playing, video games

Persona 4 in one week: Day 7

(I will probably finish the game tomorrow morning. I expect to log another 10 hours or so, from my current time of 53+ hours, and that should close it out. Having looked at various guides and done some research, I’ve already decided to go with the ‘Good’ ending and not the ‘True’ one (it would mean more time to grind and several additional boss battles). So, I fully expect to post my last entry in this series tomorrow night. Yay!)

Day 6 Recap:

Tired Dan is tired

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Here’s the thing about logging upwards of ten hours of playing per day: you are playing the same game for nearly ten hours per session. It’s obvious, sure, but it is also a sizable commitment to getting through a large chunk of content. It’s also something I haven’t done in a very long time. Something I didn’t think I would either be able to or even consider doing again.

I tell the stories sometimes, whenever the time rolls around to talk about spending long hours playing games, of how I played through every single level in Super Mario Bros. 3 in a single eight hour session when I was much younger. I mention that, having bought BioShock 2 the day it came out, I took it out of its case, put it in the Xbox 360 system, and finished it 13 hours later without turning the system off once and only taking two quick bio-breaks.

The reactions to such reveals, and the same with this series too, always fall into two categories. Either people try to top my insane devotion with tales of their own, or they get this look on their face that tells me they think I’m a bit crazy. Too much playing. Too much. Sometimes even those words are spoken before they shake their head at me. Silly Dan.

Most of the time, I don’t care too much about that response. If I were to count how much time they spend doing something, like watching TV or on Facebook, it would probably be as many hours, maybe even more. Mine, though, is just more condensed in one sitting. And it’s also, in my often proud declarations of the accomplishments, ripping away the denial we use to cover such time-wasting.

Because, I’ll be honest here: yes, a part of me sees playing video games that way. As me wasting my time. I always have more books to read. Or words to write. Even some code to try out. There are always future goals and prototypes I would like to play with at some point. I could always do more to help people, both in physically volunteering my time, as I used to do, or just writing more guides, I know.

Yet, I play video games to spend time, to “waste” it.

That’s not to write, either, that I don’t enjoy my time. I often do. There are games I quite love, some I even revisit to indulge in nostalgia and return to the lands of my youth. I like those places, to see both known and new characters alike, and even to adventure into unknown places and practice foreign rituals and mechanics. It allows me an understanding of people I will never be and problems I might not ever see. That’s all good.

But there is this uneasiness in the act for me. Some gnawing guilt. The fear that I might be devoting my life to trivialities.

Perhaps, since my birthday was this week, that is just my insecurities acting up again though. Whenever I consider my age, now 28, and what I see many of people I know doing, of seeming to be happy about their life, even while I know the picture of now frozen smile was but a fleeting moment in reality’s time, I get jealous. Maybe, if I didn’t spend so much time invested in playing, writing about, or even making games, I could have that too. It’s got to be video games, and not my own neuroses, holding me back. Gotta be.

Be a man. Be a woman.

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Oh, Persona 4, when will you not disappoint me?

Those who have already gotten to or seen this part might imagine what my response was to the whole ‘Miss’/Miss beauty pageant content: mostly loud sighs and eye-rolling. Lots of disappointment. Buckets full, in fact.

So, as much as the whole festival thing is a trope, cross dressing is, and I know from it appearing in everything from anime to Final Fantasy VII, another major one. It’s got to be in anything that pokes at queer characters. Tee hee. Aren’t they so silly with their thoughts and desires?

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In the game, it is used, as I wrote about yesterday too, to both remind the player of who Naoto “is” and of trying to “redeem” Kanji. He even states that outright in a moment that had me laughing at how worried the game was of people thinking Kanji might be at all queer. Kanji pushes Naoto to enter the beauty pageant because it would remove all “doubts” about his sexual orientation. As a “girl,” the game stresses again, “she” should do this for him. Bow to your man-lords, women!

Then, in a twist everyone saw coming, the “real men” are entered into a cross-dressing competition. They must now dress up as “women” too. Isn’t this just too funny? Tee. Hee. Hee. Hee. Tee.

Ugh.

Lest the game dwell too much on that idea either, the “women” have a swimsuit competition too, resetting the heternormativity of the game. All, that is, except Naoto. Which, you know, given the other obnoxious aspects of this exercise, I would be okay with, except for some reason there was a need to indulge in age and weight shaming too. I would swear there had to be some type of Bingo card or checklist they were running through for this whole section of content.

So, Hanako Ohtani and Noriko Kashiwagi appear here, getting more screen time and becoming the embodiment of their stereotypes. The “large” woman who, because she isn’t skinny, cannot be happy. And, of course, the “mature” woman, because she is not young like the main characters, is also unhappy. Both, on the surface, seemingly innocuous types, but representing the dangerous ideal of the culture at play here.

It all has to do with the core audience of these games: mostly younger people, those in similar or just out of situations like the main characters in the story. The game, as an artifact of its culture and an industry selling to a mostly fixed demographic, encodes those ideas that appeal to and confirm the suspicions of its users. We are like you. Those things you don’t understand? Yeah, not important. Play this thing.

I’m being rather reductionist here, I know, but it also rather obvious in places like this pageant. You should be skinny. You must be hetero at all times. CONFORM. The messages are right there on the surface. Sure, they might not always be visible until they reflect in other places or echo through character’s dialogue, but they are there. The ideal person, according to the Persona games, is someone who is male, in a relationship with a “real” woman, belongs to many diverse groups, attends social gatherings, is well-liked by everyone, and transcends their geography.

That’s the thing to always remember about this game and even Persona 3, if memory serves: the protagonist leaves at the end. After enacting all these changes and influencing lives, he gets to escape from the mundane world and back to… something? It is never quite clear. Perhaps to fight in another arena? (That’s a Persona 4 Arena joke, there.)