When famed Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) developed analytical psychology, he could hardly have foreseen that his work would someday inspire a popular series of Japanese role-playing videogames.
Yet Jung's view of the human mind undergirds the "Persona" franchise, of which "Persona 4 Golden" (Atlus) -- a slightly revised version of the 2008 cult hit "Persona 4" and designed exclusively for the PlayStation Vita -- is the latest installment.
Even the title of the series suggests the connection. Within the psyche, Jung saw two fundamental forces at work: "personas," the identities we project to the world around us, and "shadows," those parts of our psychological makeup that we dislike and therefore suppress, conceal and ignore.
The player steps into the youthful life of an unnamed protagonist, a high school student paying a yearlong visit to his uncle Ryotaro in the fictional Japanese town of Inaba. When multiple murders are committed in Inaba, the gamer gathers a group of new friends around him -- and together they set out to solve the crimes before any more lives are lost.
Such a plot may appear boringly beige at first glance. But things quickly become more complex as the game delves into Jungian concepts, effectively illustrating and animating them.
Thus, instead of simply employing a gun or a knife, the unknown murderer follows a far more unusual -- and elaborate -- modus operandi. He throws his victims into a predatory alternate reality -- a television world within which each person's Jungian shadow is transformed into a marauding monster bent on destroying the individual from whom it springs.
Our heroic schoolboy and his pals battle these beasts and provide aid to those imperiled by them. Ultimately, however, each potential victim must bring about his or her own liberation by accepting those negative aspects of the psyche that were previously repressed.
Such acceptance constitutes analytical psychology's prescription for mental health; here it brings about physical freedom and safety.
Further help in the quest for deliverance is supplied by the personified personas -- Pokemon-like creatures that can be summoned and used to cast various spells. While these mythical beings are tinged with an occult quality, their supernatural powers are no more antithetical to Christian thought than the magic elements on display in a traditional fairy tale.
On the moral level, it's important to specify exactly what is, and is not, involved in the process of embracing the shadow.
These dark impulses -- which might, in a theological context, be identified with the misdirected desires that result from original sin -- must be recognized and acknowledged. But that does not mean that they are to be obeyed. Their presence, though a permanent and inescapable reality, can still be regarded with regret.
Thus the worldview that lies behind "Persona 4 Golden" can be reconciled with the norms of Scripture and tradition. Mature judgment is nonetheless required to work through the unusually complex themes of this sophisticated game.
Jung, after all, is not for the young.
The game contains frequent cartoon violence with some blood, numerous mature references, including to homosexuality and the occult, at least one instance of profanity and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III - adults. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M -- Mature.