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The Elephant in the Room: Sexuality in Videogames & Persona 4

Videogames, as I've said before, are a very young medium; we have only some bare bones examples of what true, magnum opus videogames can be; ones that can get across the theme or message of themselves more effectively through the interactive medium than if they were anything else. When you look at the highest rated games on sites like Gamerankings or Metacritic, we see the obvious ones like Ocarina and Super Mario Galaxy, which are respectively, the very first successful venture into 3D Action/Adventure and the most polished 3D platformer of the current generation (and by extension, all-time pretty much).

These games deserve this recognition not because of their excellent narratives (Nintendo and Narrative for like a square block and a circular hole), but because of their achievements and advancements in terms of gameplay; I don't think I need to go into the laundry list of innovations Ocarina sported or the absolute perfection that was Galaxy. But while we certainly have matured vastly in terms of gameplay, we still are growing in terms of game-specific narratives, which range from cinematic abortions (Lost Planet for example) to the top tier of meaningful storytelling (Braid, Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, etc.). We have yet to find that one title we can all latch onto and say, yes, this is the sign that we have come into our own, not as a "Citizen Kane" to show the world, but as an achievement that the gaming world can look upon as the prime example.

As of now, Braid or Shadow of the Colossus are those games which we call into action when videogame narratives need defending, so some say we already have the Knight in Shining Armor title, but to me, we are still missing a few pieces that we can add to the unfinished thematic puzzle that are Braid and Shadow of the Colossus. While Braid is about the power one human being can achieve, Shadow of the Colossus is about how trust can lead to destruction. These are lessons every medium has to tell at some point, and thankfully, we have tackled them very early on in the videogame time line, however, as I said before, there are other themes that need to be explored for myself, and others, to be satisfied and say that this is it. One of those themes is sexuality.

Now, modern society as a whole has yet to mature to a stage of tolerance and acceptance in terms of the treatment of sexuality in communities, with even the most open-minded nations still not tackling the issue. Now, as a citizen of the United States, where homosexuality is still not accepted by the majority of people or outright hated by others, so it's very hard for a medium as young as videogames to tackle such an issue. Japan is no more ready to do so; on a whole, the Japanese still have an extremely shallow idea of other cultures, homosexuality included. So with the two largest developing countries basically unready to tackle the subject as a whole, I get the sneaking suspicion that it will be a while before we see commentary on one of the biggest issues in the free-world.

However, with the debacle over Modern Warfare 2's lovely anagram (F.A.G.S.: Fight Against Grenade Spammers) and Rev's recent Rant, I have to put my two cents out there. As a Floridian, homosexuality hits very close to home; after all, out Governor, Charlie Crist, may very well be a closeted homosexual. We recently had an election on whether homosexuals could have civil unions, which was, sadly for me, turned down; not because I'm a homosexual, but because I'm surprised we, as a society, still have not come to terms with the existence of homosexuality.

The hardest thing to tackle about homosexuality is the fact that it is a sexual subject, which are a sort of taboo in most places. People are unwilling to discuss sexual topics on an open forum simply because of the immaturity of the people that surround it; i.e. people that use the word "gay" as an insult. I tell you all of this not because I want you to hear me ramble about modern sociopolitical issues (this is a videogame site after all), but because this is the climate that surrounds and permeates the videogame industry.

This is not to say that modern societies will have to accept homosexuality before we see videogames that tackle the issue maturely, but what I will say is that the indifference to the subject and the unwillingness to discuss it is what is holding developers from discussing the topic. However, that said, that does not mean we haven't had at least a couple of examples of mature discussions on the topic, my favorite, and my pick for best example yet, is one many of us are familiar with: Kanji from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am extremely impressed with Persona 4; it tackles quite a few issues that resonate very loudly with it's primary audience, that audience being teenagers. Persona 4 primarily deals with the High School experience, with each character having to deal with the stress and issues that come with post-adolescence. For Kanji, that issue was not homosexuality exactly, but rather gender identity.

Kanji is an extremely masculine character, as well as being the obvious melee fighter in your group; in a way, he's basically the JRPG's teenage version of Francis from Left 4 Dead. However, this is juxtaposed by his true inside character, which is that he has much more in common with what society generally considers femininity; he likes to sew, he has an attraction to cute things, etc. However, the clincher, and the beginning of his true gender crisis, is his obvious attraction to Naoto, an androgynous character who is hiding the fact that he, in fact, is a she.

However, at this point in the game, neither you nor Kanji know that Naoto is in fact a woman, which leads him to questioning his sexual identity, which is resolved yet called into question at various parts in the game. Now, I don't believe Kanji is actually a homosexual, which I think is the most important part in understanding Kanji as a character; he is sexually ambiguous. He never really shows any attraction to any male other than Naoto, but also never really shows any attraction to any female other than Naoto. I think his crisis of gender identity is simply amplified by the existence of Naoto, who's own gender crisis multiplies Kanji's.

Two characters in one game, Kanji and Naoto, say more about issues of sexuality and gender than basically all of videogame history before it. That is why I choose that game as an example of mature sexual discussion, yet I am still holding out for a game that puts that subject at the forefront. However, until then, I'll have to deal with the medium's state of either malignant indifference or ignorant homophobia; but at least I have Persona 4 to remind that some people are trying, and in the end, that's what really counts.
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Jon B   1



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About Canti-samaone of us since 9:47 PM on 08.03.2009

Hello, I'm Trevor Johnson, also known as Canti-sama. I like to write about things including videogames (that should be paramountly obvious at this point...) music, film, and anime, so what you see in this blog is just one part of my pretentiousness! I'm a nit-picky bitch when it comes to basically everything, so excuse me if I seem like kind of an elitist, even though I try not to be. If I had to sum up who I am, I would do it through top 5 lists, so how about we a do a few right now! But before that, since DTOID tends to remove frontpage posts from my c-blog, here's the list of my frontpages, which I thank everyone very much for!

Frontpage Posts:
1. Monthly Musing - I suck At Videogames: Nostalgia's Curse, 8/12/09
2. Promoted Story - Suda 51 and the "Art" of Videogames, 9/6/09
3. Monthly Musing - Nothing is Sacred: Videogames, 10/7/09


Top 5 Favorite Videogames:
5. Fallout 3, PC
4. Mega Man X, SNES
3. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, PS2
2. Braid, PC
1. Shadow of the Colossus, PS2

Top 5 Favorite Albums:
5. Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm a Machine, 2004
4. Radiohead - O.K. Computer, 1997
3. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992
2. Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam, 2007
1. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation, 1988

Top 5 Films:
5. Brazil, Directed by Terry Gilliam
4. Fargo, Directed by Joel Coen
3. Fight Club, Directed by David Fincher
2. Shaun of the Dead, Directed by Edgar Wright
1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Directed by Sergio Leone

Top 5 Anime Productions:
5. Spirited Away, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
4. The Big O, Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama
3. Cowboy Bebop, Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion, Directed by Hideko Anno
1. Fooly Cooly, Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki

Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks
PSN Name: MetalLink1979
Wii Friend Code - 8089-7286-5497-4717
XBL - Metal Link 904 (Note: My Xbox 360 is in possession of my brother, so this is no longer technically my XBL Tag)
Xbox LIVE:Metal Link 904
Steam ID:MetalLink1979
Mii code:8089-7286-5497-4717


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