Today, the Museum of Modern Art boasts many pieces of artwork chosen by Paola Antonelli, ranging from paintings, pictures, replicas, statues, objects, etc. The Museum of Modern Art boasts a great range of these many contemporary pieces of art that can be questionable, but something even more controversial that is exhibited in the MoMA today is video games. The MoMA boasts many video games to its collection today including Minecraft, Flow, Katamari Damacy, Eve Online, The Sims, Street Fighter II, and other many various video games. But, as we look at these various video games that have been placed in the MoMA for a reason relating to art, what exactly made Paola Antonelli welcome video games into the MoMA, and at that, why these specific video games? With the new release of another game in one of my favorite RPG series, Persona, I decided to look at a game in the series that I was much more well versed in that could be possibly put into the MoMA by Antonelli’s criteria. So, today, I elaborate on why Persona 4 Golden should be put into the Museum of Modern Art.
A Background on the Persona Series & Persona 4 Golden:
The Persona (its named inspired by Jungian Psychology) franchise is a series of Japanese role playing video games that were mainly developed and published by the company Atlus, with the series originally coming off as a spin-off from another franchise developed by Atlus, the Megami Tensei series. It’s very first release was in 1996, with its first title in the west “Revelations: Persona.” Notable characteristics of the Persona series are a high school setting, students as the protagonists, a silent main protagonist, the usage of mental manifestations in a physical form called “Personas,” and the game play mechanic of “Social Links,” where Personas strengthen based on how strong your bonds are with other characters in the game. Today, the Persona series is highly popular internationally, establishing Atlus and the Megami Tensei franchise in North America, and even gaining numerous work adaptions including anime television, theatrical series, novelizations, manga, and even stage plays.
Persona 4 Golden is currently Atlus’ remake of the second to last released video game in the series, Persona 4, and was released in 2012 for the west on the PSVita. In addition to the game’s original assets and mechanics, two new social links, new difficulties, new soundtracks, and much more enhanced content was released with the remake. Persona 4 takes places in the rural countryside Japanese town of Inaba, where a set of mysterious unexplained murders take place. In the story, you follow along and play as the protagonist named after you, who has just moved into this countryside town from the city to attend school. While residing in the town the protagonist finds himself to become unexplainably tangled within the murderer hiding within the town, and eventually finding the unnatural presence of a place called the “Shadow World,” with his new friends. The game then continues with the group of friends saving innocent people thrown into this dangerous world by this murderer. With their new-found power of Personas after entering this world, and a thirst for justice, the group sets out to foil the murderer’s plan by preventing these people from dying in this Shadow World, and attempting to figure out his identity to stop them for good.
Why Persona 4 Golden makes the cut for the MoMA:
When a video game was first introduced to the Museum of Modern Art, many thought it absurd and ludicrous that a media form as low as it was put into the MoMA for all its visitors to observe and interact with. However, upon closer inspection the concept of video games today and how they represent many things, one can argue that certain video games can fit the criteria for the MoMA, and in turn allow many video game works to be admitted.
Paola Antonelli used four criteria to determine if a game was to be in the MoMA:
The scenarios, rules, stimuli, incentives, and narratives envisioned by the designers come alive in the behaviors they encourage and elicit from the players, whether individual or social. A purposefully designed video game can be used to train and educate, to induce emotions, to test new experiences, or to question the way things are and envision how they might be. Game controllers are extensions and enablers of behaviors, providing in some cases (i.e. Marble Madness) an uncanny level of tactility.
There are many emotions that are evoked as you play through the game’s main storyline, but Persona 4 takes the emotional level a step beyond by creating its own game play mechanics that involves the socialization between many characters, making the player get a good feel for how these characters personalities truly are through many social events. Persona 4 truly shows how purposefully it was designed to induce emotional experience by creating these many social interactions that the player can choose to do with other characters. Other players even go as far by saying that many of the characters are grounded in reality with their personalities, saying that they can relate to them.
The game play mechanic of “Social Links” help us to create a better emotional attachment to the characters of story, and in turn a better attachment to the game’s story. In Persona 4, the Social Link mechanic is a mechanic in the game that is used to increase your strength by increasing your Persona’s strength upon fusing new
Personas in the game. As explained previously the Social Link is not only a game play mechanic that increases your strength ultimately, but it also creates a better understanding and bond between many of the other characters in the story. As progressing through these relationships to a max bond, and progressing to the end of the story. There is even emotions that are induced by the ending of the story depending on what ending you resulted in, offering a multitude of emotions as the player reaches the end as well.
Visual intention is an important consideration, especially when it comes to the selection of design for an art museum collection. As in other forms of design, formal elegance has different manifestations that vary according to the technology available. The dry and pixilated grace of early games like M.U.L.E. and Tempest can thus be compared to the fluid seamlessness of flOw and vib-ribbon. Just like in the real world, particularly inventive and innovative designers have excelled at using technology’s limitations to enhance a game’s identity—for instance in Yars’ Revenge.
When it comes to aesthetics, Antonelli judges a video game’s aesthetics fairly according the time it was released in, and how advanced the technology was at the time. Persona 4 Golden was released in 2012 on the handheld console PSVita, and showed major improvements to game’s lighting, effects, and details, but what’s most important that it boasted all of this all within a handheld console’s power, as opposed to it being ran on a home video game console. By using this new power found within the handheld console, the world of Persona 4 could not be seen just a bit more detail within the countryside town of Inaba, and at whatever time and place you could play it in. Although it is not a full open world video game, the places that it does provide for viewing pleasure in 3D gives much of a countryside atmosphere as you explore the town’s key areas over time.
The whole fictional town of Inaba gains its inspiration from the city of Fuefuki in Japan, with game’s beginning scene of the Yasoinaba Train Station getting major inspiration and resemblance from Fuefuki city’s Isawa-Onsen Train Station. Many other key locations also gain its inspiration from various other locations within the city of Fuefuki. While exploring and looking around the countryside town of Inaba, most would notice the amount of detail actually put around the town that puts it in its own context. Within the town, there are many signs containing Japanese letters, old looking objects and buildings, and the open background of the mountains that really create the aesthetics of the game, making it actually feel like a rural town in Japan. The environment really can be considered art by Benjamin who states,
“Even the most perfect reproduction of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space.” (Benjamin 29)
However, how the game’s environment exists in time and space are to be explained in the other criteria. In the end, it will be explained how time and space exist in Persona 4, intertwining to consider the game’s environment to be art.
But, there is not only art in a sense of the environment created by Persona 4, there is also art hidden within the games many Personas that players see across the game. For the
Persona series, many of the monsters and Personas gain their background from Japanese mythology, with many deities associated with popular stories in their culture. So, with the association of Personas and Japanese mythology, there is art in a sense that is created through meaning and symbolization, and Persona 4 continues to emphasize the culture and art that is contained in its setting that gives us a much more defined aesthetic.
The space in which the game exists and evolves—built with code rather than brick and mortar—is an architecture that is planned, designed, and constructed according to a precise program, sometimes pushing technology to its limits in order to create brand new degrees of expressive and spatial freedom. As in reality, this space can be occupied individually or in groups. Unlike physical constructs, however, video games can defy spatial logic and gravity, and provide brand new experiences like teleportation and ubiquity.
The concept of space is highly associated with the explanation of Persona 4’s setting in its own establishment of environment, with the Fuefuki inspired city of Inaba. The game takes this even further in establishing its own other key places and creating these locations in the context of a countryside town. In inspiration and fabrication of its own rural locations, Persona 4 establishes a sense of space through the establishment of setting. However, Persona 4 takes this sense of space beyond as a videogame by creating a whole other world that is an alternate reality based on the location that they are in. This world is an alternate reality based on psychologies and personalities of the people who are thrown in. The world contains the immense amount of dangers that are called shadows, which are born from the negative emotions in the reality of their world, and the enemies of shadow selves, which are created by a person’s repressed negative emotions. And thus, with the presence of these enemies, this alternate reality world is named the Shadow World. The Shadow World itself conveniently places its location in the town of Inaba by living as an alternate reality world that can be traversed to by entering a television within the town.
How long is the experience? Is it a quick five minutes, as in Passage? Or will it entail several painstaking years of bliss, as in Dwarf Fortress? And whose time is it anyway, the real world’s or the game’s own, as in Animal Crossing? Interaction design is quintessentially dynamic, and the way in which the dimension of time is expressed and incorporated into the game—through linear or multi-level progressions, burning time crushing obstacles and seeking rewards and goals, or simply wasting it—is a crucial design choice.
Time is a recurring theme in Persona 4, as the player only has a certain amount of time set within each day in order to play out certain actions, different times of the day that determines what actions you can do, different patterns of weather throughout the year as the days pass, and even major deadlines that are a part of the game’s storyline in order to progress the story further to the end. The actions you choose to do within the game’s time can in the end affect your progression of strength, and how quickly the game progresses towards the end.
In our reality, the actual amount of time it takes for the game as an approximate 70 hours. However, within the game’s reality, many months pass in order to completely finish the game’s story.
Persona 4 Golden meets all of Antonelli’s criteria of behavior, aesthetics, space, and time. From the combination of all of these elements in Persona 4 Golden, it creates a unique experience for the player from its unique video game characteristics of “Social Links,” and its setting. Today, the Persona series even stands as one of the best role playing video games up to date with its multiple unique aspects through socialization and portrayal of another culture. By meeting these four criteria, Persona 4 can and should also be in the MoMA.