This is a brilliant response to an otherwise worthless critique. Thank you for restoring my faith in Gamespot.
You know, I like it when the writers of Gamespot voice their opinions and write articles about various issues in the gaming industry. They're usually very interesting reads. However, that doesn't mean I agree with each and every one of them. One article in question is Carolyns recent article on Persona 4. In the article, she voices her disappointment with how Naoto and Kanjis characters are portrayed in the game. She claims that the issues of sexuality and gender identity are handled quite poorly in Persona 4, and that it goes against its themes of accepting ones self. She says that their characterizations "[send] the message that such sexual orientations and gender identities are too scary to accept."
While I respect her opinion, I disagree with it. But before I start, I'll give all you readers a fair warning: Since I'm replying to an article about sexuality and gender identity in gaming, of course I'll be addressing these issues. If you're sick and tired of hearing about this, do yourself a favor and press the back button right now. Also, this blog contains numerous spoilers for Persona 4.
Kanji is put out on the cutting board first. The tough talking, foul mouthed, troubled youth's shadow manifests as a flamboyant man in a loincloth spouting dialogue with some very obvious homosexual undertones. And even before Kanji was kidnapped and thrown in to the TV, this is heavily hinted (as you can infer from his first encounter with Naoto). It turns out that this isn't the case. When he finally accepts his shadow, it turns out that he isn't homosexual, he just deeply dislikes women and how they judged him. It turns out that he's just more comfortable with guys.
Petit's answer to this is: "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 [homosexual] and then rejecting that idea, Persona 4 sends the message that homosexuality is shameful and should not be accepted."
First of all, the characters personalities and actions do not PERFECTLY match with the personalities of their shadow selves. Its actually said in the game that the shadows are only one facet of the characters personality. Also, the shadows and the dungeons are very extreme manifestations of the characters deepest troubles and fears.
For example, Rise's strip club dungeon was the result of people not seeing the real her. Rise constantly had to be everyone's charming, cute, and most of all, perfect idol for the camera. Fed up with this fake personality she was forced to show, she left show business and went to live a normal life. But of course everyone still approached her, wanting to meet Rise the media darling, not the real her. Therefore, the whole "I'm going to strip and bare it all" was a very extreme way of saying she wanted to shed her generic idol shell and show the world the real her.
Yukiko's dungeon was a castle; her shadow wore princess' clothing, and constantly spoke of "scoring a hot stud." Her shadow, once provoked, manifested as a bird in a cage who summoned a prince to fight for her. This represented Yukiko's feelings of being trapped in a life she didn't want to pursue. She didn't want to inherit the family inn. She wanted someone ("a prince charming") to come and whisk her away. The Void Quest dungeon, manifesting itself as an 8 bit JRPG dungeon, represented Mitsuos idea of his actions all being a game, with him being the hero. The Heaven dungeon manifested from Namatame's view of himself as a God who was saving lives. It could also possibly represent Nanako's desire to be reunited with her dear departed mother.
The disconnect between the exaggerated dungeons and reality is especially evident with Yukiko. She's a reserved, refined, and classy girl (a Yamato Nadeshiko if you will) who's never even had a boyfriend. Yet her shadows words that go something like "I've got my lacy underthings on, now I'm ready to score a hot stud," carry a very obvious sexual connotation.
Okay, now lets bring it back to Kanji and his whole bathhouse bonanza. Remember, these are extreme and exaggerated manifestations. Rise is not an indecent girl who'd strip in front of millions, Yukiko is not promiscuous, Nanako doesn't want to die, and Mitsuo and Namatame are delusional (among other things).
Kanjis character was handled in a very ambiguous and slightly confusing way. And at times, it seems that his confusion about his sexuality is merely played for laughs (as evidenced by the two scenes Petit mentioned. Ill give her that one). But it just doesn't seem like the creators were trying to be disrespectful to homosexuals, or paint homosexuality as dirty or shameful. I think Troy Baker (his voice actor) put it best in this video. All in all, Kanji is a kid struggling with his identity. Conflicted between accepting himself (along with his hobbies that are seen as feminine), or rejecting the world that rejects him. I also thought it was really cool how Baker said that people came up to him and told him that his character kind of gave them the courage to be open about their own sexuality.
And with that we move in to what Petit had to say about Naoto's character. First, she refers to Naoto as a male throughout the article on the basis that Naoto uses the masculine Japanese pronoun boku. I dont know if Petit knows this, but girls who refer to themselves with a masculine pronoun are known as bokuko (boku + ko, which means girl). In the west, we refer to them as tomboys. It does not automatically mean they identify as men. It complements both Naoto's personality and backstory.
Also, Naoto's reason for wanting to craft herself as the hard-boiled detective did not only stem from her attachment to fictional characters. She is descended from a line of famous detectives and she intends to continue the tradition. Her parents dying when she was young forced her to grow up quickly, explaining her mature demeanor and personality despite being a teenager in high school. The detective novels she loved as a kid were only one small piece of the puzzle.
Naoto is young, short (5'0"), and a woman. This doesn't fit her idea of what a detective is. She can't change her height or age (at least not right away), so she chose to change her appearance in order to be taken more seriously by the older detectives. Its enough that she gets treated like a child (something made evident in the game). I doubt she'd want to deal with sexism too. I think Naoto's true intentions were to become a splendid and ideal detective, not a man. Like Kanji, Naoto is struggling with her identity. I also do not think she is transgender. She just doesn't fit the bill. Later in the game, she has no qualms about putting on a girls school uniform and speaking in a more feminine voice for the protagonist. It would seem to me that if she identified as a male, she would have refused, being highly uncomfortable and maybe a bit angered by the request. It seems she would have demanded that the protagonist accept her the way she is: as a man.
Also, in Persona 4 Arena, when an illusion of Akihiko comments on her overdeveloped chest ("its all fat and no muscle"), she blushes and remarks that that's the part of her self-image that she's most sensitive about. From her choice of words, it seems to be embarrassment of a grown man's blunt comment about her developing breasts, not shame or anger of a female body she didn't want. Also, in the epilogue of Persona 4 Golden, we see Naoto comfortably donning feminine clothing and slightly longer hair. Throughout the game and even more so in the social links, the protagonist helps the characters through their troubles and insecurities so they can accept themselves. Naoto accepting herself as a woman who could still be a great detective without pretending to be something she was not adhered to that formula.
There's also a few other things to consider here. Japan is an entirely different country that speaks an entirely different language. Some things get lost in translation. Some subjects just aren't handled in a way that coincides with the way we Westerners would handle the subject. Japans views of gender identity and sexuality are probably much different than they are in the US. Couple that with the fact that video game stories still have a lot of growing to do as a whole. There's a lot to be desired in its budding methods of storytelling. However, in terms of video game stories and characters, I'd say Persona 4 is top notch. Its characters are as well fleshed out as they are dynamic and interesting. I don't think it was Atlus' intention to mock or shame homosexuals and transgender people.
Perhaps in a way, I am a bit biased. I absolutely adore the game and have spent well over 150 hours on it. So of course I'm going to defend it, because I think the game is so brilliant. In no way would I ever defend it if I shared Carolyn's sentiments and thought that the game was even remotely disrespectful and offensive.
Thanks very much for feeling that my feature warranted a response. I responded to your response. I hope that even if we don't agree at the end of the day, we can each appreciate where the other is coming from. :) http://www.gamespot.com/users/carolynmichelle/show_blog_entry.php?topic_id=m-100-26016981
Nicely put! Carolyn is a lovely person, but it really bugged me that she completely missed the point of the characters in her article. Good that someone got the time to dot the Is and cross the Ts over this conversation (without being rude, most importantly).
IMO Persona is unique in the way it treats it's characters. Kanji is one of the most boldly fleshed characters in videogames as of late, it really bothered me that she wrote him off as being inconsistent.
@rah_xephon23 I refer to Carolyn as a woman because she is a woman. There's no need to be rude.
@QueerGamersXist oh the non-offensive term huh. yes hermaphrodite sounds so bad. I was a little confused about people who call themselves transgender seen a couple shows about it a while back, but unless you have a medical reason to question your sex it is pretty easy to determine if you are male or female. unless maybe if you have an severe mental disoreder
folks born with non-binary sexual anatomy are actually called "intersex" these days--hermaphrodite is an outdated, clinical, and typically considered an offensive term. and yes, intersex and trans people are def different.
@Lucky_Krystal @juboner @rah_xephon23 she is relating her own beliefs with the games as you stated with your blog and you also agree she is going about it the wrong way. and i dont like it and want to state my opinion. she is the one who has to accept the consequence of her actions. good blog by the way looks like you put alot of effort into it
@rah_xephon23 i just want to know if she had a complete gender overhaul. she is in the media and her transformation was seen to many people
@rah_xephon23 @zyxe @juboner i would call anyone by whatever gendered words they want me to. carolyn is a trans woman, meaning carolyn is a woman and uses feminine pronouns (she/her/hers). our bodies have nothing to do with our gender --genitalia and gender identity are two totally different things, and the fact people are demanding to see her genitalia is disgusting. and it's not just here, but wherever she appears on the web (along with any other "out" trans person who exists in the public eye). other people's bodies are none of your business. if you were in the media, would you find it appropriate if people started demanding pictures of your junk? of course not, so gtf over it please.
@rah_xephon23 @zyxe @juboner @Lucky_Krystal She is a her. I believe she's a hermaphrodite. She's not some kind of person that chose to be one over another. Furthermore, while I too had a hard time telling what she was when I first saw and heard her, you get used to calling her a female; if anything, just look to her name: Carolyn; that's a female name.
@bgna8980 Well, thanks for calling me awesome
But there's no need to insult Carolyn. In this blog, I made it a point to only attack her arguments and not her, in the hopes that others will do the same. The people viciously attacking her personally on the article are just idiotic and disgusting. She's a strong woman for constantly putting up with that crap and still keeping her cool.
@Lucky_Krystal @bgna8980 But its not the article that bothers me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But she forces her ideas and reasoning on to people as stated in the article, that's what truly bothers me. Her other game reviews have really bothered me as well, say for instance she rated one piece pirate warriors a 4.0 saying it lacked story, but clearly it was a fan service game and it was not meant to have much of a story and is dedicated for people who watch the show contrast to dbz games which don't have a story, don't get me wrong I love both games its just her reviews are very bothersome. Another review is arkham city, she clearly said the boss fights were too easy and deducted marks off the game, if it was too easy why doesn't she just tone up the difficulty. Half of her reviews really seem to bother me, its not just her articles. I understand and you're right but I'm not viciously attacking her, I'm just stating why her views and reviews are both forced and contradictory.
@Lucky_Krystal @bgna8980 No, don't worry I was just reassuring you that I wasn't attacking her. Usually when I see her reviews I just tune into Ign and check their scores, because to be honest, sometimes her reviews are just too cruel and it seems like she's nitpicking at it in order to give it a lower score. I'm going to follow your blog, cause you and your article are great. =)
As for her reviews...hm...I find myself disagreeing with some of them too. I usually just chalk it up to us being two different people with two different opinions on certain games.
I want to say something
Okay first off the Greeks be the first to express homosexuality, sexuality and heterosexuality that goes back to 400 - 500 BC like you said before "different country (EDIT countries) that speaks an entirely different language. You should expand your knowledge on different cultures maybe you do, but you are talking about Japan entirely, but the word countries fit better.
and secondly it just a video game you two remind me of the media that being serious for nothing. It's nice that you are defending a video game that you love. Persona 4 maybe a great game I never played it so I have no proof or evidence to defy you, but that last statement you made. Different people have views on sexuality and homosexuality and a mass majority haven't even played this game. For example how you know Carolyn was born in the 80s or 70s and things was different back then for homosexuality how I recall people was fighting for their rights and act different then it is now. So this argument is pointless, but this is not your opinion from the tone of this article your making a statement and a hint of personal grudge as well.
I'm talking about Japan because Persona 4 is a Japanese game. Where did your talk of Greeks come from? And by saying "expand your knowledge" are you trying to say I don't know what I'm talking about? Have I said anything untrue about Japan in this article?
I also chose to write about the game because this is MY blog space. Its very clear what this blog is about from its title. If you're one of those people that hates others being serious about your games then I don't see why you kept reading (I even put a warning about this in bold red letters). Also you admit to not playing Persona 4. So was you're intent just to tell me I'm uneducated and that my argument was pointless. LOL nice job. Its not pointless to me, thank you.
And this is my opinion. What, you think I copy and pasted this from somewhere? Your comment gets more laughable as I read on. I also have no grudge against Carolyn. I do like her and the stuff she writes. But when you put your writing out there for everyone to see, there probably will be people like me who disagree and decide to provide a counterargument. Couple that with the fact that I thought her argument was flawed and you have the reason why I replied with this blog.
Yeah I agree. I put in the comments that she should do Fear Effect 2, next. That's the only game that I can remember that has the type of sexuality that she's trying to focus on. Although... Hana is Bi, if I remember correctly.
Agreed. Carolyn exaggeratedly attacked the smallest points of such a large game and that made the article feel underwhelming. It seems how someone would say, "Fish for attention."
@00LiteYear "Fish for attention" suggests something negative. I think she's someone who's very passionate about LBGT issues. And there is nothing wrong with that. And since this a gaming website, voicing her opinion on LBGT characters in games is fine too.
However I just thought the arguments in her article were a bit flawed, which is why I countered with this blog.
since I have no background with this game, I am reluctant to comment. I always find Caro's articles very thoughtful, and while a 'lost in translation' argument can be made, at the time the game expects you to put in, is it too much to expect it to bridge that gap? make an effort to take out the ambiguity?
@pokecharm Wow...I did type out a long response to your comment but it dissapeared. Darnit. :/
Anyway, in my comment that got deleted I said: I usually find Caro's articles to be thoughtful and well written as well. But in this specific article, I found her analysis of the characters was a bit flawed. She overlooked many crucial elements of the story, characters, and how Japanese culture plays in to all this.
@Lucky_Krystal oh, I hate it when that happens!
I just wonder, and I'm not trying to defend or argue, but, if you're making a mass market game, one that should be reaching tons of people, then would it be in your best interest, for the gaming company, to give a little more explanation? I mean, can it hurt?
This may sound dumb but is Atlus a publisher or a developer because it seems like I see their company name on everything, every week I see a different game with their name on it.
@timdogg42069 Atlus is a publisher that normally makes RPGs, but will make different games periodically. Atlas is a different entity that you probably see more often.
@Twilleppac Atlus is best known for creating and developing the Shin Megami series which includes Persona, DDS, Nocturne, and a few other spin offs. however, they also occasionally publish and were helpful in bringing Disgaea stateside, an NIS game, but the first one was published by Atlus.
@GreggD @Thunderstarter @timdogg42069 Both, actually. Square-Enix also is a publisher and developer. For example, Square-Enix developed their own games and published games like Nier from the developer Cavia... well before Cavia went under that is.
Great blog! The blog is able to express my views much better than I can aha. I totally agree with your statement "I think Naoto's true intentions were to become a splendid and ideal detective, not a man. Like Kanji, Naoto is struggling with her identity. I also do not think she is transgender. She just doesn't fit the bill.". To me, Naoto's love of being a detective ultimately resulted in her almost being forced to act as a man, rather than the idea that she identified herself as a man rather than a woman. I also strongly agree with your response to Kanji's case in that it is an over exaggeration of his problems of being rejected as a result of his likes of "feminine" activities. Also, great thanks for the information concerning the term "boku"! As I said, you're able to express our shared views much more eloquently than I ever could!
I've been intending to play this game. I remember seeing my friends play this on the PS2. I was always under the impression that Kanji - from what my friends talked about - was that he was gay or at the very least bisexual - especially if you have that sort of imagry.
As for Naoto, seemed more of a tomboy thing, and after reading this - and the thread at NeoGaf - it seemed as you said more of a tomboy and a scenerio highlightting sexism. She had to be a man in order to be taken seriously in the field that she wanted to be a part of.
I still think i should play this - as i know most friends laud this game very strongly. and i got it on my Vita.