It almost seemed as though the game meant to challenge these issues, and pulled out at the last minute in the hope that no one playing would get offended. That whole Kanji thing made no sense to me. I used to be terrified of girls in my youth, but never for a second thought I was attracted to men. My social anxiety was due to my attraction to them and even at that age I knew that.
Persona 4 is full of fascinating, psychologically complex characters. But when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender identity, the game fails to face the truth.
Let me state one thing up front: in many ways, Persona 4 is an outstanding game. As its story has progressed over the course of a school year, I've formed a much closer connection to its cast of high school students than I have to the characters in most games. It has repeatedly made me laugh out loud, sometimes made my pulse race, and occasionally moved me, as its heroes have formed happy memories together and faced great challenges together. They confront these challenges in both the real world that every high school student must navigate, and in that other world they have the power to enter, a world where manifestations of the thoughts and feelings that reside in our subconscious take shape.
But for a game that is all about people coming to terms with the aspects of themselves that they have long repressed, Persona 4's treatment of two of its main characters, Kanji and Naoto, leaves a great deal to be desired. Initially, Kanji appears gay and Naoto seems to be transgender. However, rather than embracing these traits as interesting facets of two members of the game's core group, Persona 4 ultimately rejects them.
By clearly raising the idea in the player's mind that Kanji is gay and then rejecting that idea, Persona 4 sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted.Let's start with Kanji. When you first hear about him, it's via a televised news report that characterizes him as a violent troublemaker. Soon, he becomes the latest person to appear on the Midnight Channel, and you and your fellow investigation team members venture through a television and into the mysterious world on the other side where subconscious feelings and desires are manifested. Kanji's realm is a steamy bathhouse, and as you make your way through it, you repeatedly hear Shadow Kanji (the embodiment of his repressed subconscious) express sexual desire for men. I was immediately intrigued. Here, I hoped, I would get a complex portrayal of a gay character, one who has sadly but understandably repressed his sexuality in response to societal pressure, who felt that he could not be accepted as a tough guy if people knew he was also gay.
Unfortunately, Persona 4 doesn't follow through on this potential. When Kanji confronts his shadow self and accepts who he is, he reveals not that he is attracted to men, but that he is just deeply afraid of (or maybe deeply dislikes) women. He recalls things that girls have said to him in the past ("You like to sew? What a queer!") and says that he is more comfortable around men because, according to him, "they'd never say those awful, degrading things." (I'm not sure what sort of world Kanji lives in where men would never criticize him for liking to sew and do other things that are stereotypically considered feminine, but for the sake of the game, I'll go along with it.) However, at the end of the day, his issue is simply a matter of feeling more comfortable around men, not one of being physically attracted to them.
To me, this is a huge cop-out. It rings psychologically false; the ultimate truth of Kanji's character as someone who was just afraid of rejection because girls had been cruel to him in the past doesn't quite mesh with the imagery of his dungeon and the personality of his shadow self. By clearly raising the idea in the player's mind that Kanji is gay and then rejecting that idea, Persona 4 sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted.
Yosuke's attitudes about Kanji are problematic, and so is the game's way of handling them.As the story progresses, we're periodically reminded that, had he been gay, Kanji would not have been fully accepted by the other members of the investigation team, and, in fact, some anxiety lingers later on about whether or not Kanji is truly straight. During a school camping trip in which the protagonist, Kanji, and Yosuke are gathered in the same tent, Yosuke goes so far as to ask, "Are we gonna be safe alone with you?" suggesting that in Yosuke's mind, if Kanji had been gay, he would also be prone to behave inappropriately. When Kanji tells Yosuke that he has no problem being around girls now, Yosuke asks him to prove it, saying that if he can't, "we're gonna be stuck here all night half scared to death." Yosuke's attitudes about Kanji are problematic, and so is the game's way of handling them. Rather than addressing Yosuke's negative perceptions of homosexuality, perhaps with a character arc in which his prejudices are challenged and he becomes more open-minded over time, Persona 4 lets his view of homosexuality as something to be feared stand unchallenged and unremarked upon, treating it as normal and acceptable.
Persona 4's treatment of Naoto is no better. Naoto, known in the media as the detective prince, comes to town to help the police with their ongoing investigation of the disappearances that are plaguing Inaba. Predictably, Naoto disappears himself, and the investigation team leaps into action to rescue him. Naoto's dungeon is a sort of bunker, with large metallic doors and flashing lights. When you finally descend to the deepest chambers of the bunker, you find Naoto declaring that he is about to embark on a "bodily alteration process." This process, he says, will result in "the moment of a new birth" and enable him to "walk a completely different path in life." Shadow Naoto then taunts Naoto, saying that Naoto is "such a cool, manly name" but that "a name doesn't change the truth. It doesn't let you cross the barrier between the sexes." Shadow Naoto then reveals to the investigation team that Naoto is physically female.
I've always believed that "silence implies compliance" and given that all forms of media in general have an impact on how our society grows and develops I'm glad that Carol's pulled up such a popular franchise for harboring and featuring such a prejudiced mentality.
While it's very likely most people who play this game wouldn't be affected by the philosophy in the game, all it takes for it to do any damage is to alter the perception for a few people that were convinced. Sexuality isn't a choice, any kind of sexuality, learn to accept and respect people as people for who they are.
For all you posters out there who think otherwise here's a question for you "When did you decide to be straight?"
I think that you are looking at the situation in too much of a westerner's perspective. In Japan, Homosexuality is viewed in a completely different way than here in the west, so don't act surprised because another country doesn't feel the same way as we do about the subject. And since the game is a direct translation of the Japanese game, don't expect it to 'magically change' to please you. Second of all, this is a video game last I checked, not some random outlet for propaganda. People shouldn't expect for a video game company to cater to fans of a specific demographic/orientation. If the creators wanted the characters to be a certain way, they would have created them that way to begin with.
Er, I think the only person having a problem here is you. Why are you trying so hard to see things that aren't there? Considering that the game has school kids at the center stage, the issues described in the game can well be taken at ther face value. A guy whos afraid/feels uncomfortable around girls: teenagers can be really cruel to each other, to the point where it can potentially develop into a problem. A female posing as a male because she feels that there is more opportunity in the world that way....welcome to the world of gender inequality. Why are you trying to twist all of this to find something that is not even there.
With all due respect Caro, not everyone believes that homosexuality is something that should be accepted. Nevertheless I respect you and your opinion, however I do feel like this article is very bias.
Whatever happen to just sticking to video games on a I dunno...VIDEO GAME website? If I wanted to read far left librial propaganda, I would have went to the Huffington Post's website.
Calling this relevent journalism or even journalism altogether is a joke.
@Double_Wide Don't you realize that video games have long since transcended being "just games?" I'm not saying every one has to have a statement or make some sort of stance, but they are another form of art (not to mention livelihood for thousands of people) and as such have the capacity and - one could argue - responsibility to expose our weaknesses as a society and commentate on life as a whole. I think Caro is an extremely competent journalist and this IS relevant. Maybe you've never had issues with your sexuality or gender identity and good for you if that's the case, but many MANY people have and do, so it's important when the issue brought up and done less than service by a game company. Calling this "far left liberal propaganda" is just parroting what you hear On Rush Limbaugh every day (trust me, I listen too).
Open your mind and your heart and you'll see the relevance of this article and one of Caro's many roles as a gaming journalist. Take care!
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@carolynmichelle While this is a very interesting read, with important issues in general, it seems that there are a number of very important variables that were not factored in when writing this. First, Japan really has no ill view on homosexuality or transgenders; in fact, it is very accepted there. Second, what we infer from the game as a western audience, could be different from what is actually implied in meaning and the way these meanings are delivered. Translation can only go so far, and the way people talk in a certain part of the world (i.e. figure of speech, subtle implications, etc.) can change things; in this case, translation may have altered the original context of things and their meanings. Let's not also forget, there are social issues in Japan that are probably different from what we're used to in our own unique cultures; those issues could also translate (I'm using "translate" figuratively here) poorly when crossing over. These are all some of the main points to consider when talking about such topics, and in this case, games from Japan and other cultures.
Anyway, I hope this was helpful, and perhaps shed some light on a few things.
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While I agree that Kanji's progression does feel like a cop out, Naoto's story does make sense within Japanese culture as she only says she feels more like a man in relation to perceiving her femininity to be a weakness, once she realises that being a women does not equate to being weak she can accept who she is. I suppose anything like this can be perceived differently by different people I always took her story as being more about cultural perception of gender rather than anything trans-gender related.
The game is a direct translation of the Japanese version. The Japanese version, being written for (and by) Japanese people in Japanese society, where games teach the value of culture, which in Japan, is to do what most people in Japanese society do. It teaches not about what is best for the individual, but what is best for society, and maturing means understanding that and accepting what society wants. Many western people of western countries would argue this is wrong, and teaches people not to pursue their freedom and rights, but that is what it means to live in Japanese society and be Japanese. When playing the game, you just have to keep in mind who the game was written for (and by).
Whilst i respect the author and the point they are trying to make, it is unfortunately completely void of any relevance to the context. This game was made in Japan for mainly Japanese gamers. You simply cannot compare Japanese views on Homosexuality and Transgender to the way Western people see it. Japan has its own culture and it is very different to ours.
Should we see more of the LGBT community involved in the gaming world? Absolutely!
Will it start in Japan? No Chance.
@oCHELSEA_SMILEo Thats a very good point. How other countries see these things is VERY different to how the rest of the world may see them.
Are you kidding!! Japan has no fear of the "LGBT community". I can easily point you to any number of Japanese games, manga and anime that deal with the subject. again they have NO fear of it.
The game Catherine, came out maybe a year and a half ago, has a transgender character in it. Guess what, it's seen a world wide release. Guess what, the world didn't end.
She didn't say "fear". She said they had different views. i.e. Western expectations pertaining to same-sex attraction differ from Eastern expectations.
A men's bathhouse, for instance, may have subcultural implications for homosexuality in the west. But in Japan, there is no such association.
And I regret mentioning Catherine, only because I'm sure there will be a blog on it as well ....
At least finish the game this time.
Thanks for keeping writing these articles, Carolyn. You help give Gamespot's artcles more depth and variety than most other gaming sites. Keep at it and don't be discouraged by trolls. :)
@Myst17 Addressing issues that are taboo clearly excite you.
@Myst17 Sure, if you consider confusion, delusion, and error "depth", she certainly adds that; it is something more to explore. Definitely more variety. That being said, her reviews of games are definitely not all bad. I recall a number of relatively good ones. But this misguided, unbalanced, and forced activism is not quality research, nor is it quality commentary. Nor is it quality negotiation. It might be effective in facilitating certain changes by deceiving some people and creating a somewhat attractive narrative of victimhood and evil. But any such change will be accompanied by justified antagonism and it will lead to positions becoming more extreme. It's very doubtful that what she did - what she does - is constructive overall; overall, it likely won't promote genuine, positive, and lasting change. Her deficits get in the way of an open and benevolent discussion of her concerns and opposing concerns.
@l777l Wow, a sensible debate in the comment section? lol. Kudos to guys :)
@l777l Can you tell me of another videogame journalist who writes about these kind of issues that does it better? I'm not trolling you, I actually want to know. Maybe I just don't read enough videogames news, and I missed someone who's quite good and renowned at it. I like when they treat games as art, ways to communicate ideas, and influence culture.
So, me not knowing more journalists like her, I'm quite happy to encourage her to keep on writing. Because even though she might be flawed (who isn't?) I rather see these issues brought up than not at all (I agree with you that creating division is not desirable, but I just don't agree in that she does this quite in the extension you describe).
"Just the fact that she's a transgender person means that some people will just never be happy about her articles, about her working at GameSpot, or at her just being."
But how's that supposed to justify Petit's articles? It sounds like you're assigning an inherent value to them based only on gender. I don't see how that identifies value--and I certainly don't see how that identifies a general, gender-based disdain for whatever this person writes. I'm sure you could find a few people out of a thousand comments who speak negatively towards the author for reasons revolving around transgenderism. But you can't establish that without catching the bulk of those comments in the act of discrimination.
Your position seems to lack an empirical foundation aside from your own cynicism.
"I see her neither burning nor saving houses. I see someone saying "I believe the houses are aflame"."
Which begs the question: What would your example of "burning houses" be from a literary perspective?
I mean, the author has already claimed to know the official position of the developers on the issue of gender identity and same-sex preference based solely on intuition and zero research. That's hardly a mere observation on his part.
"In conclusion, I don't agree with you when you conclude that "it likely won't promote genuine, positive, and lasting change". We're discussing the issues, which is good."
We're having a discussion about the lack of discussion and how people generally see this article as being erroneous. I sincerely doubt that 's what you're arguing his aim was in the first place.
@l777l Indeed, analogies are tricky business. And yes, I agree, social issues like this is obviously, more complex than perma-death. So yeah, I concede: Editors here should be a bit more heavy with the neutrality.
Still, I stand by the other things I said before: I want to know her opinion, and I see no evidence to support the theory that she's making it worse. Articles could be better? I suppose. Need more balance? Alright. Fuels haters? How could she not? Yet, I still appreciate her input to this magazine and brings forth issues rarely covered elsewhere.
We might not see exactly eye to eye, but I think we know where and why we stand where we do. It's refreshing to enjoy a comment argument, specially here at GS. It's been a pleasure debating you, sir (or madam!). Thanks!
@Myst17 @l777l You appreciate depth and complexity. They have more profound meaning to you than perma-death (being awesome). It makes sense to take particular care when it comes to depth and complexity, and when it comes to social problems, and advocating social change. This is what we have here. This is why asking for content-neutrality and counterbalance makes sense, why it would be unfair not to ask for it. The problems and accusations of homophobia, transphobia, of inhumanity, oppression, objectification and tyranny - which are either implicit or explicit - are much more severe (and complicated) than "accusations of being for/against perma-death [well, in video games; compare that to discussing the legal death sentence]".
It appears we understand each other, which I find good. Nonetheless, I maintain what I said before. (If I have to add something to your "I believe the houses are aflame" comment, it would be: "The boy who cried wolf[/the houses are aflame]." To remain within the boundaries of my analogy, crying "the houses are aflame" would have to be causing fire. It's perhaps better to stay outside these boundaries. Hence my reluctance to add something.)
@l777lI agree with your whole fireman analogy. Doing harm with good intentions is not good. I saw you meant that in your first comment. And I agree. But I just fail to judge her work as THAT much harmful, derisive or creating extremism. When talking about sexuality and transgender issues many people just retract to the "I'm right, you're wrong and a freak for even bringing it up to my eyes" discourse. So finding a comment-enabled article that does not "upset" people in a forum seem very unlikely. Just the fact that she's a transgender person means that some people will just never be happy about her articles, about her working at GameSpot, or at her just being.
And that's gotta be hard. I imagine she must be very hard-skinned to keep on writing in spite of the expected backlash against her person. I'd hate for her to be silent should she ever feel put down by the haters (though I doubt it'd happen anytime soon). Still, I wanted to reassure her that, in spite of the loud haters, she still has readers that like her input; which I do.
That, of course, does not mean I condone sloppy journalism. I just don't necessary see articles like this one as hard journalism, I take it more like her take on some issues. Of course she's biased, who isn't when it comes to these subjects? Who wouldn't if on her shoes? Anyone can talk about sexuality and diversity issues, but I like to come here to to read what her unique perspective on these issues is. I rarely take what she writes on her commentary articles as hard facts. I, so far, have not read anything I could identify as "delusion or confusion or error" on her articles, though I have some times not agreed with her conclusions.
I agree that the editors could do a better job of framing her work by having someone else on staff to counterbalance, but only because it would mean more people discussing it. I think it's hard to find journalists who are also gamers, who are also openly passionate about sexual diversity, who would come forward. If they do, I'd be thrilled. At the same time it seems very unfair, doesn't it? We don't usually ask for counterbalance or "competing framework" when Tom writes about perma-death being awesome. We all know that that's just his stand on the subject, so why should they automatically "balance" Carolyn's opinion?
In conclusion, I don't agree with you when you conclude that "it likely won't promote genuine, positive, and lasting change". We're discussing the issues, which is good. Yes, there are haters who'll always troll away, but that seems pretty much unavoidable ("Haters gonna hate!"). That's why I asked if you knew someone who talked about these issues who does it better. Judging by our conversation, I do see people capable of civilized dialogue who can debate, share and agree on ideas (though we're not the vocal majority, that's for sure). And just as Carolyn's article is the cause of this conversation, she might start different discussions with different articles.
I see her neither burning nor saving houses. I see someone saying "I believe the houses are aflame".
@Myst17 A good line of thought, Myst. I like your well-written reply.
Let's assume there's only one fireman. He extinguishes some fires but overall causes most of the neighborhood to burn down. I wouldn't congratulate him, overall, even though he is the only fireman. I certainly wouldn't congratulate him for causing a house to burn down (setting it on fire), be it in a misguided attempt to teach others safety rules. With this article here, Carolyn burned down a house. And having (more) things burn down is not a kind of variety I would cheer for.
So, Carolyn should be criticized when she burns down a house. She should also be criticized for more general somewhat pyromaniacal - or feminist-maniacal - tendencies. That being said, she should be congratulated when she safes a house, or writes something good. In conclusion, she should burn down fewer houses, and - for content-neutrality - her unbalanced, biased intepretative framework and activism should be reduced and fragmented; alternatively, or (probably better) additionally, an editor representing and applying a competing framework and activism should be installed.
"I like when they treat games as art, ways to communicate ideas, and influence culture."
As do I.
@Myst17 Trolls? What trolls? All I see is the Author ignoring valid criticism to a incredibly flawed and biased article.
@Daizun I said ignore the trolls, not the constructive critisism. Did you feel alluded?
@Myst17 @Daizun A work of this quality? I'm honestly not sure.
Logical leaps and homophobia being read into (where it is not actually) a video game are not something which people should probably consider a proper personal take on a game.
@Daizun "A handful" and "rife with" are very subjective terms, agreed? As someone who reads a lot of GS's and Carolyn's articles I have found that, to my perception, her articles are indeed "rifled" with trolls. I was pretty convinced when I used the term troll, that I meant "poeple who throw inflamatory comments just for effect"... but I guess now it's a "blanket" comment...? Alright...
I never said Carolyn is the best writer/journalist, and I am not commenting on the quality of the article itself or her "reluctance" to comment on her detractors (though I'd wait a bit more after the article was published to see if she comments, in order to call say she's ignoring them. Maybe she already has to some, I don't know).
I appreciate Carolyn's take on social issues on video games and the diversity she brings to the table, and I wanted her to know that there are people who like her work, as I'm sure she knows there are people that don't. Is that wrong? Aren't I allowed to like her work?
@Myst17@Daizun The blanket comments like "don't be discouraged by trolls" implies that these comments are rife with trolling. There are handful at best, and what IS being ignored (by the Author and many defending commentors) is the fact that this article is poorly written and ignores half of what occurs in the game in place of the Authors opinion. The Author should respond to those. However what they are choosing go ignore it seems is any opinion which calls out the issues in this article.
The reason why Kanji's sexuality isn't clearly explained is because it up to the player to think what it is.
Kanji accepts that he has feelings for Naoto when he believes her to be male. He basically comes to terms with his pansexuality. I think the problem that most people have with this article is your thinly veiled agenda of forcing your own situation on the characters. I'm sure that if Kanji was purely homosexual, and that was the direction the development team wanted to go in, that they would have.
Naoto's problem is purely about gender bias. She accepts herself as a woman, we all saw her get her persona. She only wanted to give the appearance of being male to further her career and professional acceptance.
I think dogging one of the greatest games ever created because it doesn't tell your autobiography is extremely narcissistic. An article like this is basically a no win situation for anyone.
About naoto, i do agree with some stuff people said here, she really doesn't seem transgender, what troubles her mostly is gender equality issues, because the detective world is heavily masculinized and aparently without room for women. It's not that she has a conflict with her gender identity, she only doesn't believe she can fulfill her dream of being a detective AND be a woman at the same time. The conflict happens because she sees her sex as a barrier to her professional goals. Also, the whole blushing thing when she dresses as a woman happens because she's not used to dress that way, it has nothing to do with gender expression. There's a lot of evidence spread throughout the game to reinforce this point, one of them being the romance she can have with the MC, where she expresses NO RESISTANCE whatsoever to changing her sex presentation (she's even the one to suggest the change, if i'm not mistaken). If she in fact was transgender, she'd obviously have feelings against stuff like that, but evidence seems to suggest she doesn't care. In many instances, she even goes as far as to imply that her sex presentation is more a DISGUISE (something detectives do commonly, Sherlock Holmes being an example) than her real self. This kind of posture is completely incoherent with transexuality. What i thought the game tried to do was, first, to give the false impression she was a man, second, trick the player again, this time into believing she's transgender, and then, finally, showing that she's truly a regular girl troubled with the sexism the world's full of.
Carolyn at least has a thick skin, I give her that, I may disagree with her on probably everything, but I can respect her right to say whatever she wants, so long as she respects ours :)