It’s the final day of high school, and I am sitting at a German bakery around the corner from my house. It’s early and my friends are sleepily sitting hunched over coffee. We’re looking out on an empty parking lot, shaking our fists at our old elementary school literally sixty paces from where we are sitting. Joy’s contempt for anything that stumbles into her cone of vision complements Claudia’s inability to pronounce the vast majority of the International menu, now she’s mumbling incoherently about rye bread. Heather has overslept; she’s on her way, but shortly we will be fishing car keys from the dash, how come I don’t carry hangers? Jenny has decided not to make it to the glittering ribbon cutting, that final bell. She’s asleep and laughing at all of us through her sheets; she‘s been doing so most of the previous week and we‘re all jealous… But our lockers are already empty, and we have said our goodbyes to most everyone. This morning is the last time we will ever gather in this way. Before the end of this weekend, I will sign stringent contracts with the rest of my future, bet much too high on the wrong horse, and Frank Sinatra’s much rumored, exaggerated death will actually cease to be hearsay: He’ll be dead in less than 48 hours. Worldwide karaoke bars instantaneously swallow the cyanide capsule tucked beneath their molar as uncles, hobos and the mass proletariat attempt “My Way” in a round. The Year is 1998.
Fast forward a couple years: my friend Jessica is leaving for Denton; we have talked Zelda and video games over a counter for a couple years prior to her departure. We both carry this bizarre sense of staccato dancing as a way through life’s everyday mishaps. If the house is on fire, we look for soap to put it out; if there is paper on a table, she will draw sauntering platypus and I will make origami Michael Jackson. Paints represent undiscovered country… When she leaves I send her random pieces of mail for the first week of her Denton occupation, covered with bananas doing push-ups or the like. Point being that on each of these occasions, I am not alone. I am surrounded by friends, people I love. These are singular instances and something I feel the need to protect. Persona 4 understands these particular granules of time (high school and friendship) to their smallest, finest pellet. If not cradled closely with both hands, it runs the risk of becoming frivolous and utterly demolished with the inevitable passage of the languishing hours. The boredom, frustration and losses that one sustains is enough to render the above described and any amount of goodness to watery paste, a contaminant. It becomes something to be wiped away. It’s where Persona stands resolute: Your memories, companions – they can balance on its shoulders above the tide. Please hold hands.
While I drew great pleasure from each one of Persona 4‘s anxious flat-footed congregation of characters… Chie Satonaka in particular garnered striking resemblance and comparisons to the four ladies of whom I just spoke. Chie is in fact all four women wrapped into one petite forest-green windbreaker. Closer inspection under glass: I even find Jessica’s friendship bracelets. So when Chie and I first met in Persona 4, I was overcome, immediately close to her. There we were: me on the park bench half asleep as she entertained the notions of her fictional martial art… her partiality to noodles and impeccable comic-timing. She doesn’t feel the need to saturate a room with her presence, no need to irritate with vocalises, there will be no impromptu performance of Loch Lomond. She’s intelligent, quiet, has empathy, pets, loves children, and she’s gorgeous. Walking around with her reminds me of the embarrassing contents of my 7th hall locker: syrupy poems, love letters I will never deliver, and thirty count boxes of cassette mix-tapes, their job to communicate, yet thinly veil my true feelings… Being in love, being 16, lunchtime in a crowded van and failing Geometry. When staring out on Persona 4’s Sawmegama flood plain with Chie, I am reminded of someone/s….err…..names come to mind, but these are merely my first few months with Chie, um…Joy, Heather, Jenny, Jessica, Claudia….……Time passes.
Something happens though with Chie about thirty hours into the game, where I was actually driven to tears. Remember Persona 4 is a dungeon crawling, turn-based role-playing game, each member of your team takes a shot at trying to KO the game’s assorted enemies: miniature slimes, Golgotha demons and twelve headed Harpsichord minions. You’re not always going to win, and frequently you will be knocked down. This particular turn, my light magic failed (or whatever), and in turn the possessed water bearer (or whatever) flattened me to the concrete. I am dizzy, and if I am hit again the game is over and with it about an hour’s worth of progress. Then out of nowhere… Chie comes over to my character to help me up, asks me if I am okay, and extends her hand. This is important, as Chie has just become human. This moment, it’s so gentle, I can feel the weakness of my character, his feeble trembling fingers being enveloped and steadied upright by the strength of this girl’s tiny, wiry wrists. Her voice carries over pollution, over the blinding track-light, muting all inherent danger. Chie is a strength I cannot myself attain. Loyalty can merely bind you to some people, but love can cut through the draining sibilate of deadly white noise. I rise back to my feet.
The game progresses further another 30 hours.. It’s me and Chie in my character’s room. My avatar has just asked Chie to be his girlfriend, so here we are, presumably listening to records as Chie fumbles through objects on my shelves. She visibly tenses, then blushes, telling me finally that she loves me… my simulated character I mean. But. It’s the way she delivers the message: its vowels and consonants loose, and delicate. It’s no longer the work of a voice actor, someone hunched inside a cramped studio booth giving her life… it’s Chie, my friend, the girl I have relied and leaned on this entire time. There is no need to search for words, or contemplate an answer, I need her and perhaps however faintly, she needs me too. Wiser men would walk away, but we got Joy Division on the stereo here, and Chie? Well she’s wrapping my arm with this bracelet. I’m not about to move. Would you?
Thing is, the flash of this event… it’s about much more than the silly business of dating. It’s the creation of a compact, a resolution to protect one another. Chie’s actions here completely shed Persona 4 of its layers of immutable, glacially written computer code, moving beyond it to create the permanence of a memory, the imperfect yet blameless gravity of friendship, the give and take: If the other has no lunch money, you order two plates of Foie Gras; if one is failing in Biology the other steals the exam and re-transcribes your notes. It’s placing yourself, embedding your heels center and head on with calamity and affliction, for the better of the person gripping your hand, shielding them, unknotting their palpable fear.
Chie Satonaka reminds me of everything my friends are to me. Their characteristics, their sentiments effortlessly relayed through Satonaka’s timbre and strength of broadcast. It’s uncanny. This single artificial construct embodies their heart, compassion, and the ceaseless strobe of their glimmer, something without equal, non-negotiable and permanent. Satonaka was there to remind me that I’m not alone, and I will never be….