Persona 4 and LGBT Characters in Videogames

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How many gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender characters can you think of from videogames? I’m willing to bet that you could count them on one hand. Issues of gender and sexuality aren’t often addressed in games and when LGBT characters are included they’re often played for laughs or reinforce stereotypes; Erica Anderson, the trans waitress from Catherine, springs to mind. There are some notable exceptions however and the inimitable JRPG/Social sim Persona 4 prominently features characters who struggle with their gender and sexuality.

In the course of investigating some mysterious disappearances from the sleepy town of Inaba, you discover an alternate, fog-shrouded world filled with monsters called ‘Shadows’ that can only be accessed through TV sets. When people are taken into this parallel dimension, the elements of their psyche that they are repressing manifest themselves in the form of dungeons, monsters, and a shadow version of themselves whom they must accept in order to overcome their fear and escape the TV world. When Kanji Tatsumi disappears, the version of the TV world that presents itself is a seedy bathhouse and his Shadow appears in the form of an obscenely flamboyant and stereotypical version of himself complete with lisp, scanty attire, and homoerotic quips.

This is, obviously, an absurd caricature of a gay man but that is how the game’s shadow worlds present themselves; as perversions of reality created by the characters as a result of the disconnect between their ‘true’ selves, whom they are repressing, and the way that they feel they should be based on societal norms. After Shadow Kanji is defeated by the party, Kanji accepts that this alter ego is a part of himself but he doesn’t make any clear outward declaration that he is gay or bisexual and there has been a great deal of debate over his sexuality.

Many players don’t accept this interpretation of Kanji and believe, instead, that he is not conflicted over his sexuality as much as his masculinity. Kanji likes embroidery and dolls and other ‘unmanly’ pursuits that lead him to overcompensate with machismo. It’s also worth remembering that, as a Japanese game, Persona 4 is the product of a culture that thinks about issues of sexuality in a wholly different way to our own. Regardless of whether or not Kanji is attracted to men, the fact that this ambiguity exists is in and of itself a step in the right direction. There aren’t many games that earnestly try to address the inner turmoil that many teenagers face over the way that they are and the way that they ‘should be’.

Persona 4 doesn’t always get it right however. Kanji’s sexuality and masculinity are often made the butt of the joke by other characters and his attraction to another boy at school – Naoto Shirogane – is made more ‘acceptable’ when it’s discovered that Naoto is actually female. Like Kanji, Naoto struggles with her identity. Dubbed the ‘Detective Prince’ by the media, Naoto is introduced to the player as a freelance detective working with the police to solve the mystery of the recent disappearances and she is introduced as male.

As the game goes on, you discover that Naoto is actually biologically female but living her life as a man and, much like Kanji, the game is mostly earnest in its portrayal of Naoto as a trans man and her inner struggle with her gender identity. Unfortunately, this portrayal falls slightly flat when it’s revealed that Naoto chooses to live as a man to better fit her preconceived notion of what a ‘hard-boiled’ detective should be. Much like Kanji, Naoto’s motivations and character are left open to interpretation but, again, there aren’t many games that deal with non-binary gender identities in a meaningful and sincere way; Persona 4 should be praised for that.

While Persona 4 doesn’t always get it right, so to speak, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and, with Persona 5 due out later this year, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Female Gamers Outnumber Male, Study Shows

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A new study into the nation’s gaming habits has found evidence suggesting that more women play games than men.  The survey of 4,058 people in the UK aged 8-74 was commissioned by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IBAUK) and conducted by the independent research agency Populus.  After questioning the participants of the study via online surveys in June 2014, the research agency conducted 30-minute face-to-face interviews with 22 gamers and four industry experts to support their findings.

The research asserts that 52% of the people who have played some form of videogame in the last six months were female.  The study also indicates that more people over the age of 44 are playing games (27% of the total game audience) than children aged 8-17 (accounting for only 22%).

To many – particularly those who think of gaming as the preserve of teenage boys – these findings must seem surprising; especially due to the hyper-aggressive marketing of many big-budget AAA games that are already brimming with machismo (the Call of Duty and Halo series’ being perhaps the most famous examples).  The vast growth in popularity of gaming within certain portions of the population is not due to any change in direction from the AAA world however and is instead driven by the popularity of tablets and smartphones.  These mobile platforms have made videogames significantly more accessible and convenient than ever before and the survey found that 54% of those who participated played games on their smartphones and a quarter of those people played on their phones every day.

“The internet and mobile devices have changed the gaming landscape forever,” says Steve Chester, Director of Data & Industry Programmes at the Internet Advertising Bureau. “They’ve brought down the barriers to entry, making gaming far more accessible and opened it up to a whole new audience. In the past you needed to go out and buy an expensive console and the discs on top to get a decent experience, now you can just download a free app.”

This factor coupled with the swathes of intuitive and – at least nominally – free puzzlers (like Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga) and social games (like Farmville) available as mobile apps has driven the rise in popularity of games.

The survey found that 33% of the total people asked named trivia, word, and puzzle games as their favourite genre while 56% of women 45 and over and half of women aged 25-44 prefer puzzle games.

Free-to-play puzzle games on mobile platforms driving the growing popularity of games in the UK mainstream

When it comes to the amount of time spent playing games, the average 8-15 year old gamer plays for roughly 20 hours a week while the average gamer aged 16 and over plays games for around 11 hours a week.  According to the survey, the average Briton spends six hours per week playing games which accounts for around 11% of their total media consumption in a typical week – roughly the same share accounted for by social media and only slightly less than listening to music (14%).

The study also reported that the UK gaming audience has now hit 33.5 million people of all ages (that’s 69% of the population).  So it would seem that videogames, of one kind or another, are now well and truly mainstream and it will be interesting to see what these trends mean for the future of the games industry.

Source:  http://www.iabuk.net/about/press/archive/more-women-now-play-video-games-than-men

Accessed 18-09-2014