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Persona 5 Was the Game I Didn’t Know I Needed In 2020

I never saw it coming. In a year as difficult as 2020, Persona 5 has been my much-needed escape to a better, brighter future ahead.

October 19, 2020

Disclaimer: I’m going to talk about some heavy stuff in this article regarding current events and the many tragedies of 2020. Also, there will be some light to moderate Persona 5 spoilers, so please read at your own discretion.

I think it would be fair to say that 2020 has been a pretty rough year on everyone. Things like corruption and the abuse of power within the government, acts of violence committed in the name of white supremacy, and an American public that is completely apathetic to itself are not new issues for the U.S., but it feels like the bow made out of garbage tying this particular pile of garbage together is the global pandemic. All of the things listed above are heinous and horrible and should not be swept under the rug in the way that they have been for decades, but the coronavirus has added another level of stress and anxiety to the lives of everyone who understands and believes that it exists — and believe me, it exists.

Because of the infectious nature of the virus, we’ve taken (or have tried to take) many steps to ensure our safety and the safety of those around us; however, we’ve lost a lot of human warmth in the process. Handshakes, high-fives, and hugs are being retired as greetings and even friendly passing smiles are obscured by masks. We shouldn’t be going to restaurants or visiting with large groups of friends, so what’s left? A lot of staying home. And for me, a lot of Persona 5.

Persona 5 is the game that I had no idea I needed when starting it for the first time back in June. It’s a video game that seems to be tailor-made for people struggling to cope with the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. The very premise of the game is something of a fantasy for those of us who feel horrified by the government’s inaction and inability to properly take care of the people they’re supposed to protect.

For those who don’t know, in Persona 5, you play as a quiet mannered high school student who is on probation for a crime he didn’t commit. He joins up with some friends (and a talking cat; just go with it) to create the Phantom Thieves, a group whose sole goal is to change the hearts of evil and corrupt adults. Basically, the Phantom Thieves enter the brains of people with corrupt desires and “steal their hearts,” which causes them to change their ways and recognize the evils they’ve committed.

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The ability to make people good by stealing their hearts is a power that I’ve fantasized about having after learning of its existence from Persona 5. It’s nice to play a game where the main cast is doing what’s right because they can easily recognize when someone is doing something wrong.  But towards the end of the game, the Phantom Thieves set their targets on up and coming prime minister candidate Masayoshi Shido, who publicly wants to save Japan from financial and moral ruin. However, behind closed doors, he’s organizing hits on his political opponents and abusing the power that he has amassed.

“It’s nice to play a game where the main cast is doing what’s right because they can easily recognize when someone is doing something wrong.”

You can understand where I might see some parallels from Persona 5 to current events.

Being able to see the profound positive changes that the Phantom Thieves have on their targets made me want to have their powers. Every day when I doomscroll through Twitter reading about the ever-growing list of terrible things that the US government has gotten away with, I wish that I could change their hearts.

The ability to play a game where that option not only exists but is used to change the world for the better is a wonderful escape. It makes the real world feel a lot less scary and like I’m not alone in recognizing the wrongdoing of those in power. It’s a wonderful “imagine if…” that got me excited for the end of each workday when I got to sit down, relax, and roleplay as a member of the Phantom Thieves.

Because of the pandemic, I’ve stayed inside. I’m not a huge social butterfly regularly, but because I’ve hardly left the house since March, I’ve been itching to get out and go be social. Despite restaurants, malls, and other social places being open, I avoid them because I don’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID-19. So instead, it’s Persona 5 for me.

By night, the main cast of characters are heart-stealing Phantom Thieves, but by day, they’re high school students who have bustling social lives. The game offers all kinds of different hang out spots and activities to do either on your own or with your friends, from batting cages to restaurants, from libraries to amusement parks. Because I can’t do these things right now in real life, the social life simulation part of Persona 5 has been a breath of fresh air. Meeting up with Ryuji to go to the gym or with Yusuke to check out the newest art exhibits seem like unnoteworthy events, but for someone who can’t do them in real life, they’re huge.

“It might seem silly because playing a game alone is the exact opposite of having a social life, but Persona 5 has given me social connections that I am in desperate need of right now.”

It might seem silly because playing a game alone is the exact opposite of having a social life, but Persona 5 has given me social connections that I am in desperate need of right now. My own personal social life has basically been killed right in front of me because of COVID-19, so now it’s turned into learning shogi from Hifumi at the church and helping Makoto keep her friend safe from an abusive relationship. While they’re not real people, the characters in Persona 5 have served as my “friends” during 2020 in a way that I wasn’t expecting.

The bonds you make with your friends in Persona 5 are essential to the story and to making your character stronger. By placing such a heavy emphasis on friendship and relationships, the game was able to fill part of that void for me. Obviously, nothing can replace real-life friendship, but the characters in the game do a wonderful job of being stand-ins.

The compassion that the Phantom Thieves show each other and the world around them is something that feels good. The idea of being close to people, both figuratively and literally, right now is something that feels a little bit far away, but Persona 5 has done a good job of reminding me what awaits at the end of this tunnel. The escape and fantasy that this game has provided me was unexpected. I didn’t know that I was going to be absolutely hooked in the way that I was when I started it, but there couldn’t have been a better time for it.

As the anxiety continues to ramp up this year with the U.S. election looming ever closer and as our government continues to do nothing to prevent the spread of the pandemic, I’m reminded by the single loading screen tip that Persona 5 has: “Take Your Time.” It’s been a nice reminder when things feel like they’re getting too big or when I feel like I’m missing out on the social life that it seems my friends are all having without me. We’re all on different paths and I will rejoin them once it’s safe.

The world is pretty tough right now, but it’s a little less tough when you’re playing Persona.

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Peter Hunt Szpytek

Peter is from Chicago. He's played more JRPG's than he can count despite being not totally great at them and you can usually find him on the weekends dropping hot in Apex Legends. When not holding a controller, he's at the gym trying to get in shape for his next cosplay.

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