Week #1 Conference Room: “Persona And My Psyche”

This piece is intended to fulfill the  Discussion requirement of the Week 1  course  assignments.

When I was a junior at UAF, I was going through a time in my life in which the fundamentals of my identity all seemed to be up for grabs. Who I was, what I was, where I was going- these things melted into a pool of ambivalence that seemed to subsume every aspect of my being. It was during this turbulent period that I found myself playing a video game called Persona 4 Golden. Many individuals discount the effects video games can have on cultures and individuals, and I recognize the impulse to see them as mere toys. For me, however, Persona 4 was something altogether.

Within Persona 4, there are a cast of characters- all highschoolers- whose lives are changed irreparably as they are drawn into another realm of being within which dwell cast off aspects of the self referred to as ‘shadows’. The protagonists come into contact with shadows of themselves- identical in every respect save for their malevolent intentions. These shadows reveal to each character in turn the parts of themselves that they would repress and extinguish. Rather than being destroyed through simple conflict however, each character’s shadow can only be permanently destroyed by being accepted. This process of acceptance causes the shadow to metamorphose into a “persona” – a manifestation of their will that they can use to fight, referred to in game as the “facade used to overcome life’s hardships.”

The astute observer will note that the Persona series borrows many ideas from Jungian psychology, most notably the idea of a “persona” itself. Jung describes a “persona” as being  “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.” Jung also describes a “shadow” and the process of assimilating it – “Assimilation of the shadow gives a man body, so to speak.”

Over the course of the game, characters not only learn to accept the hidden sides of themselves, but also to confront the idea of a stable self in general. One of the Persona cast, Rise Kujikawa, finds solace in the notion that there “is no real me”. I wouldn’t describe that as being an entirely palatable idea, not at first, but I found an inversion of the concept personally meaningful. If there is no real me, then can there truly be a false me, either? If there is no deeper inner reality to reconcile my existence with, then my being can be presented to the world according to my desires instead. It is a liberating notion. The grounds for others to confront my identity are removed.

Much of my self exploration during my junior year was guided by internal conflict and by exploration of ideas outside of interactive media. That being said, I still feel that Persona 4 helped me to process my emotions in a time when I badly needed an outlet for my emotions and my self perspective. Some may feel I owe my debt to Jung- but the power of media to interpret philosophy and present it in a more accessible format cannot be discounted.