Persona 4 does so many things that very few games would ever dare to even stand remotely close to. We saw through Kanji’s struggles with his sexuality, that alone is something that in 2008 pretty much no one would touch with a 50-foot pole. We also took a look at Rise dealing with the issue of being looked at lustfully not only because of her beautiful petite body, but because of her status as an idol, so it delved into the celebrity life of a young teenage girl idolized both by girls and by men who would look at her for other reasons. There are tons of interesting storylines going on throughout the game that are large in part fueled by the inner thoughts and struggles that many teenagers and young adults go through.
My personal favourite though, is that of Naoto Shirogane.
When we’re first introduced to Naoto, we’re left believing that he’s a young upcoming detective making his way up the ranks, earning the moniker of the “Detective Prince” by his peers. He proves his chops pretty quick when he identifies Kanji as the next victim of the Midnight Channel, long before the Investigation Team even figure this out as well from seeing him on TV at night. Now here’s the only thing that sucked about the beginning with Naoto: I can call gender swaps in any Japanese media almost immediately, I’ve seen so many through games and anime throughout my life, even more so now with the sheer amount of anime I consume weekly nowadays. So just from hearing Naoto’s voice for the first time, even though the voice itself does have a hint of masculinity in the sound and tones of the voice, it still immediately tripped my “THIS IS A GIRL!” alarm in my head. So unfortunately for me, the surprise was ruined before her dungeon revealed the truth.
However, the story behind this truth was still very engaging and interesting. Essentially, even though Naoto was the ace detective she was and constantly proved herself time and time again, she was never being taken seriously for multiple reasons. One of course was that she was very young, only 15 years old when first introduced in the game, so naturally a bunch of weathered old police officers and detectives could never believe nor accept that a teenager was doing a better job than them. It’s a common occurrence so that wasn’t surprising. The other glaringly huge reason was of course that she was female. And thus begins the conversation of gender equality in the workplace. Now it’s implied that she always hid her gender from the police force because she thought they would never take her seriously as a woman and that’s not all that surprising. Even today in 2016, the majority of police officers you see are male, it’s still an occupation that is dominated by men. So both those reasons caused the creation of really split personalities with Naoto, one that was the stoic male Detective Prince and this other feminine and very shy Naoto that was slowly fading away due to how little time she was allowed to come out, thus leading to a very uncomfortable situation that her dungeon represented.
Initially when you enter the dungeon, you hear the ramblings of Naoto’s conscience stating that “he” will be undertaking a “body-altering operation”. Now if you hadn’t figured out the secret yet, this was probably a confusing thought, what could this young boy possibly want to alter? It’s not until you reach the very end where you learn that Naoto is indeed actually a female and that body-altering operation is actually meant to be a sex change, the inner-workings of a distraught Naoto wanting to get away from the “shackles” preventing her from getting past the glass ceiling she perceived to be in place at her line of work.
As the game progresses further, Naoto eventually comes to terms with how she was born and accepts that changing how she looks would never change the person she is inside, especially when really the sole reason for why she wanted to change her gender was because of her line of work. We don’t really see her lamenting over her gender for anything else, so we’re left to believe that if she wasn’t a detective she likely wouldn’t have minded her situation much, if at all. By the end of the game as well, she begins to be a little more open with how she actually looks and dresses just a bit more feminine to reflect that, though it’s not like she starts wearing low-cut tops and short shorts, she essentially just doesn’t go out of her way to hide the one massive giveaway of her true gender.
Of course, because Japan and anime-drawn material is always funny like this, Naoto of all the girls in the entire game has to be the one with the biggest breasts of them all, something that immediately grabs the attention of all the girls the first time they get a good look at her. It’s also when she’s looking her most feminine, particularly when she’s in situations where her body is exposed or she’s to be dressed in clothes that would hide very little of her absolutely stunning frame that she completely drops that mature detective attitude of hers and employs a much shyer, feminine demeanor. When the Swimsuit Contest comes to Yasogami High and Rise, Yukiko and Chie all get roped in, Naoto can’t quite bring herself to wear a bikini in public. In the animation we get a far better hint of what that looks like though and boy is that little bit more than enough to make you believe that not only is Naoto female, but she is far prettier than you could’ve ever imagined. And just to finish off the more feminine side of Naoto, if you really want to bring that side of her out, put her into a situation where she can actually be scared of something, when she’s in total fear, her masculine tone completely drops, showing us that she can only keep up that charade when she’s fully composed. Otherwise, she’s a girl you just wanna hug, as the ski trip in Persona 4: Golden showed me.
I’m going to make no bones about it, I’m at the time of writing this article, two weeks ahead on my “Waifu, Friend with Benefits or One-Night Stand?” articles in terms of the three girls being judged. If Naoto ever hits a weekly article through the randomizer, she’ll be an automatic Waifu for me. While Chie is my current #1 pick in not only Persona 4, but all Shin Megami Tensei games, she and Naoto are constantly flipping between #1 and #2. Naoto is a tremendous character, one you cannot help but root for. Her story is extremely challenging as a storyline because so few would dare to take on the issue of gender identity and transsexuals.
And just to top all that off, she’s the best of all worlds in terms of attraction. If you’re attracted to feminine looking males, Naoto can fit that bill. If you’re attracted to tomboys, Naoto can fit that bill. If you’re attracted to the male that’s actually a female character, she obviously fits that bill. And if you’re attracted to just beautiful women, Naoto still fits that bill. She’s not a character that you can fit in a single box, she has potential is so many different areas. She’s strong, yet can be weak. She’s confident, yet can be easily embarrassed and shy. She’s cold, yet can be loving. She’s an incredible woman and one of my favourite female characters in terms of how she’s written.
Though I will admit, Naoto in the high-cut armor costume looks way off on her.
So while chatting online with a bunch of online friends, the conversation suddenly changed when one person in the chat room started talking about how he/she (don’t know) doesn’t like how guys in real life will play as female characters in online games where you can create your own character. Some of the reasons why this dislike came to be has to do with things like lying to people in-game, being perverted and the weirdest comment that was made was “If you’re playing as a girl in a video game, there must be some desire to be one in real life.”. So there’s a lot to go through and while I got my piece out in that chat room last night, I thought it’d be a great article to write here as well.
The key thing to understand in this situation is really the most basic common sense you can employ: This is a fantasy game, in a fantasy world with fantasy characters. You are under ZERO obligation to play characters that not only are your real-life gender, but follow everything else in your daily real-world life. Your online game character does not have to look exactly like you, it doesn’t even have to look remotely like you. Let’s take me for example, I’m a skinny 5’11”, 155 lbs guy with a bit of belly fat, but not much. Now I’m currently working on correcting that and developing some muscle, so for me it makes a lot of sense that if I was to create a male character, I would make him slim but well-toned, abs and all. Why? Cause it’s a visual representation of my own personal goals and at this current point of time it is indeed a fantasy of mine to reach that point. Generally speaking there’s three ways you can go with a character that’s your own gender. You either go realistic, which is boring. You go ridiculous, which games like Saints Row do very well. Or you go with what you wish you looked like, whether it’s your body type, hairstyle, tattoos you’re afraid to get, all that jazz. A lot of the time it depends on the game too. If it’s a game like Saints Row, I’m going ridiculous, but if it’s a game like The Sims, I’ll do a hybrid version, where it looks as much like me as possible, but when I hit my personal fitness goals. So face-wise it looks a lot like me, he wears the same kind of clothes as me, but he’s got some muscle, especially some washboard abs.
But when we’re talking pure fantasy games like Mass Effect and really any MMORPG, should it be surprising at all that a lot of people will choose to play a different gender (and sometimes a completely different race if the option’s there) than what they are?
Merriam Webster has the following for one of their definitions of the word “fantasy”:
the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need <an object of fantasy>; also : a mental image or a series of mental images (as a daydream) so created <sexual fantasies>
Taking that in mind, if a fantasy is considered something unrealistic and improbable, what’s more fantasy in terms of creating a character than creating someone completely opposite to your real-life self in every way. I’m male, so I’d rather create a female character. I’m not that brave and have never gotten into a fight, my character kicks all kind of ass. And while I don’t have a serious problem with dealing with how I look, I love making characters that you’d consider to be on the top of the sexy totem pole.
There shouldn’t be anything wrong with creating a character based on your own fantasies, regardless of the nature of it. Want to look badass? Awesome. Want to look super intelligent? Cool. Want to look sexier than all the Time magazine’s sexiest celebrities put together? Fuckin’ sweet! All to you, there shouldn’t be any reason for you to not go in whatever direction you want, it’s your character and you’re going to be playing this character for an extended period of time, it should be someone you’re willing to play as and stare at for a long time. For someone to tell you that whatever you chose to play as is wrong, they’re being just plain stupid.
So let’s go through the three arguments I listed that this person made.
Again, you’re under no obligation to tell people who you are in real life, so to say playing the opposite gender and playing as such is lying to other players about who you really are, who cares?! Why does that matter? It’s a fictional character and a lot of players roleplay when they play these games, if that’s too much for you, you probably shouldn’t be playing these sort of games. Go play single-player games where you don’t create a character then.
As for those playing opposite gender characters being perverted, grow the fuck up. I also noted in chat how it’s only ever specified that when men play female characters it’s perverted, but if a woman plays as a male character, there’s zero problems with that apparently. If you’re going to use the perverted excuse, play both sides, you can’t have it one way. But honestly, should it be surprising at all that a lot of gamers prefer playing opposite sex characters? For me it’s simple. I’m heterosexual, I am attracted to women. So if I’m going to play a game, especially if it’s a third-person game and over 20 hours in length and I’ll be staring at someone’s ass the entire time, would it not make sense to have an ass to look at of the gender I’m attracted to? I say it over and over again, but they’re not real! Who gives a shit?! Now if someone’s making their character to look like Miley Cyrus, that’s weird, but if it’s a non-existent person, who gives a flying fuck?!
And lastly, that really dumb line of “If you’re playing as a girl in a video game, there must be some desire to be one in real life.”. That really blew my mind that someone had not only the thought cross their mind, but the filter didn’t immediately throw it in the trash. What does that have to do with anything?! I know we live in a world now where sex changes are becoming more common place and accepted, but I don’t see the correlation between playing an opposite gender created character and wanting to be that opposite gender. At no point in my life have I been playing as a sexy blonde elf girl and thought “You know what? I want tits and a vagina.”. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN WITH PROBABLY 99.9% OF ALL THESE CASES!!! Did it ever cross one’s mind that maybe, just maybe guys play as female characters and vice versa because that’s what they like? It has nothing to do with wanting to BE that opposite gender, it has everything to do with wanting to be WITH that opposite gender.
At the end of the day, what you choose to play as is purely up to you. Whether you want to play as yourself, or something completely opposite of you, that’s completely and 100% your decision. While it is a manifestation of your own fantasies, it’s not necessarily an accurate depiction of what you are. If you’re the type of person who has a problem with people playing something they’re not, there’s something serious wrong with you, there’s some clear insecurities going on there.
If I want to play as a sexy female catgirl if the option exists, you bet your ass I’m gonna do that. Without regret.