In My Loneliest Hours, ‘Persona 5’ Reminded Me of Friendship
It’s been six years since Persona 5 burst onto PlayStation consoles in a riot of red, white, and black. It’s a date fixed firmly in my mind, as Persona 5 released a year into my disability. At a time of incredible upheaval, its relationships, its individualistic narrative, and the anger that pervades its playtime helped me come to terms with monumental changes in my life.
Now, its expanded edition, Persona 5 Royal, initially released in 2019, is receiving next-generation ports. On one hand, I’m reticent to revisit Persona 5, so strong are my feelings about it. On the other, I’m ecstatic that more people will get to play a game that not only changed how I relate to video games but reminded me what friendship meant when I lost all mine.
As the game releases on Xbox Series X and S, Switch, PS5, and PC for the first time, I want to share just how important Persona 5 is to me and how it rescued me from the isolation of people’s indifference to disability. It’s a touchy subject, and one I might not be able to communicate without the virtue of the time that’s passed. But for me, Persona 5 represents just how much impact gaming can have.
Life Will Change
Much as Persona 5’s silent protagonist is haunted by the event that forced him to Tokyo, I recall with vivid clarity the moment my life changed. Wednesday, February 18, 2015. A few minutes after 8 pm, I was lying on my bed watching YouTube after work. Suddenly I felt a cold sensation on the crown of my head and the impression of an elastic band being tightened around my skull.
As my health began to deteriorate, friends became unsure of how to react to an illness that wasn’t getting better. Days, weeks, months passed without improvement. Doctors were baffled, then disinterested. I was a mystery, and contrary to what you see on television, medical professionals often would rather ignore mysteries than persist in trying to solve them.
I was catapulted back to my familial home, and pointed disinterest was the impression from all quarters. If I wasn’t going to get better and I wasn’t going to die, I was just … worthless. To my family and doctors, I was a dishonest burden. Why wasn’t I just getting on with it? Pushing through? Why pretend to be ill?
To friends, I became an obligation for a while, until I wasn’t. Moving 100 miles away may have made it impossible for me to physically reach my friends, but the emotional chasm of their apathy was even more untraversable.
By the time Persona 5 was released, everyone was gone. Ghosting into a void created by the invisibility of my illness. To them, I’d gone from someone seemingly possessed of boundless energy to suddenly disappearing. Unable to leave my house due to pain, fatigue, and seemingly never-ending migraines, I wasn’t traveling anywhere, and, embodying a reminder of the fickleness of human health, I couldn’t persuade them to come to me.
Isolated, disbelieved, and forced to hide my illness, I didn’t feel in control of my own truths.
Into that maelstrom came Persona 5, a game that surrounds the player with supportive companions in a war against adults demonized by aging apathy, entitlement, and a desire for control.