Could a Japanese Role Playing Game Help Your Relationships?

two black video game controllers
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Today’s article is a guest post from Mr. Promiscuous. Mr. Promiscuous is a bi, polyamorous, black man on the path to becoming a sex educator. He answers questions of the adult kind with a casual, respectful, and fun air at his blog Adult Conversations.

And check out what he wrote for Poly Land today.

I Am a Shadow. The True Self

So it might come as no surprise that I’m an avid video game player. Ever since my dad brought out his old Atari 2600 when I was still a wee lad, I’ve enjoyed playing them. I’m always a fan of interesting stories that can play out a couple of different ways depending on your actions, so it’s no surprise that RPGs (or Role Playing Games) tend to be near the top of my list of games.

What you might not expect is that you can actually learn a lot from them other than how to strategize attacks or what sort of weaknesses to exploit to win a battle. You might also learn how to become a better person.

One of my favorite series of JRPGs (or Japanese Role Playing Games) has been the Persona series, in particular Persona 4. In it, you play as a group of teenagers that discover a murder mystery that ends with you punching a god in the face for being a huge asshole. This is accomplished by going into a world inside a TV and fighting monsters with the help of a hollow bear suit powered by some mysterious force. (All of this makes sense in context, just go with it.)

What I really want to concentrate on are the monsters, or Shadows, that you’re facing.

The monsters look like mythological figures from across the world; you learn early on that this is because the monsters are manifestations of the collective unconscious of mankind.. While this is a staple across the whole of the Persona series, Persona 4 was the first one to introduce Shadow versions of people you meet through the story.

They act like a person’s Id and have a tendency to spout out the darkest, deepest thoughts of the person they represent. Every dark thought or shameful feeling that a person pushes down and ignores is represented in their Shadow.

Actually the whole concept of Shadows, Personas, and Collective Unconscious is part of Analytical Psychology (also known as Jungian Psychology). As it talks a lot about the individual striving for becoming whole by separating and then reintegrating with society, it’s not too surprising that some Japanese game designers thought that would be perfect for their very Japanese game.

The way that these encounters goes down is as follows: Your protagonists journey through a location that represents some aspect of the Shadow while it continues to act in terrible and embarrassing ways for the person it represents. Usually the Shadow is an exaggerated caricature of some suppressed feeling or notion and blows the whole issue vastly out of proportion.

Also keep in mind that lots of people are watching this whole thing due to some weird contrivance with the plot.

This all comes together when the protagonists get to the end of the location and come in on the Shadow and said person fighting.

The Shadow goads the person into rejecting it more so that it can obtain more power. It spouts terrible secret after horrible thought, all the while laughing at their misfortune.

This happened several times. I always wondered: “Why would you yell at the Shadow when it’s literally ASKING you to?” Turns out that it makes a lot more sense when you’re in that situation.

Everyone gets told that “nobody’s perfect” and that everyone has flaws, but it’s actually hard as hell to face them. It means admitting not only that you fucked up, but exactly how you fucked up and the thoughts and reasons that went into fucking up and that can be the hardest part of improving.

I mean, who wants to admit to being a terrible person? To saying things that were meant to hurt someone, even if it was an emotional moment? To thinking badly about someone because of how someone treated you before?

We, as a society, are told that those sorts of things are bad and that good people don’t think or do these things so we push them down and bury them in the hopes of forgetting they exist. But all that does is let them grow and fester till they become too strong to ignore. They come out in our actions and can do a lot of damage to yourself and the people you care about.

You…You’re Not Me!

Once a character’s Shadow goes berserk (usually changing into a large, monstrous creature) you go into a boss fight, trading attacks while the Shadow continues spouting out degrading and insulting things. It picks at the raw spots of the person that they came from and lashes out at everything around it.

It’s like a temper tantrum, a lot of flailing and destruction because of a lack of ways to express a real feeling or emotion. It’s something I have a lot more sympathy for, now that I know what that can be like.

My longest-standing partner and I recently decided to de-escalate our relationship while we both tried to work out our personal problems. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that they wanted this, as we’ve had problems for a while that just weren’t improving.

Neither of us wanted to separate, but the ways I was treating them were hurtful and we both need time to work on ourselves.

And it hurt, knowing that this person with near-infinite compassion needed to set our relationship aside so we could find a way for us to fit together. That I had hurt them so thoroughly over the span of several years that this was the best answer to keep from just splitting entirely. And that knowing all this didn’t keep me from lashing out at them.

I’m grateful that they still only wanted to de-escalate after I did that, but it’s still rough between us. And all of this because I listened to my own “Shadow” telling me they only wanted to de-escalate so they could get rid of me easier.

For years I pushed my feelings and emotions down. Either because it was easier than trying to explain them, or because I wanted the people around me to like me, or because I just thought it would make me look bad. I knew that some ways of being were “acceptable” so I tried to be that as often as I could rather than honest.

I let people take advantage of me because I thought it made me a good friend and I feared them getting rid of me if I became too much of a problem. Let myself be manipulated by someone I “loved” because I was young and thought I wouldn’t have someone like this again.

I lied and I hid and I made a habit out of it long after those people had left my life and the ones around me honestly just wanted me to be myself.

And when those same people tried to point out when I was doing these things, I acted like that couldn’t possibly be the case, because I feared they would also leave because I was a terrible person. That no one “good” would have done those things, and that if I admitted to it now, they’d just find someone more worth their time.

Looking back at it, I can see the similarities. My friends have been facing the parts of myself that I’m too scared to look at and keep getting hurt in their efforts to help me control them.

I Am Thou…and Thou Art I

At the end of the boss fights with the Shadow versions of characters, usually that character talks about how they always knew what the Shadow was saying was true. That those were feelings or thoughts that they had and they were embarrassed by them. That in a world that gives you great examples of how you should be and what the “right” thing to do is, that you could fall so short in your mind. That you might actually be something you would never condone. But that seeing the ugly face of themselves had shown them how that wasn’t everything they were.

Yes, these feelings existed. Yes, they were weak and possibly gave in to them. But that wasn’t all there was. And in admitting that they were the same. That this Shadow was a part of them, they gained a Persona: a powerful weapon to use in the battle going forward. They gained the means to fight the Shadows of the world, because they can recognize them for what they truly are: a part of a larger whole.

I’m kinda a sucker for that kinda story, so it’s no wonder that the imagery stuck with me long after I’d beaten the game. The idea that it’s your relationships that can have the biggest impact on you improving as a person, and trusting that they will still be there after seeing the darkest parts of yourself, really stuck in my brain.

I’d spent years thinking that no one would actually want to see those parts of me, and I probably still will for a while. But I’m getting more professional help and I’m hopeful that will give me the push I need. And as much as it still hurts, my partner was right to try and de-escalate. They need time to heal and I need to have a better definition of what I want and need, and hopefully we’ll be better for it.

Also, Persona 4 is a really excellent game. If you’re into RPGs that have a bit of a dating sim game built in with interesting plot and stories I’d definitely recommend it. 10/10: Would definitely fight manifested anger and emotional trauma for sick magical powers again.

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Thank you, Mr. Promiscuous!

Poly Land is always on the lookout for different perspectives on relationships in general.

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