Social Justice vs Games: “Solid Snake” on Persona 5

So, I was looking around for some information on the details of Shiho’s interaction with Kamoshida in Persona 5, and came across this thread on the Nuklear Power forums by “Solid Snake” talking about the flaws in Persona 5 and, eventually, the Persona series in general. I couldn’t register to the forums to reply, and it looks like the thread is winding down anyway, but I wanted to talk a bit about it because to me it really comes across as a combination of Social Justice vs Games with a helping of personal interpretation mixed in.

There will be spoilers past this point.

So, let’s start with the general points, or at least the ones I want to talk about:

– The main character can ‘steal hearts’, which apparently gives him the superpower to enter into relationships with up to nine women at once, including — somehow — adults such as a teacher, a doctor, and a journalist, all of whom are well beyond college-aged. The narrative makes it clear that this isn’t some consensual polyamorous pseudo-orgy or a covenant among the ladies to share and split the Protagonist’s time; the game just encourages you to make the Protag a conniving, cheating bastard with little in the way of consequences.

This is, in fact, the entire premise of the Persona series from the start. Where have you been? Persona 4 lampshaded what you were actually doing, but this is more Gameplay And Story Segregation than anything else: even in the game world, the implication is that you shouldn’t be dating more than one at a time — the game warns you that you are in a relationship with someone when you try to get the next one — but in Persona 3 you had no choice, while in Persona 4 and Persona 5 you do … but since the game is 40 – 80 hours long you may not want to replay it nine times to get every romantic S-link, so you can do it one shot. About the only issue here is that you can have a romantic relationship with women who are not high school students when you, yourself, are a high school student. Meh. It might not be that realistic, but then again if you don’t want to do it you don’t have to.

Somehow that’s all true but you still can’t romance any of the guys, swap the Protagonist’s gender or face any genuine, decently written repercussions for your actions in which the women express any independent agency or have any of their own say in your relationships. The women are treated like objects; once you reach Max Level with them as Confidants you can completely ignore them for months and there’s no consequence beyond a few texts they’ll send begging to see your face again. Realistic romance, everyone!!

This is also Gameplay and Story Segregation; yes, ignoring them for that long should be an issue, but since you often have to improve various abilities both for combat and for other S-links and often will have to pull tricks like this to max out all of the S-links, making the relationships expire is just going to be a source of frustration for the player. One of the tricks you ought to pull in Persona 3 for the most efficient run is to meet Maiko on a certain day, but don’t advance the S-link until quite some time later, which J.C. Scott parodied in his webcomic. Maiko’s reaction is what you’d expect, but actually doing that would make the game a lot more difficult for you if you want to max out your S-links and abilities. And unfortunately spending time with them once the link is maxed out doesn’t really give you any benefits, which has always annoyed me. This means that spending time with them after the link is maxed only takes time away from experiencing the rest of the game. But, again, that’s a gameplay oddity. It doesn’t, in fact, reduce them to mere objects, but instead ignores the inconsistency that arises because there is so much to do in the game that you can’t really spend time doing things that don’t benefit you unless you are willing to pay inefficiently … which I sometimes do.

– The main character himself is punished for the grave crime of…saving a woman from a man who was attacking her, and then being sued by the guy? I don’t know, maybe this gets clarified a bit deeper into the game, but I’m fifteen hours in and even most the women in this game have ostracized the guy not for being a womanizing jackass (more on that later; he somehow comes across as worse than Yu Narukami in many of the ‘comedic’ scenes where misogyny runs rampant) but rather for that one time in his past where he actually did the right thing and protected a woman under circumstances that would be legally justifiable in America. Maybe Japan’s just weird about this? But I’m uncomfortable with a game so overtly promoting the moral lesson of “Don’t defend a woman who’s being physically assaulted or else society will ostracize you and you’ll have to move from your hometown and be treated like a criminal.”

Even at that point, it should be clear that the man he hit was an important man who arranged things so that the MC would get the blame and that punishment and the man would get off scot-free. Also, it should be clear at that point that the rumours were deliberately spread by Kamoshida, who will definitely play up the “delinquent” angle. And, in fact, that’s what the person who takes you in believes as well, indicating that no one was told what actually happened. This makes this part of the “Crapsack World” of Persona 5: trying to do the right thing doesn’t, in fact, work out because of how bad everyone else is.

This is the small introduction, and already we can see that there’s a bit of reading in here. There are two more big points to talk about, one of which is Ann Takamaki and the other is Persona as wish fulfillment. I’ll write about those in two separate posts.

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