Growing up, I was a gamer by necessity. Being physically disabled, I found my joys and comforts in front of a television, absorbed in a video game, usually a JRPG of some sort. I’m an old salt of 39 dubious years, so I grew up with Atari, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, all the “classics” now—what the bones of the new tiny chic systems are made of.
In the mid 90's, I was in high school, and it was hard. Public life for someone who stands out, intentionally or not, is often hard. Mine was moreso for the difficulty of my home life. My father, who I love begrudgingly, is not a kind man. He is of two moods always, either angry or indifferent. He loves cars and complaining and being right to the detriment of reason. He’s racist and unapologetic in it. He’s a firm supporter of the current president. I love him. I don’t like him. He always expected the best of me, but is was rarely so that he could be proud. He expected the best of me, period. There was never a “just do your best”. There wasn’t “I’m proud no matter what.” There was “Make A’s because if you don’t, it’ll be bad.” He was annoyed at how slowly I moved, or that I didn’t want to do the things he liked with him. He never said that my being disabled bothered him, but it sure seemed like it did. I had to prove to everyone that I was a person just like they were. He had to prove that my disability wasn’t his failure. That caused a tension between us that’s still there and probably won’t ever fully dissipate.
Enter Persona. My mother was very supportive of my gaming, and kept me in stock with great games all through school. She rented Revelations: Persona for the Playstation when it was new. Mom always got what she thought I would like, and she was usually spot on. I blame her for my JRPG addiction because she got me both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. I started Persona and was immediately put off. A high school? Desks? No fairies, no fantastic place that was far from the life I knew? I kept going though and soon, I saw a game that, while maybe not in the caliber of Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy (at least not yet), Persona had it’s own unique tale to tell and it’s own thoughts to provoke out of me.
Persona told the story of a girl named Mary (or Maki, if you’ve played the Japanese version or the remake on the PSP) and her friends, one of whom is the traditional silent protagonist of many a JRPG. Mary was sickly and confined to a hospital bed at the start of the game. After her friends are ordered by their teacher to go to the hospital for a check up due to some supernatural tomfoolery, they decide to stop and visit Mary. After said visit, all hell breaks loose-literally-and demons invade the hospital as well as the entire town the game is set in. Later, at school, Mary shows up, but not the sick, depressed Mary we saw from before. This Mary is upbeat and adventurous. She’s quick to help out...even if she can’t remember her former, fragile self.
What follows these events is a story about a corrupt company and a group of teenagers fighting that corruption with the help of their supernatural powers. Yes it’s ridiculous. Yes, there’s a lot of laughably bad dialog and tedious grinding. There’s even a total “WTF” end boss. But the point is that these characters started as just people. Do I believe that you need superpowers to deal with life? No. I believe that life will make you stronger than you are if you choose to fight against the circumstances that try to break you, and at it’s core that’s what Persona as a series tries to convey. It echoed with me.
Persona showed me a real truth inside of its imaginary self. No matter how weak you may be, you still matter. It’s still worth it to fight. I was struggling to feel like I was worth it when I played Persona. Maybe I was reaching, probably desperate. Even so, finding just one outlet, one thing that showed me that the trials mattered—even if you were that weird high school kid that everyone whispered about—was a small saving grace for me.
Nowadays, I’m in a relationship and living away from my parents. I’m stronger now than I have ever been. I still struggle and have bad days, but I have support and people that love me to hold me up. I also have a Persona tarot card tattooed on my forearm. Just as a reminder that fighting is worth it.