“Man, I thought the countryside would be a snooze, but it’s proving to be a lot more exciting than I thought…” — Adachi
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOALPOSTS, AND YOU DECIDING TO GO TO BED EARLY
This is the 21st essay I’ve written about Persona 4. It’s going to be published on July 7th. The first essay was published on May 11th. The second essay, which was the first explicitly analyzing the game, was published on May 12th. That second essay was about Monday, April 11th. On April 13th, we fell into a TV at Junes, on April 15th we confronted Saki’s inner life, on April 17th we entered Yukiko’s castle, on April 20th we died, on April 27th we saved Yukiko, on April 29th we got to know that mysterious girl who bumped into us at the train station way back on April 11th.
On April 30th, we went to sleep and fell forward into May.
The side effect of writing this series is that I’m playing Persona 4 in slow-motion. As my year progresses, so does Yu’s year — at around half-speed. And just like Yu, I have these goalposts I keep passing that turn into signs marking my travel. Yu moved to Inaba. I moved to Vancouver. Yu joined drama club. I complained about actors. Yu ate tofu. I wrote a LOST IN THE FOG on a Seattle-bound bus.
The added surrealism stems from my tact in allowing Yu his own life. This playthrough of Persona 4 has transcended the humble origins of a silent protagonist. Saki wasn’t a cipher, and Yu isn’t either. He is a distinct entity, and I can feel his emotions seethe underneath the interface. I am god, and Yu is the hero.
I am god, but I am not the creator. That distinct responsibility lies with the designers of Persona 4. As god, I can control Yu, but I can’t control the ways I can control him. I am as trapped as Yu, but with information that lets me feel more impotent than he does. All I can do is sit and watch as the designers tell him why he decided to go to bed early.
Yu is living a power fantasy, and I am living a powerlessness fantasy. Yu is oblivious. His strength comes from within, and he feels free. I am not afforded the same luxury. I arrange the pieces, day after day, to try and help Yu feel better. But as a player who knows what’s coming next, I will not ever fully succeed. The worst outcome is misery, and the best outcome is miserable melancholy.
“Miserable melancholy,” funnily enough, is Evan’s Top No. 1 Favorite Emotion, which is why Persona 4 and I are so compatible. I am more likely to cry during an episode of Adventure Time than I am reading Old Yeller. Fuck Old Yeller. So you had to shoot a dog. Neat. Get back to me when you’re a thousand-year-old bass-playing vampire girl contending with her Alzheimer’s-stricken ice-magicked father figure. Get back to me when you’re a grey-haired teen saying goodbye to his best friends in the world a year after meeting them.
Look, it is painfully obvious at this juncture that I have some borderline unhealthy emotional attachments to the things that really do it for me — Adventure Time and Persona 4 as two prime examples. I’m not going to dive into that psychology, because I don’t know how normal it is, or how many people reading feel the same way about something that really does it for them. All I know is that on April 30th, Yu and I set the table for May.
We welcomed Yukiko back into the fold, we figured out what we know about the case, we wore funny glasses in the TV world, and we made plans to go on a trip with Dojima and Nanako. We did all this in one day, which in real world Vancouver time is roughly two days.
I found myself unable to focus on the details of April 30th, because it is a day designed to stoke your enthusiasm for May, and every month after May. I am enthusiastic, but I am also tired, and sad, and eager, and nervous, and growing ever more comfortable in my routine. I live in two different places now. Try playing Persona 4 the way I’ve been, and see if you disagree.
What was April about, in summation? It was the set-up, mainly. It was about agency and routines beginning. It was about a cast of people who wanted nothing more than to escape their environment. Saki, who wanted to leave Inaba. Yosuke, who’s tired of small-town life. Yukiko, who’s sick of feeling tied down by her family’s business. They all want to leave, but they cannot, and they will not, because Inaba has that special kinda pull, like the Hellmouth, or your hometown. I too am a prisoner of Inaba, but at least I had a choice. Yu is not so lucky. Yu shook the Gas Station Attendant’s hand. Yu will press on ceaselessly until he meets his goal, and the shackles are removed, and the game ends, and that wonderful, final, miserable melancholy covers Inaba like a thick fog.
There are many goalposts extending into the distance. There is no end in sight. There is only May.
I hear it might rain.