At this very moment I am being untruthful. It’s a fundamental truth of our society that we only show certain sides of ourselves to each other. At times we engage in a complicit lie, pretending to care about one another in order to achieve some fundamental goal. At this very moment I am choosing only to show this side of myself to you, to engage you on a “meaningful” level .This concept of the faces we wear around each other, the idea that the relationships we create are based not only on what we choose to share with each other, but we choose not to share, is at the core of the great game that us members of society play with each other.
Arguably, the idea of our “other self” has been at the core of the Persona series for some time. However, it is not until the release of Persona 3 that it finally metastasized into the core of the games.
With the introduction of the Social Link system, suddenly the metaphor is complete. Not only do you take upon various mystic entities as Personas during the battle phase, but now you also become a similarly multi-faced within the context of social situations. Within my playthrough I became a genius level student, proficient in Kendo, irresistibly charming, insanely badass, and a wooer of multiple women. There was not a man nor a woman that could resist me.
Achieving this is simple: tell everyone what they want to hear. Like many RPGs, your character in Persona is a blank slate. This slate is not for you to impart yourself on. You are blank in the same way a mirror is before light strikes it. You are blank so you can become a reflection of everybody else. At one point a minor character points out that your character has an androgynous appearance. You as a character have an appearance that is both masculine and feminine, able to take on characteristics of either gender as necessary.
While others have Personas that remain constant throughout the game, at times evolving as they evolve as people, you are ever changing. Tellingly, the in battle icon for switching Personas is a mask. These spirits and demons are nothing but masks that change to suit the situation. You increase in strength by obtaining new ones, or combining the old Personas. You give the answers your friends want to hear for the same reason–because you know it will draw them closer to you–and that the bond between you two will likewise increase your strength.
You have not truly grown together, however. As a near mute, you only answer when talked to, and even when others find out about your history, it is never because you confided in them or shared some part of yourself. You simply take in what everyone else gives to you, and reflect it back at them in the way you need to to bring them closer. They have given you the deepest parts of themselves, and you have done little more than listen and consume.
Who hasn’t done the same in their real life, though? Have you never told someone only what they wanted to hear? Society is full of these half-truths. Oftentimes both parties are aware of the deception they are inflicting on each other, but it’s simply easier to pretend. We don’t live life as one person, but as multiple Personas. We change our faces, our expressions, our language, and at times our voices to whomever we are around. The relationships between people cause reflections of each other in the opposite person. We become aggressive, sweet, charming, loud, vulgar, or polite in a new context–or we simply hide aspects of ourselves. There are very few people, if any, in our lives that we show every face to.
We are liars. That we wear masks is our only truth.