The Heart of the Issue
Human beings are creatures of unlawful thoughts, speech, and actions. Even as Scripture instructs: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,”1 there are a million ways for us to fail considering the profuse amount of contaminants that permeate our world. Once corruption takes hold, we may also become powerless to turn things around through our own strength. After all, transforming hearts is a divine, mysterious business.
One of the reasons we struggle with the process of change is that the internal workings of the heart are seldom apparent. It isn’t to say that there is a dearth of theoretical insight into the matter, but in lieu of any practical way to observe the subtle mechanisms within, we could only track progress and make assessments via witnessing outward manifestations after the fact.
The hidden nature of these developments leaves much room for the imagination. So if one were to explore said room, it wouldn’t hurt to inspect Persona 5 as a riveting example of fleshing out — in its vividly expressive gamification — the existential battles that unfold inside humanity’s core.
Set in Tokyo, the story centres on a group of teenage Phantom Thieves striving to reform society using a phone app that allows them to enter and affect a dimension of reality projected by people’s cognition of the world. In this so-called Metaverse, the most dangerous areas are sustained by those exhibiting distorted desires. These dark constructions are identified as Palaces due to the hosts acting like despots in the context of their influence, and hence are designated to be the primary targets whose hearts must be rehabilitated along the game’s critical path.
The first main mission, for example, takes place where the protagonist and his friends attend school. Shujin Academy is nothing special, so for them to have an alumnus returning as an Olympic medallist is a huge deal. Now a PE teacher, Suguru Kamoshida is offered special treatment for what he adds to the reputation of the school, while ever garnering praise and admiration from adults and kids alike. The volleyball team that he coaches is also expected to bring much honour to the institution, and therefore he is given free rein on all matters pertaining to the students under his tutelage.
Kamoshida’s pride continues to grow under these circumstances, shaping him into a domineering man of verbal and physical abuse in addition to sexual harassment toward minors. His heart is so corrupted that he remains unfazed even as a pressured girl attempts suicide. And with no teacher caring enough to hold the bastard accountable, it is left to the players to make things right.
Shifting to the Metaverse, we would immediately notice that the school is represented as a castle. King Kamoshida here roams about in nothing but a crown, robe, and pink underwear; he does whatever he pleases, for this entire realm is his playground of torture and lust.
Students appear locked up in dungeons and forced to work out using deadly contraptions that push them to complete exhaustion. An attractive girl is seen wearing lingerie and being kept around as a mere pet, and certain architectural elements in the environment also resemble the female form in suggestive poses. The figures that inhabit the castle aren’t actual people, yet they are honest reflections of how Kamoshida views Shujin Academy and the kids that have been made slaves for his glory and pleasure. These cognitive displays serve well as a visualisation tool for what it means when Jesus proclaimed: “It is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”2
Onward and past the gates of the keep lies a spacious chamber reserved for the purpose of exalting the castle’s ruler. A momentary flash of reality marks the parallel location as none other than the school’s gymnasium in which Kamoshida shows off his athletic prowess to the adoration of blind fans and ignorant worshippers. After fighting one of the sentry captains, it is revealed that the success of our mission is contingent on infiltrating the secret room just beyond this unholy place.
The twisted state of Kamoshida’s heart stems from idolising the treasure hidden within the inner sanctum. It governs all his cravings and misdeeds, for it is written: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”3 Therefore, true change may only be expected to happen upon the full removal of this snare. Thankfully, a pack of Phantom Thieves is up to the task.
A sick heart is often deceptive; it doesn’t admit to any wrongs. By default, the idol in question exists as nothing more than a faint outline, concealed in a shroud of denial. It is a very crafty defence mechanism since no one can steal away that which is intangible. To bypass such devious trickery, we must first shuffle back into physical reality and send out a “calling card” to perturb the target. In this case, our cunning students plaster the school’s bulletin boards with scathing declarations of Kamoshida’s crimes to the stir of public scrutiny. Confronted with a sense of impending judgement, his heart is then driven toward conviction, causing the elusive idol to materialise.
It would seem that we have finally secured a clear path to triumph, but the pride of man is unashamedly persistent. As mentioned before, guarding the heart from corruption is a noble effort. In a state of evil, however, Kamoshida instead puts up a last stand against any saving influence. Elite patrols are summoned to every room of the castle, as now the king himself watches over the treasure throne out of defiant rage. The battles ahead lead to a tough, yet necessary showdown, but the redemptive victory on the other side encourages us forward. With videogames being so quick to offer us weapons for killing those who misbehave, it is refreshing to be able to conquer foes by eliminating only the rottenness inside people’s hearts and allowing them a second chance.
Regardless of what may be going on in our lives, we could trace it back to an old saying: The heart of the issue is the issue of the heart. Following the progressive arc in Persona 5 has proven to be a comprehensive tour of the changing heart from a state of temptation, distortion, and idolatry, to one of conviction, humility, and renewal. Absent of any Phantom Thieves lurking around these parts, I find it comforting to know that there has always been divine help readily available from a powerful God who cares enough to say, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”4
- Proverbs 4:23 (NIV).
- Mark 7:21 (NIV).
- Matthew 6:21 (NLT).
- Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT).