A reader explains why he found Persona 5’s portrayal of gay characters problematic, despite otherwise enjoying the game.
Seeing the responses to my Inbox letter about Persona 5’s portrayal of sexual matters in general, and LGBT issues in particular, I feel compelled to clarify things; since it sounds like some people weren’t familiar with the games.
I can understand if people thought I was overreacting, especially in this day and age of there being as many people out there looking to be offended as there are to offend. However, it read to me like their argument was based around the assumption that the characters I mentioned were in fact characters, i.e. they were properly developed as such, and they just happened to be gay.
Good examples of what I mean would be Steve Cortez and Samantha Traynor, two minor characters from Mass Effect 3. We learn that Steve had a husband who he lost to the Reapers, his skills as a shuttle pilot make him invaluable, and his friendship with James Vega is fun to watch. Meanwhile, Traynor has a crush on FemShep, doesn’t have much confidence in herself at first, and again proves her worth to the team with her information-gathering skills. Both are well-written, likable and developed, their sexuality only being one facet of who they are as people.
Going back to Persona 5, obviously I don’t think every gay person should be treated as a saint; that’s entirely unrealistic. Had the lecherous couple been written as actual characters like Lala Escargot (a trans bar owner in the game) was, then I’d concede that those who argued against my letter had a point.
Except… they’re not. At all. Every single appearance of theirs exists solely to scream about how they’re gay, and every line of their dialogue revolves around their sexuality. They give off a strong impression that they seem to think they can convert straight men into being gay, which sadly is ‘logic’ homophobes have used before to justify their views. They also hit on Ryuji, who’s a teenager, at least twice, to the point where it essentially becomes sexual harassment. We don’t get to know these people or what makes them tick. They’re not bad people who happen to be gay. They’re gross one-dimensional caricatures who simply have no place existing in the game’s world.
The reason the lecherous gay couple are so problematic is because of the game’s first dungeon, where you deal with a lecherous PE teacher who’s been abusing his pupils both mentally and physically. How the game treats sexual matters after this dungeon is at the heart of the problem I was trying to explain before. After the first dungeon the game can’t resist treating Ann, the most prominent female character, like a sex object for the boys (and the audience) to ogle over. I get that we’re dealing with teenagers who tend to let their hormones run away with them, but the fact is that the first dungeon essentially portrays Ann as one of several survivors of sexual harassment (from a figure in authority, no less), racked with guilt over the fact she let it go on for so long that one of her friends tried to commit suicide.
Yet almost immediately after that the boys in your group are telling her to strip naked (practically bullying her, in fact) purely because they need a lead on the next bad guy (the artist they’re trying to grill for information won’t accept anything else). The first dungeon went to great pains to point out that the kind of lecherous behaviour on display is inexcusable, but by playing subsequent incidents involving both straight and gay people for cheap laughs the rest of the game seems to go out of its way to almost defeat the purpose of that first dungeon altogether.
Hopefully this clarifies why I found the lecherous gay couple (among other things) so problematic in a game I otherwise love. I believe games should be able to analyse any sort of subject matter, including for the purposes of near-the-knuckle humour. However, even the best comedians get it wrong from time to time, and they have to be called out on it. It’s the only way they’ll learn, after all.
By reader Andrew Middlemas
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