So there's a reason they aren't on my top 10. And it's not because Persona 4 came out in 2008.
(Persona 4 and Catherine spoilers, naturally.)

Persona 4 does something most games don't even consider. It actually introduces a character who actually represents a social issue Atlus generally struggles with, Gender identity. 

Now let's set aside a quiet moment at the start to clarify my position here. You might want to point out that I may have an empathy bias, since I’m gender dysphoric myself. My perspective on this kind of topic is hardly impartial, and this possibly a little more personal than I ever expected one of these blog posts to get.

Now the first thing anybody else, who took the social link to it's conclusion, would be probably be quick to point out is that the overall issue Naoto's arc addresses is sexism and yes, in the ontext of Japan circa 2008, that was still something games needed to handle better. I could sit around and take issue with how it handles empowering her as a female post-arc and in the stories after the events of the game, but that's sort of besides the point of this article. Though if you can name games and characters that explore the topic better, feel free to suggest them.

Sexism, suicide, and on rare occasions, sexuality have been topics game have often tip-toed around and to some extent still do. (Remember the outcry against SWTOR for being about "sodomising your crew"?) So with even these concepts that in other media are often eager to explore, it's understandable that games haven't explored less visible topics or stories like gender identity more. I'll give Atlus credit, they have some social links that do good things like actually having a male character grappling with bisexuality. But his struggle also ties into Naoto adding another source of confusion, and the ultimate resolution of both his and Naoto's are a quite typically Japanese. I'll paste in a quote from an old gamasutra article.

"The Japanese see homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, very different from the actual homosexual activity," explains Dr. Antonia Levi, author of Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation. 

"There is an understanding that you can play with fantasies that you might not want to live out in your normal life," Levi says. "Americans see things in very black and white -- you're either gay, or you're not. The Japanese are more comfortable with the concept of being gay and not being gay at the same time. In this case, it makes sense that, in the end, the game is not telling you what to think about Kanji or even if he is gay."

To put it more plainly, it's more typical of them to regard these sort of things as separate from your public life, but to actually come out as gay or transsexual is very different to simply having a "second life", it's seen as being confrontational with normal life. When you consider this, the way that Atlus bring their social links back around starts to make a lot more sense.

That's why Naoto's social link instils such discomfort in me. In the main story, it's introduced with Naoto openly acting and operating as the detective prince, when you encounter Naoto's shadow, the game starts to raise the topic of gender identity as a symptom of feeling confined by the idea of embracing a more "traditional" role. To Atlus, or to a Japanese player, dressing like a boy is Naoto acting against societal norms, so it only makes sense that you're basically put in a position of being the one that steers her towards dressing an acting more "acceptably" in order to facilitate and uncomfortably controlling romantic relationship. It trivializes the struggle with one's gender as just something to be played at in the greater context of Sexism.

It sort of all resolves in a very Japanese way, and this is where Atlus' other game of 2012, Catherine starts to address transsexualism more directly than a footnote in P4 or outright comedy in Persona 2 or with Transwomen as deceptive sexual predators in Persona 3.

After avoiding the topic, it's hard to see how Atlus could go from having transsgender topics as (rather offensive) blips to as problematic a character as Erica Anderson. Now, I'm going to assume you're familiar with the context of Catherine, if you're not Catherine tells the tale of Vincent, who begins having nightmares after he cheats on his longtime girlfriend. Every man who has these nightmares winds up dead and only men are able to have them. Later in the game, these dreams are revealed to be a divine punishment for men who keep partners who want children from having them.

The gameplay does little to tell players that Erica is in fact transgender, but when it's finally stated explicitly in the "true ending", it makes the hints dropped by the characters that knew look very different in retrospect. In the same moment you're explicitly told that she's transgender, she's outed as "Eric" by Toby and earlier on in the game he expresses regret at having slept with her having not known, and complaining that the sex "was weird" despite her having undergone reassignment surgery in high school.

Throughout Vincent’s time in the game’s bar, he and his friends are amicable to Erica but also say rather disparaging things about her femininity, often commenting that she's not "a proper woman". The group of men seems to put up with Erica rather than appreciate her friendship, and is vaguely trying to steer away the youngest member, naïve Toby, from pursuing his attraction to her, eventually writing their efforts off, saying "everyone's got their own problems to deal with.".

The second hint comes after Toby and Erica sleep together when Erica shares that she is starting to have the nightmares, which only men are supposed to be having, however it is easy to overlook this, as it appears whoever goes to the bar has these dreams until it's later stated that only men will suffer the nightmares.

It might be tempting to say that because the only real overt transphobia comes from the main villain, who happens to be her employer, and that Atlus is taking a favorable position on transgender representation in Catherine. However the game has characters largely either being annoyed by her or talking down about her, and frames her sexual encounter with Toby as a malicious act on her part as he expresses regret losing his virginity to her, and discomfort with the idea that being able to sleep with a transwoman   should lead to a questioning of his sexuality by extension. Malicious enough that she's considered to be on the same level as many other more lecherous male characters, simply because she's biologically incapable of bearing children for Toby rather than actively or intentionally denying him a bloodline.

There’s the unfortunate fact that Erica having these dreams means that she’s on the receiving end of divine punishment for being closeted to a guy she slept with. Given the violence and transphobia that trans people become the target of when not closeted, the very idea that a trans woman deserves to be punished for keeping this secret where Atlus writes stories that actively encourage keeping public and personal life separate is rather ignorant.

Her friends don’t show any support and have extremely little respect for her identity as a woman; as well, her boss is constantly hitting on her, despite that he was the one judging her as being as bad as every other male condemned to the dreams. Erica herself is a great character with relatable dialogue for the most part, but the politics surrounding her story doesn’t provide any optimism for trans-folk and ultimately these stories serve to offer more in the way of doubt than hope.

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Tags: 4:, Atlus, Catherine, Game, Golden, Persona, Sociological, Year, of, the

Comment by Richard N on December 28, 2012 at 1:03am

Wait, wasn't Catherine released last year? Also, thanks for making me feel like a dick for laughing at the whole Erica fiasco when I played it!

Onto the topic at hand however, you know honestly I never really thought about Atlus' slightly offensive protrayal of transgenders. Sexism I want to say I have a good suspicion on how most of Japan see women, but I got most of my information from the internet and anime. Very reliable sources.

Naoto is honestly my favorite character from P4 simply because she's such a unique girl and I can't recall ever playing a crossdresser with gender identiy issues in all my years of gaming. I did find it strange that simply being a woman would apparently make people look down on you in the police force and not more so because of the fact that she's....15. I guess that's how it is in Japan, which is just sad. I don't know, I'm just glad I got to hook up with her in the game. <3

As far as Erica goes, I'll have to say the way Vince and the gang taunts her and insult her seems to me the way old friends jab at eachother. From what I remember, the majority of the time the gang definitely often made fun of her, but I do remember small gentle moments as well especially at the more emotional points of the game. To me, they just seemed like good friends. And I guess the reason Erica was having Nightmares as well was because she didn't Toby she used to be a dude. Which in a way begs the question "why does she have to?" He should just accept her as she is with or without knowing. But I suppose Erica felt guilty, which is what I thought was why Men were having nightmares, because of the feeling of guilt.

Eh, either way, this is a weird topic I'm discussing with you. Need to get back to killing things in Black Ops. Also, P3<P4 all the way!

Comment by Richard N on December 28, 2012 at 3:07am

Oops, meant P3>P4. Hah.

Comment by Rialce on December 28, 2012 at 6:28pm

I learned about Naoto being a girl before P4 even arrived in the states. Safe to say, seeing as she's my avatar, she's one of my favorite characters in Persona 4. (If she weren't introduced as a member so late in the game, she may have supplanted Chie as my favorite.) She's intelligent, confident, but also insecure on who she is, like everyone in the game. It made sense she'd take up a male mantle for the police because it's certainly a male dominated field, and I always felt for her that she had to do that to feel comfortable. I didn't sense a want for her to be male for any other reason, so it was more like she was being forced into the want simply because of the restrictive, male-dominated infrastructure of her dream job.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I missed something, but I took the entirety of Naoto's link as you helping her embrace her womanhood while holding fast to the brilliant mind and striking wit already in the public eye. Her grandpa sent her on a chase that led to the rediscovery of her detective badge and kind of reawaken why she wanted to be a detective when she was young. It wasn't the idea of being completely accepted or fitting the mold of every detective on the block, it was solving the case and ascertaining who did it. Looking at the style behind Persona x Detective, I feel like Atlus is running with that feel for her. She doesn't have to hide her gender to make all the other cops look like chumps, which I'm pretty sure she felt she had to do in order to make it, thus birthing the Detective Prince.

That said, I could somehow be affected by the fact that I knew she was female before I played P4, as it's quite clear Atlus wants you to be in the dark to her sexual identity until it's sprung on you. Maybe my opinions on her motives would have been swayed in a different directions; I couldn't say.

As for Catherine and Erica, I don't think I saw the true ending and was given those facts. It always felt like that friendly jabbing that Richard N talked about. I do remember that young blonde guy mentioning he hooked up with her though... I recall feeling for her at that point, since I think she wasn't showing up around the time he mentioned it didn't work out. Anyway, I don't recall much of it, so an analysis of it would be a disservice and ignorant on my part.

Also, apart from the idea that shooting yourself in the head evokes your persona, I say P4 > P3. =P

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