Learning Through Play: Persona 5

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT PERSONA 5, THROUGH AT LEAST SUMMER.

Persona 5 has been stuck in my head basically since I played it, which would be literally the day it launched until I’d finished it, taking a couple days off work to do so. It’s been stuck in my head so much that my morning walk to work is mostly paired with P5 OST tunes, and not only because Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There is a great song with which to start your day.

It’s stuck with me, I think, because it’s taught me a bunch of things that I hadn’t previously had a good inroad for. The easy one is the Tokyo subway. At the start of the game, you’re sent to get to school and told “don’t be late!” which automatically triggers some amount of urgency-anxiety in me, especially when I don’t know how to not be late. I got terribly, terribly lost in P5’s initial subway system, and what I found out in the process is that it’s laid out almost exactly like Tokyo subways, including how you navigate them. I’m now used to navigating P5’s subway system, and from folks I know who’ve visited Japan, the parallels are good enough that I might be instantly used to navigating those subways, just through osmosis. It’s an interesting thought, and with any luck I’ll be able to take a trip there and see for myself at some point.

More interesting to me, though, is seeing how P5 has quickly and effectively taught me about judging people, and then letting my opinions change. It’s a game where you’re encouraged to make early judgements about people, because it’s a survival trait. P5’s world is not a friendly one, and it’s one where, from the very start, you’re told that not only is someone going to betray you, but that it’s going to be someone close to you. It teaches you not to trust people early on. It then teaches you that if you’re too untrusting and too paranoid, you don’t get close to anyone, and that sometimes those early snap judgements are the right ones. It’s a really impressive series of arcs that twists and turns and leaves me with Thoughts, about the characters, about the portrayals, and honestly about a lot of stuff.

The one that sticks in my mind the most is Yusuke/Fox, the artist. He’s not my favorite character in the game, but he’s probably the one I’ve thought about the most. I started out hating him. I didn’t like his introductory arc, I didn’t like what looked and sounded like overt sexual harassment / blackmail towards Ann on his part during that arc, and there really wasn’t any kind of redemptive piece to that arc that made me feel any better about him– he never even apologizes to Ann (nor do any of the other characters, who abet that whole arc, also bothering me).

Then he’s a party member. A useful party member, and one who moment-to-moment annoys me less than Ryuji/Skull, but with whom I’ve had a bad start and am still put off by his being a pretty horrible person in his intro.

Then we talk, because The Emperor is a useful set of personas and I’m working on social links. Sometimes it’s just because I have nothing better to do that day. I hear about how obsessive he is about his art, how much he delves into tiny details and how frustrated he is when he can’t quite get them right, even (especially!) when he can’t quantify or explain how they’re not right. I watch him struggle for words and just deflate, defeated, and I roll my eyes because I don’t have a lot of sympathy for him.

Then we meet Futaba. I get Futaba, I think she’s pretty awesome, and I want to help her with her problems for a variety of reasons, not least of which because she wants to be helped with her problems, and hasn’t had a good onramp for it until now. I’m willing to do what it takes, and engage on her terms, because I (as a person) can relate (to her character). I also notice that she’s really good at talking with Yusuke. They don’t get along, per se, but they communicate with one another incredibly effectively, and Yusuke is like a different person when they’re in the same room. Then Futaba makes an offhanded comment and a theory clicks into place. I get it.

I don’t think Yusuke is an asshole. I think he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum. There’s a design in his head that he has trouble communicating, and he’s not great at relating with people, and he gets frustrated when these two things intersect. He’s intensely awkward because he just doesn’t get social cues, but he’s also very smart. He knows he’s bad with people, and is trying to get better at it, and partly doesn’t know how and partly has his own brain working against him. He’s able to look at and imitate people who he views as more socially functional, it’s just that his exposure to those people has been badly skewed over his life.

He and Futaba, while they don’t exactly get along, are on a similar wavelength, just by dint of being awkward around other people. They’re both very smart, and both frustrated about not being good communicators, but they can communicate with each other.

Flash back to my entire series of interactions with Yusuke at this point, and I realize how consistent this has been. I understand why so many of my dialogue choices have gotten a poor response, and why I feel like I have to work so hard to “get through” to him. I’d been treating him entirely like a different person, because it wasn’t obvious that he wasn’t.

This is on me. This is me snap-judging someone (even with evidence, I think his actions during his intro are still pretty crap, even given the ‘doesn’t really understand how to interact with people’ context) and then not giving them a chance. Yusuke’s been trying to open up and I’ve been patronizing him. He’s asking “how do I become better at this” and my answer is “you’re bad at this”, which is something he already knows.

The applications of this in my actual life are beyond count. Good communication is a skill, not an inherent trait shared by all people of some level of competence. Like many skills, some people will have a much, much harder time developing them. I’m kind of short– basketball is a skill I am predisposed to have a hard time developing. The same is true of communication for other people.

It’s a drum I beat regularly, though usually in the context of management. Good management is a form of good communication, which is a skill, that not everyone has. You’d think I’d have expanded that sphere to this extent, but it took P5 to get me to broaden that sphere.

P5 has a lot for me to unpack. It baits me a lot with things, suggesting I make a snap judgement about them, but sometimes proves that those snap judgements are correct. The lesson feels like an interesting balance between making the snap judgements and being open to having them changed, which I think is a lot harder than only doing one or the other.

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