Hello all! So, yeah, another post about Persona 4... But I just finished Golden, and I need to talk about it. It was so good, you all! I loved the additional material, and even Marie didn’t bother me too much! But most of all, as I pointed out in my last post, I loved how much this game reminded me of the basic need for human companionship.
*SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 4 GOLDEN FOLLOW*
I’m still looking for a way to become a teacher in Virginia. I know I’m being particular, and that beggars cannot (supposedly) be choosers, but I want to be a Latin teacher. It’s my passion, and I don’t want to let one bad experience divert me from my course. So lately, since I can’t afford school at the moment, I’ve been looking for ways to keep a studious mindset; mostly by reading literature and watching educational YouTube videos. I recently came across a channel called The School of Life, which I really like. They cover a lot of ground, from literature to philosophy to sociology. It’s a pretty cool channel.
The literature videos in particular struck a nerve with me (in a good way), because I was reminded of something I had forgotten that I believed: true art is a creative endeavor which broadens our horizons beyond ourselves. Now, as I said, this is a belief, and not a confirmable fact, and you can of course disagree with me (as many who believe in art for art’s sake would). The videos I’m talking about specifically are these, if you’d like to check them out: James Joyce, Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy. In each of these videos, the narrator talks about how each of these novelists wants their art to take the reader beyond their own ego: into the dreams of strangers for Joyce, into the life of someone called “fallen” in the media for Flaubert, into the psyche of societal outcasts for Dostoevsky, and into the minds of traditionally unlikeable characters for Tolstoy. True art expands its consumers, and rather than turning their minds inward, sets it out towards others. As the philosopher Hegel would put it, by exchanging the viewpoint of the subject for that of the object, we volitionally become self-conscious, thus improving ourselves by taking on an outside view of ourselves. Literature is a good way to do this according to the authors listed above, and it is the fulfillment of this mission that, for them, constitutes true art.
Now, back to Persona 4. Is the game true art by this definition? I would argue that it is, by way of the social links the game offers as a major part of its gameplay. Social links are narrative and choice driven sequences in the game that serve the dual function of providing character depth to NPCs and party members and strengthening the protagonist’s personae when fusing them in the Velvet Room. Now, what does this really mean? It’s by getting to know other people, their problems, fears, resolutions, and loves that the player character strengthens himself. He develops from a blank slate into an empathic hero, the bonds he forms being the things that ultimately allow him to reach out to the truth (you’ll hear that phrase a lot in your playthrough) and defeat the true antagonist.
But even more than what happens in the story, the game really drives home the message that the player, as an individual, needs other people to really succeed in life, at least in a way that matters. You can raise your intelligence, your courage, and your diligence until you’re exhausted, but none of it will matter if you don’t use these things in a way that communicates something, be it through interacting with others or creative effort. While I’m not sure that no man (person... blame John Donne for the sexist language, not me) is an island, given all of the people out there with antisocial personality disorder, it certainly seems that no person’s island functions all that well on its own Adachi, the murderer in the game, is only distinguished from the player character in that when faced with the same situation of finding himself in a “boring” small town, he chose not to reach out to others, and instead turned inward and became nihilistic. Add to this the fact that to reach Persona 4's true ending you have to max at least one social link, and you can see how much importance the game places on empathizing with other people. Even Thoreau in his cabin knew that his insights while there would mean nothing if he didn’t communicate them to someone.
Reach out to the truth, Persona 4 tells the player over and over. But it also says to reach out to other people just as often, noting at the end that the two are not really distinct notions. In this message, and its success in conveying it, Persona 4 is, in my opinion, true art. Thank goodness for this wonderful game.