Persona 5 is about many things. One of them is growing up.
The game’s teenage heroes are struggling to grow up in an oppressive, strict society. The surrounding adults view them as either a commodity or a nuisance. The game reflects this through its story. The common bond between the characters is that all them were exploited by adults in some fashion.
But their society also has some things that they value and produces a lot of things that they like. A lot of time spent playing Persona is spent enjoying the products of the very society that oppresses the characters.
So there’s an unspoken dichotomy here. The characters want things to change, but they don’t want to tear down society. They don’t want to remake the world, they want to course-correct what they perceive as a corrupt system.
The problem they face is that they are powerless kids. They can’t do anything to fight the injustice around them. Until they gain their “powers.” In the game, this is represented by a scene where – pushed to their limits – the characters tear a mask from their face. This scene is a grisly one – skin breaks, and their faces bleed.
Doing this, they unleash their magical alter-ego. This being can actually face up to the psychological tyranny of the adults.
(Most of the action in the game happens inside people’s subconscious, for reasons that are worth exploring in a different essay.)
This is a powerful representation of the Jungian concept of the unleashing and taming of the inner shadow. It goes something like this:
You stop being a defenseless child once you recognize that there’s something inside of you that can hurt others. And you figure out that the only thing preventing that beast from wreaking havoc in the world is your own sense of morals and willpower.
If you believe that there’s only goodness and innocence inside of you – as the Persona kids did – then you’re a sheep. A sheep doesn’t have the option to be good or evil – it’s just a damn sheep!
But if you recognize that there’s a shadow within you… If you understand your potential for rage and murder and destruction and the general causing of suffering, then now, you have a choice! From this choice is born the concept of good and evil. You can’t have morals without options.
And now that you recognize that you have a choice, you aren’t a defenseless child anymore. You can visit suffering upon others. You are an adult. You can be a good one, or you can be an oppressive tyrant like the ones that you’ve rallied against – that’s up to you. But you have the option; by recognizing the darkness inside, you’ve grown up.
There’s another part to growing up that’s beautifully portrayed in Persona 5. That’s sacrificing the unlimited potential of childhood for the focused realization of adulthood. This is what helps solve the dilemma that the characters face between the rigidity but usefulness of their society, and their own aspirations of individuality. But that’s yet another essay.
The reason that I wanted to focus on this part first is that I see too many “adults” every day that never tore the mask off. They walk around, lamenting their lives and claiming they are “good,” but they aren’t. They are wolves without teeth.
Don’t be that way. Don’t be the person that never learned to stand up for his or herself because “that’s not the kind of person that I am.” Don’t be a child. Tear off that mask – find out what’s dangerous, lurking inside. And once you find it, don’t let it hurt anyone. Only then can you truly say that you are “good.”
The mere knowledge of the beast will help you stand up to whatever life throws at you.