. I don’t own a DVD anymore, certainly no CD’s. No more physical video games. The word physical is where things really pick up here.

Who buys DVD’s? No seriously, the only people I know who buy movies are people who either don’t get the idea of streaming or….. okay they’re actually the only ones. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, I can cheaply watch more good shows and movies than I could ever possibly hope to watch. Music? Google Play Music is my personal choice. I’ve been on digital music for a while, but streaming is just frankly easier and more unified in a lot of ways. I still have physical copies of the Bible, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but that’s mostly just a bit too much nostalgia to give up. Besides that, Kindle books are cheaper anyway. As for video games, I’ve grown to prefer PC gaming anyway, and what chump buys physical PC games?

Here’s the thing, it feels truly liberating to have less stuff. Obviously I’ve been out of the house for some time now that I’m in college, but I used to just keep a bunch of stuff at home. I wanted nothing to do with that anymore. It’s seriously just stuff I have no intent of using anymore. I literally don’t have a room at my family’s house anymore (it’s not sad like it sounds, there’s just a lot of people in a small space).

Does any of this mean I am consuming any less media? Not at all. I don’t buy as much anymore, but I’m getting as much or more joy from entertainment than I ever have. I just spend less and own less. I really like it. I can get things I like anywhere I happen to be I have what I want. Travel has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and owning less makes that seem a lot easier. I’m hoping to spend a year in Russia soon, and if I were to go today, the computer I’m currently typing on already has everything I would possibly want ready to go. Nothing I’d have to entrust with people while I’m gone or try to stuff together. Just the freedom from being owned by possessions. It’s kind of like Fight Club.

I would not quite call myself a minimalist yet, but I’ve gotten to really enjoy owning less. There’s a great documentary on Netflix that is made by podcasters and bloggers who are hardcore minimalists. They didn’t get me started on getting rid of possessions but they sure have helped me along the way. The main idea that I am trying to embody is only buying things that add value to my life. They have a phrase I’ve been trying to keep in mind. “Love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

Realistic escapism

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to escapist expressions. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I have always loved fantasy, comics, sci-fi, video games, anything that lets me escape to somewhere more fantastical than the world I live in. So, in the stressful media world of Trump’s America, I must ask myself why I can’t seem to lose myself in the worlds I love so much.

My Steam library is packed to the gills, I have a significant reading list on my Kindle, and there is a ridiculous amount of good content on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon. So much, in fact, that I needed to get an app to sort through it. There’s a really great app that aggregates movie and TV choices called Mighty, they describe themselves as Tinder for streaming. I made sure to input a lot of my favorite things so most of the recommendations are off the charts good. Things I wanted to see I didn’t know were available to me, and things I really like were appearing with my having no prior knowledge of their existence. Here’s the thing, none of them are the sort of escapist show I have been previously drawn to, Westworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stranger Things, and any number of other shows I have enjoyed throughout the years. I have watched almost exclusively documentaries.

At the beginning of the semester, I once again read Book X of The Republic for my Introduction to Literary Criticism class which gives a blistering attack on the nature of art and literature, the harshest criticism possible, for art as a whole.. I don’t agree with it by and large, but Socrates largely argues that reality is hard to perceive so having multiple lenses to distort a vision of the world can make it exponentially more difficult to see the truth. In a world of alternative facts, I am turning to the entertainment with the fewest lenses to find my joy.

Want to know what I just watched? A documentary about government surveillance. That’s not as light as In Search of General Tso, but it shows some truth. Of course everything has its own flaws and distortions applied by its makers, that goes without saying. That’s kind of the point of Socrates argument in The Republic. That doesn’t matter.

It is impossible to be a proper citizen of an Advanced Liberal Democracy without exposing oneself to the news. That is quite simply essential to functioning in the world, but frankly, it really sucks in the last few years. Real and legitimate news is under assault, and those attacking it won’t even allow us the courtesy of marking it as such. Of course right leaning sights were more problematic in the election, but its not lack of center right news available to them from reliable sources, look at The Economist, Forbes, or The Wall Street JournalThey all have political angles that do not align with me, but they have reliable records. They made their names on reliability, not on clicks.

So I turn to documentaries. True, reliable, and entertaining. Even the darkest ones are infinitely better than what I get in the New York Times everyday. Top notch reporting, but it makes me feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown because the truth is so much stranger than fiction with the Whitehouse acting as a reality TV show. It’s just not the strangeness I like.

Time well wasted

I am a workaholic. I hate not having something to do, and I dread long school breaks because I feel so unproductive. I started learning a little bit of French over Christmas just to take up time. All I remember is je mange pomme de terre, and I’m not even sure if that is right. But I’ve found a problem, I overwork myself. I push too hard and then I’ll get dangerously close to having a minor breakdown, so I’ve had to teach myself a thing or two about self care in college. I’ve discovered that for myself some things work better for relaxation than others.

Strangely, I find I enjoy things more as they seem more like a waste of time, so there is a scale of things. I like listening to podcasts and books, but both of those feel at least a little like work, a little too much like I’m being productive and doing something to enrich my mind. Nightmarish I know, but only for situations when I don’t have too much stress, just a little unwinding.

One tier below that is TV and movies. It’s much more passive, and often a good deal more silly. Watching Rick and Morty can be more relaxing than reading a book about the history of NPR when I just want to sit back and relax.

When I’m really feeling the ole grindstone grate against my last nerve, nothing will do in the place of some stupid video games.

Of course there are plenty of intellectual video games with strong points to make (my personal favorite of these is Papers, Please) but I’m talking about games that are serious wastes of time. Maybe there’s a story, but that’s not the lure of a game like XCOM, Hearthstone, or Ultimate Chicken Horse.

Those are all great, but my personal favorite when I need a pick me up is Stardew Valley. There’s the incredible music, the simple gameplay, and a whole other list of things I can rattle off, but the whole experience together blends into a place I can just get lost, be happy, and grow some corn.

I’ve always liked games, but for most of my life, I could never allow myself to value them. With rare exceptions, they were basically complicated toys, not anything I could have an intelligent conversation about. Then I had a really great class last year called Humans and Technology where I really got to value a wide range of artistic mediums. And from there, I realized I don’t particularly care if they’re of any great value.

Stardew Valley is a truly wonderful game that helps make me happier when I am going through some hard times. It is an experience that helps me find happiness. If other people don’t value it, who cares. I want to do things that make me happy in my life.  If that means some good old fashioned play time with some pixelated cows, then so be it.