I’ve been debating since last week what to do with this blog. On one hand, I had ideas for continuing with my “secretly feminist media” series, and I do plan on continuing that series. On the other hand though, there are other areas I want to cover, and I’ve been mulling over how to go about that. It’s no surprise that there’s a serious lack of decent female characters in gaming, to the point that we often get ladies who are basically just they’re basically just Marcus Fenix (or whatever their male equivalent is) in drag. This is why Calhoun in Wreck-It Ralph comes off as a comedic version, she’s just a gender flipped version of those characters. Yet, I was also wanting to cover queer characters, because they’re almost non-existent in gaming, and those that are around tend to be villains. So I’ve been debating if I want to do two separate series’ or just one. Well, I’ve decided I’m going to do a “Diversity in Gaming” series, which will be primarily dedicated to women and queer folk, but when I come across good representations of people of color, disabled individuals, or other minority groups within gaming, I will certainly give them a shout-out as well.
Something that has been brought up in the past by such game critical sites as Extra Credits is that there have been no really good games of late that have well fleshed-out female characters. However, there are other games that have covered awesome female characters in the past. Sadly, there are some traditionally awesome female characters who are ruined in their most recent titles. Yeah, I will be covering Samus and Other M, but not today. However, Samus isn’t the only character that this has happened to.
So this week, I’m going to cover a character from one of my favorite games who could go in one of two directions. That character is Naoto Shirogane from Persona 4. You see, Naoto is almost a poster child for a trans man character. Uncomfortable with being female, so ashamed of her body as to avoid letting others see her in a bathing suit, even being bothered sharing a hot spring with other girls (in a culture where communal bathing is not uncommon). Additionally, Naoto’s shadow says that she’s going to perform a “radical surgery” to “forever change” Naoto, hinting at changing Naoto not just into a male, but into an adult man. Additionally, even after confronting her shadow, Naoto continues to be more male-typical, with others referring to her with the -kun suffix (a male specific suffix), her still wearing masculine clothing, etc. Over the course of her social link, we learn that she has to get clothing specially tailored for her, as she can’t fit properly in male clothing, but she only wishes to wear male typical clothing. Additionally, later on in the story, we learn that she is the bustiest of the female characters in the game, but she binds. It is shown a number of times that the other girls are shocked at just how busty she actually is. Finally, Naoto is the only character whose persona is not the same sex as them. Chie, Yukiko, and Rise all have female personae, while Yosuke, Kanji, and Teddy/Kuma all have male personae. Yu has multiple personae of multiple genders, and Naoto’s personae are all male.
So with all of that said, why am I referring to Naoto as she instead of he? Believe me, I once upon a time considered her a trans man, and I would be perfectly happy if Atlus went that route. However, Naoto is canonically female. Near the end of her social link, she admits that she was wanting to be male to deal with societal pressures regarding her chosen career in a male-dominated field (she’s a detective). She worried that no one would take her seriously as a girl, but eventually comes to terms with her gender. Additionally, in the epilogue to Persona 4 Golden, the extended cut of the original game, we see Yu returning to Inaba the following spring and she has begun growing her hair out. By the time of the sequel manga, Persona x Naoto, she has grown her hair out quite long and stopped binding her breasts, but continues to dress in suits rather than dresses.
Naoto is a great character because she shows the struggle that many girls and women deal with in a male dominant society, and while she certainly accepts some of those stereotypes, she also rejects them as well. Even after it comes out that she’s female, she continues to say “screw you all, I’m more comfortable this way” and maintains her androgynous style. We also see her trying to live up to that “cool guy detective” image even after the fact, however, even she can’t live up to the ridiculous standards she tries to hold herself to. Shortly after rescuing her, the team questions her about her abduction, and she actually reveals having a lot more knowledge about it than the others, having judged the amount of time it took until she was in the TV, what happened, etc. Yosuke remarks that he’s surprised she didn’t do more at the time, considering how cool-headed she seems, to which she admits that she was really scared.
Now, at this point, the game loses some points (or gains them, depending on your perspective) by reinforcing sexist stereotypes. First is Yosuke’s accusation that “you shouldn’t have gone down that easily” which started this bit. After Naoto admits to having been scared, Yukiko remarks that “none of us could resist the culprit either” and reminds Yosuke that “Naoto-kun is younger than us, and she’s a girl.” Yosuke then tells Naoto “you got balls, for a girl.” However, before it came out that Naoto was scared at the time, Kanji was criticizing her for being too calm when it happened. That’s right folks, the big, tough, fearless guy is telling her that she should’ve been scared or angry or something before she admits to being scared. He’s not even remarking about her gender, as even when he thought Naoto was a guy, he was critical of Naoto for making herself bait to prove the case was still not solved. Taking that into consideration, it could be said that Yosuke and Yukiko’s remarks aren’t the game being sexist, but rather the game depicting two characters who have at least partially accepted the sexist views of their culture while others like Kanji do not accept those same sexist views. That’s not to say that Kanji is immune to sexist views, but that’s a story for another time.
Simply put though, Persona 4 made a believable and human character, and made her a female. Without her gender issues, Naoto would just be another awkward, quiet girl character, which we have seen time after time after time. However, Atlus didn’t hold back and made her into an awesome character, and kept her awesome even in the localization (something which often brings about changes). For that reason, Naoto goes down as one example of how to do a female character right, as well as how to properly deal with gender issues in a character, whether they ultimately end up being trans or not.