So let me just start by saying that, yes, Persona 3 is a Japanese RPG, or JRPG if you will, so there will be a bit of content here and there that may be geared to horny Eastern males. There are a couple of maid costumes (strictly optional). There is some occasional hypergirly cooing, not to mention an awkward scene at the hot springs. Don’t let this stuff distract you from the fact that the game has a fantastic understanding of the push and pull of daily life, hour by hour– the choices we are constantly making, whether or not we even realize it.
I’m talking about a video game for the PlayStation 2 that came out a few years ago, one that I’ve been playing intermittently for the past couple of years and am on the verge of finishing. Your main character goes to high school by day and fights demons in an extra-planar tower at midnight. The friendships that he maintains and the activities that he pursues during the day make him a stronger fighter at night, essentially, and as the player you make constant decisions about which things this guy will do each day. After school, will he spend some time with the old couple at the bookstore, or will he catch a burger at the strip mall? In the evening, will he get in some battling or will he take the dog for a walk? Late at night, will he do some studying or get extra sleep?
There’s never time to do everything in a given day, or a given week. Only by carefully balancing activities in different areas over a long period of time can you produce a truly well-rounded and powerful character. If that sounds a lot like life to you, then you can begin to appreciate what the game has accomplished. Sometimes I see a Persona-like lens over my days, now that they’ve begun to settle into a regular routine with steady employment. After work, will I do some writing or take a run with Jane? If the latter, can I fit the writing into a later slot in the evening? On a Saturday evening, which social link do I invest time into, that of my girlfriend or my friends? (Guess which is the safer answer, ha!) Or do I stay home and read?
Social choices are pretty cleverly implemented in the game, by the way. You have ongoing relationships with numerous friends and potential romance interests, each of which must be attended to and nurtured over time. If you are seriously dating someone and you neglect that person for a couple of weeks, the card representing that relationship will become “reversed” and you’ll need to devote extra time to appeasing that person before it can continue to level up. Ditto if you make plans with someone and then ditch them in favor of other plans!
I can see games becoming even richer in the future through the dual tasks of simulating some aspect of life in a meaningful way, and of causing us to reflect on our own lives through the very game mechanics that they present to us. For example, if someone who spends every weeknight watching TV for four hours could be reminded through a game like Persona 3 that she is continually making a choice, however conscious, of how to spend her time, then who knows what could happen?
And yes, there is a Persona 4 as well, and yes, I am hesitant to play it, considering I’ve already sunk about 120 hours into number 3. Considering that my old PlayStation 2 still has life in its limbs, though, I’ll probably grab it eventually.
Well, it’s early evening on Saturday, and now I’ve got to make a choice between doing some writing… or playing more Persona 3. Can’t there be time for both?