Persona 4: Truth and Identity

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
John 18:37-38 (ESV)

Quid Est Veritas. “What is truth?” This was the question Pilate asked Jesus when Jesus made a claim to truth. Many people have debated what Pilate truly meant by this statement. Was it sincere? Was it mocking? What would his own culture have said about truth? These are not only good and appropriate questions for their time, but ours, as well.

When you boot up Persona 4 on the PlayStation 2, you are immediately thrust into this debate upon hearing the opening theme song, “Pursuing My True Self.” This search for identity and truth in our time can feel overwhelming. As the first line states: “We are living our lives abound with so much information.” The noise and information from every direction bombards us daily: news reports, social media, gossip in the hallway, phone calls with family, bumper stickers, and anywhere else human beings can communicate. We find it hard to have a grasp on who we truly are. Are we being deceived? Do we deceive ourselves? Who is my true self?

What does Persona 4 have to say about our search for identity and truth? Quite a lot, actually. Let’s dive in.

Persona4Box

Background
Persona 4 was first released in North America on the PlayStation 2 in 2008, just a little over a year after the release of Persona 3. While it was received positively at the time of its release, it gained a significant surge of popularity when it was updated and released on the PlayStation Vita in 2012 with added story elements and social links. This version would later be released in June of 2020 on PC, making it the first mainline Persona game released on a non-Sony platform.

Much like its predecessor, Persona 4 focused on the groundwork that game laid for modern Persona titles. You play the role of a high school student moving to the countryside for a year because his parents are working overseas. Upon his arrival, he and his new friends (known as the “Investigation Team”) are thrust into a mystery involving a string of bizarre murders happening around the town. They gain the power to travel into the “TV World,” wielding the powers of Personas gained by overcoming their deepest insecurities and secrets.

P4Screen1

Truth & Identity
Perception and identity play a pivotal role in the development of our main cast of characters. Each of the friends you meet harbor their own secrets and are forced to confront a version of themselves – their “Shadow Selves.” These are the suppressed parts of their psyches that they don’t want others to know about, the part of their identity that they keep secret. One by one, they are forced to realize hard truths about themselves as they are confronted by their Shadow Selves.

The intriguing parts of these encounters is that they reveal hidden truths about the characters you ally yourself with. The Shadow Selves are not lying per se, but are instead twisting the truth about their real selves in the most negative way possible. Feeding on not only insecurities and vulnerabilities, but also sinful attitudes and beliefs. In this way, the characters cannot outright deny the reality and horrors of their inner selves, but instead have to fight back against it and realize how wrong they may have been.

The relatable nature of these characters’ secrets should not be overlooked. At some point or another, most of us can empathize with the struggles they are going through:

  • Resentment about where we are.
  • Jealousy of those around us.
  • Feeling trapped amidst expectations.
  • Uncertainty of our feelings.
  • Anger about how others see us.
  • Loneliness and disillusionment.

This isn’t so much different from our Christian walk. We all have our own stories and secrets, whether we have recently come into the faith or have been Christians for most of our lives. Even Paul understood this when he wrote in Romans:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Romans 7:15-20 (ESV)

This is, in its own way, similar to how the characters in this game have to confront themselves. They know of this evil that lies beneath the surface of their consciousness; yet, they know they have to push their feelings and desires deep down so as not to act upon them in public. Whether due to cultural or moral reasons, they all have their motivations for not displaying their “true selves” to the world around them.

If we are honest with ourselves, do we not do the same thing? We search for our “truth” and want to know who we really are; yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we already know what we are capable of. Do we hide those parts of ourselves that we know are despicable to the world simply to fit in and not draw attention to who we really are? Martin Luther understood the depth and weight of his sin as a monk, so he frequently went to confession to assuage his conscience; he never found true peace and forgiveness until he realized the truth of Christ and his role as mediator. Do we feel the same weight for our sin?

P4Screen2

Conclusion
The dissonance between how Persona 4 portrays this understanding of identity and what we know about our own selves via what we learn from the Bible is that we know we cannot overcome our sinful flesh on our own. Our inner selves are not just wrong or mistaken, but sinful to the core, and we know that we face punishment for that sin. The investigation team works tirelessly to uncover the truth about the murders so as to bring the culprit to justice. The truth of what happened is of vital importance.

John Owen said it best when talking about our indwelling sin. As we think about our true selves, the sin that dwells within and that we encounter daily, we need to be vigilant and careful.

““Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter II (John Owen)

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