Matt Moylan and Ash Paulsen, eds (2012). Persona 3 Official Design Works. Trans. M. Kirie Hayashi. Udon Entertainment, pp. 130-136.
Interview with Creators
About Death and Ties
- Producer & Director
- Character Designer & Art Director
“Persona 3” carved out a new frontier for the series. The inevitability of death is a major theme of the game, but when considering the absolute nature of death, what do the creators see, think, and wish for? This candid interview offers an unabashed glimpse of the dark shadow that no doubt looms within all of us.
- Memento Mori (“Remember your mortality”)
Let’s jump right into the thick of things by talking about the point of a final battle where you are denied a “real” victory.
HASHINO: We get that a lot. The battle against Nyx is pretty much the battle against death itself, which are the terms of the contract that the player enters into within the scope of “Persona 3.” It’s about challenging the inevitability of death, even if you know full well that you can’t actually beat it. I suppose you could look at it like a bungee jump. At the beginning of the game, you get your legs tied off, and you leap. The game doesn’t actually state in any clear terms that the Hero dies at the end of the game, but it is safe to say that his story is over and done. However, the player is not dead. So, by playing the game, the player is sort of experiencing death (by proxy), which is something that we are all going to experience for real someday. It is my hope that by playing this game and realizing the true inevitability of death, the player will take a moment to think about life and death in the real world after turning the game off. Don’t get me wrong… most of us here are in our thirties, and we’ve experienced deaths among our families and friends, but we certainly don’t think we’re in any position to lecture anyone on the meaning of life and death.
Was there a meaning behind the social links? Did you hide some kind of message regarding life and death in the independent stories the hero cultivated with specific people?
HASHINO: The Social Links the Hero establishes with people are a reflection of that Hero’s personal values and philosophy, and do not necessarily hold any particular meaning over the rest of the game. One time, I read a magazine article that discussed the various ways in which people wished to meet their end. As you might expect, the answers were just as diverse as the people giving them… but the majority of them did agree on one point: they wished to die surrounded by loved ones.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
HASHINO: Well, generally speaking, it’s probably due to fear. They’re afraid of dying alone. If I were on death’s doorstep, I know I’d feel alone and scared. Everyone I know would continue living on in this world, and I alone would be leaving… it’s a deep kind of solitude. I guess an “everyday” example would be when you’re hanging out, drinking with a big group of friends, and you’re the first one who has to leave the outing early. You feel strangely isolated.
BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO FACE THE FACT THAT IT’S OVER…FOR YOU.
HASHINO: Right. It’s not that you can undo that simply by asking everyone else what happened after you left; that wouldn’t change the fact that you weren’t there to experience it. I guess it ties into the whole concept of fearing the unknown. You don’t know what you’re missing, and you can’t stand it. This concept isn’t anything new, of course, and I think it’s what is at the root of peoples’ desire to feel like they’re still within the circle of warmth when they’re actually departing. In the game, we represented this through Social Links. By cultivating Social Links, the Hero gets to hold on to the fact that even if he dies, he’s left his mark on this world. The various relationships he shared with the other characters take root and act like evidence that he did exist. Maybe the reassurance that you’re leaving some kind of legacy behind makes the thought of death easier to accept.
IT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE NOT SIMPLY DISAPPEARING?
HASHINO: Exactly. Everything that you were isn’t going to be “voided” just because you die… that sort of belief. Maybe it lightens your sense of loss…I don’t know. For people who don’t have any religious beliefs to lean on, death really is the loss of everything; the end. The more someone feels that way, the more desperate they might be to feel love connecting them to others in those final moments. I say this now, but it’s possible that I’ll feel totally different about these sorts of topics in five or ten years. (laughs) That’s why I’m more than willing to admit that I have no right to lecture others on matter like life and death. The one thing I can say for sure, however, is that I am now old enough to know, “Even those who go through life without thinking about death will have to face it someday.”
WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS, SOEJIMA?
SOEJIMA: Well, the game scenario offers a virtual death experience, and the many characters within the game have quotes about life… but they don’t all follow the same lines. It’s not like the entire game delivers one unified message about what life is and what death is. “Persona 3” manages to offer many different outlooks on things like life and death, so I like to think of the game as a starting point for the player to consider those different outlooks, perhaps discuss other opinions with their friends or family, and even ponder what their own thoughts are on the matter. As for being surrounded by loved ones on your deathbed, I’ve never thought that way, personally. If anything, I hope I’m the last one to go.
SO YOU’D RATHER BE THERE FOR OTHERS?
SOEJIMA: Yes. I want to see everyone off, rather than have them see me off.
SOEJIMA: I’d feel bad for those I’d be leaving behind… that is, of course, assuming that I’m lucky enough to be loved by people when it’s my time.
HASHINO: I think you can feel that way because you’ve never actually experienced the feeling of “dying”.
SOEJIMA: Are you saying you have?
HASHINO: Four or five years ago, I got the measles and my temperature shot up above 40oC. I found out later that I was in such bad shape, all of my relatives had been called in just in case they needed to say their final goodbyes. My wife stayed next to me the whole time. My fever was so intense that I didn’t feel any pain, and at some point I started to wonder if that’s what it feels like to die. I saw my wife next to me, and I thought to myself, “It wouldn’t be so bad to die like this.”
YOU WERE READY TO DIE?
HASHINO: I don’t know if I’d say I was “ready” to die… I mean, I never thought I’d die from the measles of all things. Even if I were to die from old age, I just think I’d be okay with it as long as I had my loved ones close by like I did that time. That’s just my personal opinion, of course.
SOEJIMA: I fell down the stairs once and almost died. My life flashed before my eyes and everything.
EARLIER, YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT BEING IN A POSITION TO LECTURE OTHERS ON LIFE AND DEATH, AND YOU MENTIONED AGE. IT’S REASONABLE TO THINK THAT SOMEONE’S THOUGHTS ABOUT LIFE AND DEATH WILL CHANGE AND EVOLVE AS THEY GROW OLDER. WHEN YOU WERE THE HER’S AGE, WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS?
HASHINO: I knew that death was something that comes to everyone eventually.
LOGICALLY SPEAKING, YES.
HASHINOA: I saw a TV show once where they were discussing how the topic of death has no place in our elementary education system. They visited a classroom of fourth graders and asked, “Who thinks someone can come back to life after dying?” Half the class raised their hands. The seriousness and finality of death seemed like such a foreign concept to them. The closer you get to high school, the greater the chance that someone you know will die unexpectedly. Still, most students only think of death as “an unfortunate incident” or “an accident”, something that is a rare and random thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that even many people in their thirties haven’t given any serious thought to things like life and death.
SOEJIMA: The first time I felt real fear about death was when I was in sixth grade. I thought about the notion that “when you die, you go away”, and it really scared me. I thought about it a lot. Once I got into high school, it didn’t scare me as much. I think the reason is because when I was in elementary school, it seemed like “right now” was all there was, and that it would last forever. I didn’t really feel the passage of time until I was a little older.
I REMEMBER THE DAYS WHEN IT FELT LIKE SUMMER VACATION WOULD LAST FOREVER.
SOEJIMA: Exactly. You wanted to hold on to those days and have them last forever…. but when you found out that even summer vacation would come to an end, “the end” seemed like such a scary thing. Once you get into high school, you start viewing time in terms of school years, and you always have that number to clarify things for you. But you’re still in your teens, and the notion of someday getting a job, then eventually retiring, seems like a lifetime away. Once you start noticing how your life changes on a daily basis, you recognize the flow of time, yet you’re still measuring time in terms of how many years you have between you and your future adult self. I’m now 32 years old, and I find that I am calculating time in terms of “average life expectancy”, and “how much time I have left”. I may not feel the same fear I felt about it when I was a child, but I do acknowledge death as a fact of life.
SO FAR, WE’VE DISCUSSED YOUR THOUGHTS REGARDING YOUR OWN DEATH. NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE DEATHS OF OTHERS, ABOUT LOSS AND GRIEF.
HASHINO: As we are the ones who are left behind, I think it is our duty to acknowledge the person who passed on. Think about how they lived, and how they wanted to die. Think about what happened. Consider, if you were them, whether you would be disappointed or satisfied by the way things turned out. Then, think about all of that based on your own personal set of values. When we were dealing with the deaths of Aragaki and Chidori, I didn’t want it to feel like a massive tragedy. I wanted the player to understand that they were satisfied with their deaths, and that they were happy with what they had accomplished in life. They were content, and they simply took that journey before us. It is up to those left behind to carry on their legacies. Despite our best intention, however, we certainly did get our fair share of comments like, “How could you?!” from the fans…
SOEJIMA: That was probably more due to the loss of a playable character.
ALL THAT XP, WASTED…
HASHINO: Well, I suppose not every player will get exactly what we were hoping to offer them, but as far as progressing through the game, it all depends on how the player deals with those unexpected twists and turns.
LOSING A PLAYABLE CHARACTER MEANS LOSING ALL OF THE TIME AND EFFORT YOU PUT INTO LEVELING THAT CHARACTER UP, SO IT IS A VERY REAL SENSE OF LOSS FOR PLAYERS. WHEN YOU HAVE CONVENIENT PEOPLE LIKE GAME CREATORS TO BLAME FOR YOUR GRIEF, IT’S EASY TO LASH OUT AT THEM… BUT IN REAL LIFE, YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE TO BLAME. THIS SEEMS TO BE YET ANOTHER WAY IN WHICH THE PLAYER GETS A PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE AND DEATH BY PLAYING “PERSONA 3”.
HASHINO: Hmm… that’s true, I suppose, but at the same time, we can’t deny the possibility that many of our players already have dealt with the death of someone close to them. Then the experience would neither be something new nor particularly desirable. I guess that’s one of the toughest aspects of creating a game like this; you can never really know who your players are. For someone who has already experienced the death of another, having one of your characters die in the game might just be an annoyance, offering nothing new or worthwhile. Our hope was that our younger players would, in fact, take something meaningful from the experience, but we all know things don’t always go the way we’d like them to.
- SOCIAL LINKS
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE SOCIAL LINKS A MAJOR FEATURE FOR THIS GAME? SETTING ASIDE ALL OF THE REASON WE HAVE ALREADY DISCUSSED, OF COURSE…
HASHINO: It all started with us looking at the “Persona” and trying to figure out how it should be treated from a modern perspective. We decided to explore the root of the word in terms of human psychology, and how it applies to modern day life. For example, right now, I have my “interview persona” up; though I admit it’s not much different from my “everyday persona”.
(LAUGHS) I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN.
HASHINO: It’s easy to think that adults have control over their personae, since they’ve had years to hone and define them. But then what of the youth? What about those who have yet to figure out who they really are, or want to be? It’s reasonable to think that these people wield multiple personae on a daily basis, interacting with various people and having all kinds of experiences. That is what leads to things like personal philosophies and values. It was in this way that we wanted to make the Personae of this game “more real”. When you communicate with someone in real life, you might have a persona dedicated to that person.
LIKE A SPOUSE.
HASHINO: Exactly. You switch between personae as you go between home and work, and we tried to express that through the game’s Social Links system.
SO IF THESE PERSONAE ARE THINGS THAT YOU BUILD BETWEEN YOURSELF AND OTHERS, IT IS EASY TO SEE HOW THE HERO MIGHT HAVE MULTIPLE PERSONAE TO UTITLIZE… BUT WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT HIS PARTY MEMBERS AND THEIR INABILITY TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE PERSONA?
HASHINO: That was a compromise we had to make for the game. The player needs to relate to the Hero more than the other characters, so we game the player a tangible system through which they could manage all of the Hero’s personae. It is completely reasonable to think that, in terms of psychological personae, the other characters had various ones for when they were shopping, hanging out with friends, and doing a multitude of other things that the Hero has absolutely nothing to do with. We just couldn’t bring all of that into the mix because we needed some way to create a definitive separation between the Hero and the other characters, from the player’s point of view.
SO A SIMPLE WAY TO EXPLAIN IT WOULD BE TO SAY THAT THE ONLY REASON WHY THE OTHER CHARACTERS ONLY SEEMED TO HAVE ONE PERSONA WAS BECAUSE THAT WAS THE PERSONA THEY HELD FOR THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HERO.
HASHINO: That’s an excellent way to explain it.
SOEJIMA: I… had no idea.
HASHINO: Did you really think the other characters were just one-dimensional? Of course they have complicated minds and hearts, just like us. We just couldn’t make that a part of the gameplay because messing with and controlling other peoples’ personae would have just been…
HASHINO: Yes! It would have been wrong, for this game. There are a lot of RPGs out there where you can control every aspect of your party members, including what kind of underwear they are wearing… but because we wanted the player to relate to the Hero more than any other character in “Persona 3”, we wanted the other characters to feel like “other people”.
SOEJIMA: It was important to make that distinction. It helped to emphasize the concept of Social Links, and it also allowed us to show off the improved AI. It would have been extra cool if the party members had been completely free of player control, but we knew that would be pushing it a bit too far, so we gave the player control over their equipment at least.
HASHINO: It’s true that we got some feedback stating that the party system was “too difficult” to control effectively, but I’ll honestly say that I don’t regret doing what we did with it. I’m glad we stuck to our guns on that one.
IT WAS PRETTY INTERESTING TO HAVE CHARACTERS THAT DIDN’T NECESSARILY AGREE WITH YOUR DECISIONS COMING TOGETHER TO ACCOMPLISH A MUTUAL GOAL.
HASHINO: It didn’t matter how strong your friendships were; once you completed the mission, everyone went their separate ways. It’s like when you go out for a drink with buddies and you have a great time, but at the end of the night, everyone goes home to their own lives. The interactions you’d have with your Social Links also differed depending on the time of day. We wanted to emphasize the feeling that these were completely separate beings unifying for a single purpose. You’re together in the dungeon, but once you leave, you’re alone again. Once you’re alone, you are contacted y other people who may not have been in the dungeon with you. We wanted the Hero to have a life outside of Tartarus, and although we didn’t get to flesh that part out as much as we would have liked, I think we did well enough.
I CERTAINLY FELT IT. EVEN YOUR PARTY MEMBERS FELT LIKE INDIVIDUALS WHO HAD LIVES OTSIDE OF THE PARTY.
HASHINO: I’m glad you got that. I know it made for a less familiar play style, but it was what we wanted to portray.
WHEN YOU INTRODUCE A SYSTEM LIKE SOCIAL LINKS, YOU ALWAYS GET THOSE PLAYERS WHO WANT TO MAX OUT ALL OF THE LINKS. HOW DID THAT NOTION OF MANIPULATING HUMAN RELATIONS FIT INTO THE OVERALL GAME EXPERIENCE THAT YOU WANTED TO CREATE?
HASHINO: In a manner of speaking, aren’t all social bonds a form of using other people? Maybe that’s just my opinion. (laughs) But I think, as adults, we have to admit that’s true to a certain extent. Still, speaking from personal experience, that doesn’t necessarily define an entire relationship. It’s possible that you will approach a person with a specific goal in mind, but once you accomplish that goal, you might find that you enjoy talking to them and being with them regardless of the fact that you no longer “need” them for the original purpose. That’s how some lasting friendships are forged, and I think it’s completely legitimate. Instead of sitting around saying, “I don’t have any friends, and I don’t know how to make friends,” just think about what you want to accomplish right now, and figure out what kind of social networking would best serve your purpose. Even in the beginning of the relationship feels calculated, you never known where social interaction will lead.
SO EVEN IF THE ORIGINAL INTENTION IS NOT FOR A FRIENDSHIP, YOU MIGHT END UP WITH A REAL FRIEND ANYWAY.
HASHINO: Yes, exactly. I once knew this young guy who would always complain about not knowing how to make friends. I said, “Who cares?” but I didn’t mean he shouldn’t care about not having friends; I just meant it shouldn’t matter how he made friends. Making friends isn’t all about success and failure; sometimes it’s just about making the effort. I think that’s becoming more and more important these days. In the past, we actually felt isolated when we were alone, didn’t we?
SOEJIMA: We don’t now?
HASHINO: Well, I just mean that being alone has become a recognized lifestyle now. It’s not uncommon to know someone who sits at home alone all day, surfing the net or whatever.
THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE LIKE THAT TODAY, IT’S TRUE.
HASHINO: See? A lot of people are alone these days. If you’re alone out of choice, that’s one thing; but f you’re alone simply because you think you can’t make friends, I think that’s a negative way to live. In this way, I think the Social Link system in the game mimics social networking in real life. You’re more than welcome to try and systematically max out all of your Social Links… though it’s not actually possible.
DID YOU INTENTIONALLY MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE?
HASHINO: Not at all. To be honest, I didn’t think about that aspect too much. If it was possible, fine; if not, that was fine by me as well. Toward the end of development, I was told it wouldn’t be possible, and my reaction was, “Okay.” That was it. A comment we get from lots of players is that they didn’t care about maxing out Social Links, but they were so intrigued by one particular character’s story that they felt compelled to strengthen that Social Link. I think that’s a totally valid way to go about it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT SOCIAL LINKS, SOEJIMA? BOTH IN THE GAME AND IN REAL LIFE…
SOEJIMA: I admit I’ve initiated a few relationships for no other purpose than to further my own goals, but I never felt like a “bad guy”. I never went into a relationship with the intention of “tricking” the other person, and as far as I’m concerned, the ideal result would be to forge a relationship that benefits both people in some way. Whether it be personal friendships or professional relationships, I approach all of my social interactions with the same set of values. As far as the game is concerned, I think it’s okay for people to create Social Links for very specific reasons, but I would hope that they at least felt something for each character that they interacted with. Personally, I only pursed one romance in the game. I know it’s just a game, but I just don’t like hurting people or doing dishonest things.
HASHINO: I went for all of them.
ALL OF THEM?
HASHINO: I’d take everything I could get. It’s just a game, after all.
IF SOMEONE WHO FEELS INCAPABLE OF FORGING GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH “NATURAL” HAPPENSTANCE CAN FALL BACK ON PURSUING CALCULATED SOCIALIZATION, IS IT REASONABLE TO THINK THE REVERSE IS TRUE? COULD SOMEONE WHO RELIED SOLELY ON CALCULATED SOCIALIZATION TO FURTHER THEIR AMBITION SUDDENLYFEEL A NEED FOR A FRIENSHIP THAT JUST HAPPENS “THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY”?
HASHINO: I would think students experience that more than adults. Your social environment goes through more changes more constantly when you’re a student; for example, there could be a change in the class seating arrangement, or you could lose your best friend because you’ll be attending different schools next year. I think some people have trouble grasping the right timing to create a new relationship in such a fast-paced environment. Sometimes, I think timing is everything. People who really enjoy interacting with others, or who put a lot of value on social success tend to have a natural sense for timing. They’ll be flowing along with the current, and just sort of flow right into a circle of friends. Meanwhile, those who aren’t as talented in this sense would…
…BE SWEPT AWAY?
HASHINO: For sure. There may be a few who get lucky and just happen upon someone else who has the same interests as them or something, but I believe the vast majority of those people simply get swept away by the current. The internet has made it easy to “network”, and I think that has offered these lonely people a sort of escape. It gives them a sense of security, a reassurance that they are indeed socializing. Connecting with someone on the internet is pretty easy, buy that ease comes with a price. You gain less with each interaction if you are not face to face with the person, taking in everything from their facial expressions to their vibe, so even if you have a million friends on your friends list, your social life won’t be particularly deep or rich. People need to remember that the internet isn’t a social arena, it’s merely a social tool. Those who have a knack for socializing outside of the internet understand this, but those who have difficulties may not see the difference. It’s kind of like when you think about starting a new sport, and the first step you take is to buy a full set of the equipment you would need.
ONCE YOU HAVE ALL THE EQUIPMENT, YOU ALREADY FEEL LIKE AN ATHLETE.
HASHINO: Exactly. I often start into a new hobby by gathering all the equipment first, and I have to admit it’s risky business. It gives you the illusion that you’ve already become something without having to actually become it. But, of course, if you were to meet up with someone who is an actual enthusiast of said hobby, they’d see through you right away. They’d know you’ve done nothing more than buy a full set of equipment. That’s sort of what I’m trying to say about internet socialization. It gives you the illusion of socialization, nut it’s a far cry from true socialization. If you’re able to view the internet as the tool that it is and use it effectively, that’s perfectly okay. Even in the game, you are presented with an opportunity to forge a Social Link through the internet, and the Hero is absolutely able to have a very real and healthy relationship with that character.
A WORKPLACE COULD BE SEEN AS ITS OWN SOCIAL COMMUNITY. HOW MANY DIFFERENT SOCIAL COMMUNITITES DO YOU TWO HAVE IN REAL LIFE?
HASHINO: Not many. (laughs)
SOEJIMA: My social life is quite limited as well. (laughs)
HASHINO: That could be considered another reason why we put the Social Link system in “Persona 3”. I personally have experienced the dissolving of numerous social communities. For example, I had a circle of friends in high school, a “community”. I grew up in a rural area, so after moving to the city, I only got to see those friends whenever I visited home. But those opportunities gradually cam less frequently, and now it would just be awkward for me to try and meet up with them.
SO THAT SOCIAL LINK HAS “REVERSED”.
HASHINO: More like it’s “broken”. When you have a Social Link dissolve on you completely like that, it can be quite depressing.
IT MEANS THERE WILL BE LESS PEOPLE GATHERING AROUD YOUR DEATHBED WHEN YOUR TIME COMES, AFTER ALL.
HASHINO: Early on, we did discuss the possibility of a funeral in the game. We thought about representing your Social Link successes by the number of people who showed up at the Hero’s funeral.
SOEJIMA: We talked about having different personae for different communities, but I actually think there are fewer individual personae involved than it sounds like there are. I, for one, only have one persona for work. Some people might divide the workplace into smaller sub-communities, and have a separate persona for dealing with their boss or their colleagues. Even if someone seems to have lots and lots of friends, it’s possible they only have one persona that they use for all of those friends. In an online game, it’s easy to view your character (or avatar) as your persona. The rules and gameplay system define your persona for you, so it feels very easy. In real life, it sometimes takes courage to follow your moral compass. Rushing to aid an injured stranger or offering your seat on the bus to an elderly person may sound like simple little actions, but a lot of people hesitate because they are worried about having their kind gesture rejected, or any number of other potentially embarrassing outcomes. In an online game, if you’re playing a healer class and you see an injured character, you already know what is expected of you, so you can take action with confidence. Can you imagine if we didn’t have titles and roles at work? We wouldn’t know exactly what is or is not expected of us, and we would have to form a persona for each new situation. That would mean juggling a lot of different personae, and that could get pretty stressful pretty quickly. It’s possible that I’m touching on the root of the common stress problem without realizing it.
IT WASN’T SO LONG AGO THAT PEOPLE ADMIRED THOSE WHO DID NOT CHANGE THE WAY THEY BEHAVED DEPENDING ON WHO THEY WERE INTERACTING WITH. AT WORK, THOSE WHO TREATED THEIR SUPERIORS AND SUBORDINATES WITH THE SAME LEVEL OF RESPECT WERE CONSIDERED LIKABLE. BUT IF YOU LOOK AT IT IN A DIFFERENT WAY, YOU COULD SAY THEY’RE TAKING THE EASY WAY OUT.
SOEJIMA: That’s true. Sometimes it’s like they’re just an empty shell, so getting berated or criticized doesn’t have any effect on them, one way or another.
A SHELL AND A PERSONA MAY SOUND LIKE THE SAME THING, BUT THEY’RE QUITE DIFFERENT, AREN’T THEY? A SHELL WOULD BE USED TO GUARD AGAINST OTHERS, TO SORT OF BLOCK OUT INTERACTION.
SOEJIMA: In the game, if you try to pursue too many personae, each one turns out fairly weak. If you pursue one specific persona instead, you’ll have yourself a very powerful persona.
I JOINED THE KENDO CLUB IN THE GAME, AND WAS PRETTY DEDICATED ABOUT PRACTICING AFTER SCHOOL. I MAXED OUT THAT SOCIAL LINK, ONLY TO FIND THAT HE WOULD NO LOGNER CONTACT ME. I THOUGHT WE HAD FORGED A PRETTY SOLID FRIENDSHIP, BUT WE NEVER REALLY HUNG OUT AFTERWARD. THAT WAS A BIT SAD FOR ME.
HASHINO: That’s the way we wanted the Social Links to work.
SOEJIMA: You have to think of the result as a true testament to the strength of the bond you created. It’s like having a childhood best friend that you know will stick with you for life.
HASHINO: When you make a true friend, it’s possible to meet up with them after ages of being out of touch, and still pick up exactly where you left off. Thinking about maxed Social Links in this way sounds about right.
THAT CERTAINLY MAKES ME FEEL BETTER. COME TO THIN OF IT, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU CAN ONLY FORGE THAT KIND OF FRIENDSHIP WITH SOCIAL LINKS OF THE SAME GENDER. OPPOSITE GENDER SOCIAL LINKS WILL REVERSE QUICKLY. DOES THIS MEAN TRUE FRIENDSHIPS BETWEEN PEOPLE OF OPPOSITE GENDER DO NOT EXIST?
HASHINO: I’ve never successfully forged a true friendship with a girl in real life.
SOEJIMA: Neither have I.
HASHINO: I guess that means we couldn’t implement it into the game because we don’t know what it’s like. (laughs)
SOEJIMA: Now that I’m on my thirties, I’m more open to the notion that it is possible, though. Back in high school, I admit I couldn’t look at girls that way.
THE PERONA BORN OF CONVICTION
SO HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO IS ABLE TO SUMMON A PERSONA?
SOEJIMA: Generally speaking, it is natural for a person to have multiple personae. Some are able to organize those personae, and some are less able. It seems to be more difficult for young people, as they are still trying to figure out who they really are, and at times having multiple personae can seem like a falsehood. It’s quite normal for young people to allow the emotion of the moment to dictate their actions, and as a result they soon realize that they behave differently in front of different people. This can sometimes be interpreted as being “fake”. They might have issues with feeling like they are lying to people. Of course, that’s not to say that adults are comfortable with the notion of lying to everyone, or that they do. (laughs)
SOEJIMA: I guess a better way of explaining it would be to say that adults understand the importance of shaping their behavior around the situation at hand. It’s not immoral to do so. You understand that you have different personae for situations like work and friends, and you can even have “conversations” with your different personae in order to make personal compromises between things like your life at work and your life at home.
SO IT’S ABOUT CONSCIOUSLY INTEGRATING YOUR PERSONAE.
SOEJIMA: If you can’t integrate them properly, you will fall apart; or at the very least, the balance in your life will be very fragile.
YOU REALLY HAVE TO KNOW YOURSELF.
SOEJIMA: Yes, it’s about pondering who you are as a whole. I think young people tend to want to believe that they are one persona. Learning to accept that fact that you are comprised of multiple personae, and learning when and how to allow for those differences is what I think we refer to as “maturing”.
IT CAN BE VERY DIFFICULT TO ATTAIN THAT LEVEL OF SELF-AFFIRMATION.
SOEJIMA: It is difficult, and anyone who masters that ability is truly remarkable.
HOW DOES THIS SELF-AFFIRMATINO TIE IN TO THE SUMMONING OF A PERSONA?
SOEJIMA: It’s all about visualization, I think. It’s the difference between switching to your work persona upon entering the workplace either consciously or unconsciously.
SOEJIMA: If you consciously make the change, you take on that persona not because you were just going with the flow, but because you made a decision to use that particular persona. You defined that persona for yourself. When you tell yourself, “This is who I’m going to be here,” that’s the equivalent of summoning a Persona.
THAT SOUNDS LIKE IT REQUIRES A LOT OF WILLPOWER.
SOEJIMA: Some people simply react to others’ personae. They are influenced by the behavior of those around them, and shape their thoughts or actions based on that. Summoning a Persona requires the ability to define yourself for your own reasons, and that is why a Persona is able to take on a consistent form.
HASHINO: It’s about having perspective on life. Those who are able to face the reality that death is quite inevitable are the ones who can summon a Persona. Those people are defined by the game as the people who can remain aware during the Dark Hour. The Dark Hour is a representation of death, and while everyone may live with the notion of death every day, not everyone is necessarily acutely aware of it. Once you are able to stay aware during the Dark Hour and see that truth, you will forever be able to see that truth. The conviction to go on regardless of this truth is the power that fuels the ability to summon a Persona. This is a theory that is exclusive to “Persona 3”.
SOEJIMA: The hidden truth of the world. Society tends to avoid giving things like cemeteries and funeral homes a place within people’s everyday lives. There have been cases where funeral homes were denied the right to establish themselves right in front of a public transit station, for precisely this reason. But what most people don’t consider is that if you eat a burger for lunch, you are dealing with death.
DEATH IS ALWAYS RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.
SOEJIMA: In front of us, around us… but with the example of food, not many people know or bother to think about how cows and pigs die. It’s like we have this unconscious desire and ability to hide the reality of death from our conscious selves. The first time I considered this, I was surprised at just how well I had been hiding it from myself all these years. But once you see it and face it, as the Dark Hour for example, you can never really unsee it.
…AND A PESRONA IS THE PERSONIFICATINO OF HOW ONE CHOOSES TO DEAL WITH THAT REALITY?
SOEJIMA: Yes, you could say that.
IT IS SAID THAT FEAR AND CONVICTINO ARE BOTH NEEDED IN ORDER TO SUMMON A PERSONA. DOES THIS HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT THE EVOKERS ARE SHAPED LIKE GUNS?
HASHINO: I think a lot of young people have noted the reality of death once or twice, but they probably didn’t treat it as much more than a passing thought. For example, when someone recognizes that their greatest weakness is their tendency to procrastinate, they might take a few moments one night to feel bad about it and say, “I’m going to stop procrastinating!” Which is great, but more often than not they’ll forget that resolution by the next morning. Then, they realize they’re procrastinating again, and they’ll give themselves a little slap on the wrist or something. Sometimes, people need some kind of external symbol to act as a reminder of their conviction. You often see that sort of thing with businessmen who keep Post-its with a proverb or words of encouragement stuck to their computer monitor at work. Instead of having our characters imply say, “Oh, I can totally summon a Persona! Yay, come out, Persona!” we wanted to give them an external stimulus that would remind them of the seriousness of the decision they have made, and test their resolve every single time. I suppose that didn’t have to some in form of a gun, but… what can I say? Soejima likes guns.
HASHINO: It’s easy to understand, though. For example, think about a game of Russian Roulette, where the gun is loaded with only one bullet, and as you pass it around, you know one person in the game is going to die… obviously, everyone who is participating has a lot going through their mind each time they put that gun to their head and pull the trigger. The characters experience a similar kind of tension when they summon a Persona.
A PRETTY DIRECT REFERENCE.
HASHINO: Direct indeed.
THE “PERSONA” SERIES, A COMING-OF-AGE TALE
WAS LIMITING THE GAME TO ONE SCHOOL YEAR A METAPHOR FOR THE FACT THAT WE DO HAVE A LIMITED AMOUNT OF TIME IN THIS WORLD?
HASHINO: There’s that, of course, but it was also because the “Persona” series is about coming-of-age tales. We get to see a young guy or girl grow into themselves, and a school was the perfect stage for such growth. We initially thought about extending the game to three school years, as that is how long high school lasts in Japan, but we ended up going with one year instead. It was our goal to illustrate one person’s “birth” and “death” within the limits of that one year.
LIVING LIFE WITH ONE EYE ON THE COUNTDOWN TIMER?
HASHINO: It’s like summer vacation. Most people go into it saying, “Summer vacation’s just started! I have the whole summer ahead of me!” But a lot of people come out of summer vacation saying, “Summer vacation’s already over!? I didn’t actually get around to doing anything!” When it comes to school life, you already get the feeling that you are expected to live out your youth within the confines of the school year. We had even planned for a proper graduation ceremony ending, where you’d see all of your friends going their separate ways. That’s basically what life is about; you meet people and then go your separate ways. That’s the experience we were hoping to offer with “Persona3”.
SOEJIMA: The limitations of having just one school year also made it easier to plan out how we would illustrate our point.
I SUPPOSE IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO DEFINE THE “DAILY LIFE” OF AN ADULT PROFESSIONAL.
SOEJIMA: I suppose the ending for that game would be your retirement. (laughs) Using a school year makes it easy to divide time up into segments, and it is also easy for our players to relate to because most of them have been there and done that.
IT IS ALSO EASIER FOR STUDENTS TO REALLY FEEL LIKE THEY ARE EXPERIENCING THE PASSAGE OF TIME IN TERMS OF SEASONS. EACH SEASON BRINGS A SPECIFIC SCHOOL EXPERIENCE, WHETHER IT BE SUMMER VACATION OR SCHOOL FESTIVALES, AND THESE SEASONAL MARKERS DON’T EXIST ONCE YOU STEP OUT INTO THE WORLD AS A WORKING PROFESSIONAL.
SOEJIMA: Yeah, we grown-ups basically just let time slide by.
IT’S TRUE. WE REALLY ONLY TAKE NOTICE THAT TIME HAS PASSED WHEN WE’RE BUSY WITH HOLIDAY SCHEDULES AT THE END OF THE YEAR, AND WE STOP TO THINK, “WOW, ANOTHER YEAR HAS PASSED…”
HASHINO: I often hear that your thirties pass by in the blink of an eye.
SOEJIMA: You’re 40 before you know it.
HASHINO: For this reason, I think it’s important to remind adults of their school years sometimes. It’s a nice, nostalgic feeling to recall just how chaotic life seemed when you were young.
YOU MENTION NOSTALGIA, WHICH IS CLOSELY RELATED TO THE PASSAGE OF TIME. THE TIME AND ERA THAT THE GAME TAKES PLACE IN SEEMED TO BE A PRETTY STRONG THEME… DOES ONE HAVE TO DO WITH THE OTHER?
SOEJIMA: Over time, we have learned more and more about things like the human brain, DNA, the body, and even the soul. We did this to peel away some of the mystery surrounding these things, but it seems like the answers have only given way to more questions. Long ago, the miracle of life was explained as an act of god, a power that was beyond us, and that was enough to satisfy our curiosity. As we learned more and more about ourselves and how we work, though, that explanation seemed to mean less and offer less reassurance. We started thinking differently about time and how we use it; we viewed death and the amassing of money differently as well. Eventually, it all ended up feeling pointless. We may be living in a time of economic strife, but it isn’t so bad that we are all starving and homeless. I guess you could say we’re stuck in a strange sort of balancing act. We’ve grown complacent, and we aren’t as concerned about accomplishments or achievements. We are losing sight of the value of this thing called life, and yet death remains exactly the way it always was. Despite all of the things we have learned, we still don’t really understand death, and that’s something that hasn’t changed over time. I believe that we will be able to define the human soul in terms of data one day, at which point we would be able to analyze and definitely explain everything… but we still wouldn’t be able to live without emotions. If we ever were, we wouldn’t be human anymore. I hope the players got some inkling of how to make the compromise between understanding human nature and losing our humanity through their experience of playing “Persona 3”.
HASHINO: I’ve read a few of the more popular sociology books that have been published recently, and I’ve found that there really isn’t any one thing that truly applies to every single person equally. It makes me wonder why we are born at all. I get the feeling that no one is expecting me to do anything particularly new or amazing, because the world could go right on turning without me in it, and everyone would be fine; that all I have to do is live my life as if I’ve been placed on a track, and I just follow the track to the end. In that sense, I think the most important thing is to consider how you want to live your life. To put it simply, you could focus on finding a way of life that you think is “cool” or “satisfying”, and focus on sticking to that course. I think that’s a valid way to live your life.
FINDING A LIFESTYLE THAT INSPIRES YOU THAT MUCH COULD BE TRICKY.
HASHINO: Absolutely. If it helps, I think it’s okay to follow in the footsteps of someone you respect or admire. Even if you can’t come up with a totally new way of life yourself, you can borrow ideas from those who came before you. If you can take those things and make them your own, I’d say you’ve lived a successful life. Leading a satisfying life doesn’t always have to be about struggling against the odds.
SOEJIMA: In school, they tell you that you can be anything you want to be. They try to teach you freedom of thought, and push you to dream big. Sometimes I feel like this is contributing to how the new generation is losing sight of their place in society, and even the fact that they are a part of society. Having schools sending young people out into the world with big dreams and few values can be troublesome for the rest of us. This approach was important a few generations ago because we were literally struggling just to survive, and we need people to hold on to things like hopes and dreams. Now, we have ideals like equality and other social advancements that make “success” an easier goal to achieve. But this system leaves an emptiness within us, and we feel like we need more praise or acknowledgement in order to feel whole. It’s a real dilemma.
WE LIVE IN A WORLD WITH A VARIETY OF EXISTING SOCIAL NORMS AND VALUES, AND WE ALSO ENCOURAGE OUR YOUTH TO INVENT THEIR WON IDEAS OF NORMS AND VALUES… WHICHI CREATES ITS OWN SET OF PROBLEMS.
HASHINO: Lots of young people today feel no pressing urge to accomplish anything. They’re bored, lack interests, and their families seem to be doing well enough financially that these kids could live out their lives without lifting a finger. It is these kids in particular that I hope will consider forging Social Links, even calculated Social Links if necessary. Find people you share something in common with and enjoy being around, or find people you don’t have anything in common with and learn from your differences. I believe that differences can bring people together just as much as similarities.
SOEJIMA: Having someone in your life with whom you can agree on something, even if it’s agreeing that you disagree, adds a whole new flavor to your perceived existence.
HASHINO: The power to change yourself. I’m certainly not in any position to lecture our youth, as I haven’t exactly mastered the art of figuring myself out… but by consciously shaping your life, you can develop your own “style”. Once you discover your niche, you get a different kind of satisfaction out of life; whether or not you can make a career out of this niche is not important.
THAT SOUNDS LIKE SOME PRETTY UNIVERSAL ADVICE.
HASHINO: I like to think it is.
FIGURING OUT WHO YOU REALLY ARE INVOLES GIVING SERIOUS CONSIDERATION TO THINGS LIKE LIFE AND DEATH. THIS IS A KEY LESSON THAT EVERYONE SHOULD LEARN IN THEIR FORMATIVE YEARS, AND IT IS THE MESSAGE THE “PERSONA” SERIES DELIVERS. THANK YOU BOTH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS INTERVIEW TODAY.
Interview held on October 3, 2006 from 3:30 to 5:00pm at the Atlus offices.