When I last left off, I had just finished talking about how one of the characters, Kanji Tatsumi, is used to talk about homosexuality. Now, we shall look at another character who talks about sexism.
The other character I will talk about is Naoto Shirogane. Let’s start similarly to Kanji. Based on the picture above, what do you think Naoto is like? His posture kind of hints at being somewhat formal and smart. He appears quite serious and determined. When you first meet him, he’s introduced as the “Detective Prince”, a high school detective that has been asked by the Inaba Police Department to help with the recent murders. He’s also quite perceptive, being one of the first people to noticing patterns in the cases, such as the Midnight Channel and the recent kidnappings. (When a person appears on the Midnight Channel, they are reported missing for several days before you rescue them). His manner of speaking is also quite formal, and he takes his job quite seriously. So it appears the first impression was correct. So, what am I getting at here? Well, in the list of first impressions above, there is one thing incorrect. Can you figure out what’s wrong?
It’s the very first word: “His”. Naoto Shirogane is actually a female. However, this isn’t a “let’s make a gender-neutral looking character” situation, sort of. While indeed her design is gender-neutral, they had a reason to; she was disguising herself as male. Her main reason for this is that she was trying to escape the sexism present in the police force. She is already a high school student working alongside the police; she didn’t exactly have high respect from fellow officers. The other members of the force view her as a child of sorts, and that she probably shouldn’t be involved. The only reason she is is that she’s good, and has solved many cases. However, if she revealed herself as female to the police force, she would be taken even less seriously, and probably wouldn’t even be able to work with the police.
Her Shadow also reinforces this. In fact, when we encounter her Shadow is when we discover that she is indeed female. Her Shadow references her desire to be male, like all other famous detectives found in novels and the media. The Shadow also refers to her desire to no longer be treated like a child. Throughout the game, she acts rather mature, representing her desire to be taken seriously. However, several members of the police force still treat her like a child, because she still somewhat acts like a child. For example, at this point in the game, the police had, more or less, considered the murder case as closed. Naoto was unsure about this, and persisted on the case. This persistence made her peers feel she was acting childish.
Like with Kanji, the inclusion of Naoto’s character sends another message to the player without being incredibly blunt; this message being that sexism is still around today. Instead of doing the usual method of displaying it, the game showed just how far a character would go to avoid it. In order to avoid the sexism present in the work force, a female was willing to pretend to be male, and possibly, willing to have a sex change. I think even fewer games tackle this issue when compared to homosexuality, but there’s a simple reason for that, which actually makes things somewhat ironic. That simple reason? Sexism. Sexism is the reason why it is hard for a message about sexism to be delivered through games. If a game tries to deliver a message about sexism, a majority of gamers, being male, might take it as being “feminist”, so they will either ignore the message or not play the game at all. Essentially, Naoto was used to deliver a message about sexism without flat out showing it to us.
There are several other characters in Persona 4 which also deliver messages. For example, Rise Kujikawa delivers a message about celebrities. Her Shadow shows a fear of hers; she fears that people only like her for her popularity. People only want to know “Risette”, the version of her that appears on stage, and not the actual Rise. With characters such as this, Persona 4 is able to tell a story that is further reinforced by its characters. All of the characters have desires and fears that the player gets to see, as well as faults they want to correct. Over the course of the story, you see these characters grow and become different than when they started. This is an aspect of character development that I feel many games lack, and an aspect that helps make Persona 4’s story shine.
Note: Extra Credits actually did pretty much a whole episode talking about Kanji, and a bit about Naoto. You can watch it here.