When We Love Something Bad
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #160. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
I know I’ve touched on the idea of Content vs. Creator already (wow, was that really over five years ago now?), and talked about how sometimes it’s not possible to separate something from the person or persons who made it. But here I am, about to contradict myself by talking about why it’s okay to still enjoy something that might occasionally make you grimace nowadays. Because here’s the thing: Fondness for a piece of media with legitimately problematic elements is not the same as agreeing with or condoning those elements.
To be fair to 2017 Me, I did say that your own personal comfort level when it comes to these kinds of things is all that really matters. But that was more about when the people behind what we enjoy turn out to be awful. Sidenote: That wizard game is a notable exception because the awful person explicitly stated that she’ll interpret sales as a show of support.
I feel like, when it comes to questionable content itself, it ultimately comes down to how you feel. Kind of like the notion that what we reflexively think is learned, but how we actually react or respond is a better indicator of who we are. Which brings me to Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden.
The recent re-release (particularly on the Switch, in my case) has made me realize that, somewhat surprisingly, this is my favorite videogame of all time. I used to say it was too difficult to narrow it down so I’d offer up a top 5 or top 10, but no, going back to it now drove it all home. For better or for worse, this game, its story and its characters mean so much to me that it’s not even a difficult decision for me to make. Which was a bit concerning, what with the way it mishandles (if we’re using extremely generous wording) queer and transgender representation.
Back in 2008, and then again in 2012, a lot of the “jokes” surrounding Kanji’s sexuality, Naoto’s desire to appear masculine and even side character Hanako’s weight didn’t stick in my mind very much. To be honest it was kind of a shock when I started to see people (and friends) criticize the game for these elements because they never really registered with me at the time. Not that I thought these criticisms were wrong, mind, but I was ignorant to almost all of it.
Now Yosuke’s homophobia, the handling of Naoto’s inner struggle and the plethora of jabs the game takes at Hanako stand out way more to me. And yet, I still love this game. And I think that’s okay. If anything, the fact that these moments make me uneasy and have burned themselves into my brain is a kind of comfort, precisely because they make me uncomfortable. It’d be much worse if I was fine with all of this shit.
Persona 4’s mean-spirited (intentional or not) approach to certain subjects does cast a shadow over the game, but there are so many other parts of the complete package that mean the world to me that they don’t ruin the experience. I can’t overlook them, much less forgive them – miss me with those “of its time” excuses – but that’s part of why my fondness for the game doesn’t really bother me. I love it, I still go back and play it every so often and it’s 100% fucked in very specific places. Being bothered by those elements is what helps me to understand that I’m not that kind of person and it’s okay to love something with such flaws.
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.