As a series, Persona has leaned into these quiet, simple pleasures for a decade, and Persona 5 is no exception. It’s a fantasy role-playing game that’s just as interested in the daily life of any given hero. Time not spent pillaging dungeons is given to quiet pursuits like working part-time jobs or going to the cafe with friends. I’m a teen fighting hell monsters on the regular, but oh wait, did I remember to water my plant this morning?
Gushing about to friends about how excited I get about finding a seat on the train in Persona 5, or picking up a new book, solicits an eyebrow raise at best. “Isn’t that just like real life?” a co-worker recently asked me. And, yeah, it kind of is. It just feels better.
Video games regularly serve as power fantasies. We save the world. We kill demons. We win the Super Bowl. Persona games are no different, but their fantasy is in reliving high school with a perfect student life. It imagines a world in which friends are easily attainable and people who’ve wronged you will get what’s coming to them. The promise of being cool and liked, a rebel with a real cause, is an adolescent daydream familiar to anyone who lived the opposite.
Persona’s path to self-improvement is as powerful as it is easy. Wouldn’t it be great if you could make yourself braver or more charming just by eating at a diner? It gamifies these accomplishments. Picking up a book in real life can help you expand your vocabulary and grasp a language, but there is no easy way to track those changes. Persona 5 takes simplified personal rewarding players with experience points. Learn to manage your time and watch your charm or knowledge stats rise.
Persona 5 turns everyday life into entertainment, but it’s not the only game experimenting with this idea. Life is Strange had a time-traveling twist, but still centered on the lives of teenage girls. A Night in the Woods explores what it means to return to your small hometown. Even media outside of video games has tried to capitalize on this. Just look at reality TV, a genre that’s earned a drama-fueled reputation as it stumbled farther from “true life” representations.
In a return to form, a chunk of Netflix watchers became obsessed with Terrace House last year. The Japanese reality series has been a hit overseas since 2012, but picked up steam in North America just last year. Much like unscripted reality shows MTV’s Real World, Terrace House throws together men and women who have never met before into a single house. Real World is known for outrageous cast members who party hard, have a lot of sex, and fight like feral cats. Cast members of Terrace House, meanwhile, behave like, well, average people. They make dinner for each other and have quiet dates. Sometimes they become stressed, so they pragmatically talk through their anxiety in a group setting. The show’s drama, if you can call it that, exists on a micro, blink-and-you-might-miss-it scale. It’s a lingering look, or an awkward silence as the houseguests continue on with their everyday lives.
Spotting ourselves as these strangers in Terrace House, or even Persona 5’s fictional cast, triggers tiny blips of existential relief. Our idiosyncrasies aren’t so idiosyncratic; our need to waste time isn’t really so wasteful. Both shows condense an entire year into a comparably short package, allowing us to see how the small lessons of each day combine for personal growth. It’s voyeurism of the mundane, and it’s edifying in a way melodramatic entertainment rarely is.
It’s this unbridled look that tells us that even across cultures, we’re all connected by work stress, heartbreak, and the pleasure of new friends. But more importantly, we’re connected by how we fill even the smallest of waking moments. What shows or games like Terrace House and Persona 5 give us is shorthand for how it feels to live our lives. Even the most extraordinary existence is crowded by ordinary hours; experiencing them through someone else is a way to better examine ourselves. Despite the grand vision we all have for ourselves, our lives are bound to just a few magnificent events. It’s the day-to-day bites that will define the majority of our existence. We just never have any reason to talk about them.