Persona 5 Royal and Jung

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Persona 5 Royal feels like the final draft of Persona 5. It is similar to playing Nier Automata through to the final 'true' ending: the subsequent endings that follow the first credit roll add context and perspective that was hitherto lacking, and ultimately change the meaning of the original narrative. In Nier, what was initially a straightforward battle for survival between androids and machines becomes meditations on Nietzsche and the death of God. Similarly, in P5R, we go much deeper into the thought of psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung.

A Brief Introduction to Jung

A brief summary of Jung's theory of consciousness is necessary here. Jung believed that beneath the level of consciousness there was both a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious shared by all of humanity. The collective unconscious contains archetypes: themes that repeat themselves over generations of mankind, in religion, art, mythology, literature, and general experience (for example, mother, father, hero, ruler, jester, sage, caregiver). These archetypes seek actualization in our personal unconscious as 'complexes'. The mother archetype may be actualized in a child as the 'mother complex' (nothing to do with Freud) by the child being in the presence of a female caregiver. The hero archetype may be actualized in similar ways, that is, in stories that share striking parallels, in different cultures that have never had the chance to make contact. Also in our personal unconscious is our shadow, a less desirable version of ourselves that we suppress. And at the level of consciousness we have the ego-persona, the mask we use to disguise that shadow, and navigate the social world. Using examples from P5, the metaverse is the collective unconscious (at least for Shibuya, if not the whole world) which contains the personal unconsciousnesses of people we meet in the waking world. A palace is also an example of a distorted personal unconscious. The ego-persona is represented of course by the personas the Thieves use to do battle, and the disparity between people as they present themselves to others, and what they are when we delve into their personal unconscious in the metaverse or their palaces.

Maruki's character is a much more sophisticated examination of the play and counterplay of the Self and the ego, than what we were given in the vanilla release. Every 'corrupt adult' that the Phantom Thieves have had in their crosshairs until they encounter Dr. Maruki in his cognitive palace, has been no more than a cartoon villain. Each of them adopts a presentable public face that masks crude vices and crimes that are revealed in their cognitive palace: a teacher that preys on his female students, a yakuza that views all of Shibuya as his personal ATM, a CEO that exploits his workers. After the events of the original storyline of the 2017 release end, we begin the third semester and meet Maruki as an antagonist. And we do so with the context of everything that has transpired in the game up until this point, and with certain facts about the world of Persona firmly established. All of this context makes us feel intensely ambivalent about Maruki, his actions, and the ultimatum he extends to the Phantom Thieves. It makes for one of the most compelling video game anti-heroes in recent memory.

Shido and the Ending of Persona 5 Vanilla

But before discussing Maruki in detail, it is necessary the elaborate on my initial, and to some readers, a possibly contentious, point on the feeling of incompleteness that the original 2017 release of P5 left me with, and it has mostly to do with Shido and some seemingly superfluous musings by Morgana about 'truth' being whatever the subject makes of it (which will feel like a bizarre non sequitur without the additional content of P5R).

Shido, his chance encounter with Joker, is the catalyst for the events of the game. He is clearly someone of great power (enough to be able to arbitrarily assault a woman and have Joker arrested on a whim) and great vice. I was never expecting him to be redeemed, but when it is revealed he is running for office, I was expecting him to have some grand vision for the country that justified his iniquity. The final battle might have been a turning point: perhaps he would try to win Joker over, the mental breakdowns and assassinations were perhaps in service of some lofty goal. But his cognitive palace merely suggests that he conceives of himself as the captain of a ship, civilization will sink, and only he and the 'winners at life' (as one of the shadow guests aboard the ship-palace remarks in the ambient dialogue) will be preserved at the cost of everyone else.

He's not even much stronger than any foe we face before him. One would expect that his psyche would be at least a bit more impervious to attack, or that he would have some sophisticated countermeasures given that those around him are involved with the weaponization of cognitive psience. But after the Phantom Thieves change his heart, his campaign managers are genuinely concerned he is a suicide risk.

Anticlimax is an understatement for how this all felt for me playing the vanilla game 4 years ago. P5R retroactively makes sense of it all, however, to the point I believe Atlus had always intended the bonus content to be a part of the original narrative but were unsure what they wanted to articulate, and how, at the time. Shido is comparatively weak because a strong Shido, or rather, a world of Shidos (plural) with clear vision and purpose, or whole states abusing cognitive psience in similar ways, would be nothing short of a doomsday event.

Maruki's Palace

This brings us back to Dr. Maruki. For the benefit of those who have not played P5R, Maruki is hired at the school as a psychiatrist to support students following the traumatic events of the Kamoshida scandal. He engages in therapy sessions with the students at Shujin Academy and develops his Ph.D. thesis with Joker. It's revealed he's the final palace owner and has been using cognitive psience to convince Sumire that she is her deceased sister Kasumi to cope with the guilt of inadvertently causing her death. Maruki wants to use cognitive psience to rewrite everyone's cognition, and grant everyone's desires. Mental ailments are something to be cured just like physical ailments. He seeks Joker's approval for his plan. The player can choose to have Joker acquiesce, which will lead to an ending or fight.

If they choose to fight, they will have to conquer Maruki's palace, in which Maruki tries to seduce them into accepting his ideology. The Phantom Thieves find a VHS tape deep within Maruki's palace, which shows Dr. Maruki visiting his former supervisor, the supervisor that rejected his Ph.D. thesis. Maruki can now gloat that his proposal was tenable, his findings replicable (he's succeeded in changing Sumire's cognition). But what's most interesting about this dialogue is the fact that Maruki has grasped the magnitude of cognitive psience and the threat it poses.

The psychotic-breakdown incidents, the sudden changes of heart in adults that the Phantom thieves claim to make [...] He [Shido] seems to be confessing to all sorts of crimes now that the Phantom Thieves have changed his heart. Years ago, Shido took notice of my research, stole it away from me, and made others develop it for his own gain. Not only that, he used cognitive psience to induce the politically motivated psychotic breakdowns [...] I've learned how to change the cognition of not just an individual, but all of humanity.

What would happen if states used cognitive psience against each other, rewriting each others' cognition over and over? Maruki does not explicitly voice this concern per se, but he does tell us it is now an imperative to change the cognition of all humanity, apparently, in light of these musings. His original goal, as he tells Rumi, his ex-fiance, at her hospital bed following the robbery that left her with amnesia, was to change the way criminals perceive reality so they do not feel the need to commit destructive crimes. But now he must go beyond that, and rewrite everyone's cognition. Why? Because if he does not, a more driven Shido, or a whole state, will; because the status quo of cognitive psience assassinations and vigilante justice is clearly not sustainable. But also, very much because of his persecution complex (his persona talks about his "unjustly persecuted ideology").

Writing Anti-Heroes -- and Player Choice Informed By Jung

By the time we reach this moment in the story, two important facts about palaces and their owners have been rigorously established, and in over 80 hours of gameplay. The first is that palaces are borne of the distorted desires of their rulers. Obviously, not all palace rulers are villains that intentionally harm other people (hence Futaba's palace borne of bereavement and sloth), but morally perfect people who are free of severe delusion do not produce palaces. The second is that palaces are perfectly authentic representations of their rulers. Whenever the thieves confront a palace ruler, the ruler is perfectly candid about their crimes, their vices, their anxieties. There is no attempt, nor need for the rulers in the cognitive world to practice deception.

As discussed above, Maruki definitely has cause to save the world from itself at this point in time. The world of Persona could be entering the next revolution in warfare as battles in the cognitive space spawn terrorists and superheroes and global conflicts. Perhaps it has already happened and they just don't know. Maruki, in contrast, would be a benign despot by granting everyone happiness. But still, Maruki has a palace. His desire to transform the world is borne of a persecution complex and his inability to reconcile with the grief of losing his fiance to her memory loss. He is certainly a cut above every cartoon villain we've met so far, but he should still nevertheless be compared to them. So the player is deeply conflicted about how to respond: Maruki makes some sense, but he has a palace and severe delusion, but it might be the lesser evil to go along with what he does, but that could go terribly wrong, and so on. From a Jungian perspective, the fact that his vices are less apparent in his conscious life are actually what make them more, not less, pernicious:

Unfortunately, there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, blocking the most well-meant attempts. -- from "The Essential Jung: Selected Writings" edited by Anthony Storr.

Kamoshida, Kaneshiro, Okumura, while repellent, may reform, even without a change of heart performed by the Thieves. They can be subject to setbacks, personal traumas, tragedies, consequences that lead, eventually, to rehabilitation. Maruki's delusions are less likely to meet with obstacles because they are not crimes. Even worse, his capacity to cause havoc, unlike Kamoshida, Kaneshiro, Okumura, and even Shido for all his political power and influence, is unlimited -- he can change consensus reality itself. Ultimately the benign world order Maruki believes in can only ever be as benign as he is. What if he changes? In alternate bad endings, he does some unsettling things to Joker, putting him to sleep forever and isolating him from everyone he ever knew. And what if Maruki ultimately fails, regardless of intent? What if something, or what if everything goes wrong?

Ultimately the team at Atlus that directed the story wanted us to reject Maruki's offer. Players will feel this on an instinctive level, but delving into Jung's biography is particularly interesting here. Jung once said of a patient "Thank God he became neurotic!" for neuroticism was a wake-up call to attend to what was wrong with his life. What is deeply perverse about Maruki's treatment of Sumire (that is, convincing her that she is Kasumi) is that neuroticism is not treated as a means to address her bereavement and grow past it, but the neuroticism is the goal. It is somewhat evocative of an encounter in Jung's life where a doctor with glowing recommendations declared his intention to become a psycho-analyst but had failed to deal with his own latent psychosis (at least, Jung's interpretation of his latent psychosis based on a dream he reported). Here is Jung's rejection of this doctor in his own words, from his autobiography:

'Do you know what that means [becoming a psycho-analyst]? It means that you must first learn to know yourself. You yourself are the instrument. If you are not right, how can the patient be made right? If you are not convinced, how can you convince him? You must yourself be the real stuff. If you are not, God help you! Then you will lead your patients astray. Therefore you must first accept an analysis of yourself' -- extract from Jung: A Very Short Introduction, edited by Anthony Stevens

As we learn from the VHS tapes, the Holy Grail urges Maruki to seek it out, Maruki's persona implores him to impose his "unjustly persecuted ideology" on the world. Rather than curing Sumire, Maruki is projecting his shadow (his less desirable self behind the ego-persona, that is, in this case, his own inability to cope with loss, and rejection from others) onto her.

Maruki's conscious life colors his personal unconscious, and his personal unconscious, and even the collective unconscious of humanity (the archetype here being Maruki's persona) influences his conscious life. It is a much thorough exploration of Jung's ideas than any of the other villain character arcs that the game has presented so far. And, in turn, we the player are deeply conflicted about how to respond to him. Again, P5R completes P5: its achievement in adaptating philosophical and psychiatric thought in video game form via game mechanics and player choices is comparable to that of Nier Automata.

EDIT: 5/11/2021 Various spelling error and formatting issues

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