Persona 5: Learning About Ego, Id, and the Collective Unconscious

Article Last Modified: 5 months ago

Want a reminder of the deep psychology behind Persona 5 and the series as a whole before playing P5R? Like many Japanese RPG games, Persona 5 touches upon heavy psychological archetypes of ego, id, the collective, and the self. Many of these ideas are adaptations of Carl Jung, who was a promoter of Gnosticism.

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About Our "Learning About" Series

The “Learning About” series is a new article column where we go in-depth on video-game themes, plot, characters, and theories to understand the symbolism and psychology the writers put into the game. As someone who was raised by videogames, I’m always paying close attention to the lessons we can learn from playing RPGs. Our articles in this series will  cover these 2 main points:

#1. In-depth analysis of unique elements of videogame plots, themes, symbols, etc.
#2. We apply the lessons learned to the real world

If you’ve yet to play Persona 5 but plan to, you may want to consider viewing this article at another time. The article contains *major spoilers* about the game’s plot. This article is a good refresher for those who have been away from Persona for a while and want to delve into the psychology and lore of the game.

Breaking Down Carl Jung & Gnosticism

The Persona series uses two “niches” that distinguish them from the first. The first is the use of tarot cards, social links, and arcana, which I’ll explain in another installment in the Learn About series

The other is Jungian Psychology and with that Gnosticism. To understand Persona better, we should first understand who the eponymous Carl Jung is and the influence he had on bringing Gnosticism to prominence through his study of the psyche.

Who Was Carl Jung?

The Persona series uses two “niches” that distinguish them from the first. The first is the use of tarot cards, social links, and arcana, which I’ll explain in another installment in the Learn About series

The other is Jungian Psychology and with that Gnosticism. To understand Persona better, we should first understand who the eponymous Carl Jung is and the influence he had on bringing Gnosticism to prominence through his study of the psyche.

Jung was a psychoanalyst and proponent of Gnosticism. After studying spirituality and making connections between Gnosticism and psychology, he authored texts on topics that concerned his journey through obtaining Gnosis, or, spiritual enlightenment, like The Red Book (Philemon). The early Persona titles make reference to this book by naming one of the main characters Philemon, who also obtains Gnosis in his story. Gnosticism is described as a collection of ancient hidden knowledge/religious truths concerning the hidden knowledge of our world.

What Beliefs Does Gnosticism Follow?

Gnostic teachings follow texts like the Gospel of Thomas, which is a non-canonical and removed lesson from Jesus/the bible (by the Roman Catholic Chuch.) If you’re interested, you can read it for free here.

In short, Gnostics have a view that I believe to be a beautiful mesh between Islam, Christianity, and all other religions (which is probably the hidden truth that we are seeking; The religions are always at odds but they are never separate.) 

Gnostics believe that God emanated life from its source, which is similar to the belief of Fayd or emanation in the Islamic tradition. In gnosticism, These emanations are material pieces of the immaterial Gods and are dubbed as “Aeons”. Because these emanations take a material but godlike form, they are split between male and female entities (similar to the Greek/Roman mythologies of there being multiple gods.) However, when one Aeon, Sophia, tried to emanate without her mate she disconnected from God and her spiritual truth. This created the Demiurge, also known as Yaldabaoth, the daughter of Chaos and God of Control.

Yaldabaoth, who also has the power of emanation/creation then created the physical realm that we live in. Thus, Gnostics believe that this physical world and the God the “adulterated” bible relates to, but is not the true source from which our souls came.

How Does this Relate to Persona? Let's Go Deeper into Carl Jung

Carl Jung Evil Laugh by Super Science Friends

No pun intended. 

Now that you know a little more about Carl Jung and Gnosticism, here are his main theories related to the psyche are present in the Persona series:

Shadows (the enemies)
Personas (the allies) 
Self (the player)

Persona 5 takes things a step further and goes into another one of Jung’s theories:

The Collective and Personal Unconsciouses (Unconsciousnesses? Unconsciousci?)

The Persona series does a fantastic job of tying together Carl Jung’s theories into a coherent work of fiction that aligns various different of these ideologies (when you take into account how Tarot plays a role in Persona’s plot, which will be expanded on in another article.)

We’ll explain each of the following in depth a little more and how they relate to Carl Jung’s psychology.

Persona is Your "Ego"

It’s the face that we put on everyday for our friends, our family, our co-workers, teachers, and so on. We can characterize this as one’s individual ego. The things about yourself that you show to other people. 

A good example of this is being the perfect son/daughter around your parents, which is the mask you put on around them. When you’re not around them, however, the mask comes off or changes and you become the wild-child that you truly are.

In the game, a persona is used to signify the facet of your psyche that a character in the game uses to do battle. Personas are unlocked by the game’s protagonist and party by each member accepting something within themselves. The main protagonist has the ability to use multiple personas or to put on multiple masks. To illustrate it, the characters put on a mask which allows them to summon spirits facets of their spirit to fight. 

Take Ann, for example, who blames herself for her friend, Shiho Suzui, getting raped by the first Boss of the game, Kamoshida, who happens to also be one of the teachers at the school of the game’s initial party members.

It isn’t until she’s in the metaverse that she’s able to confront this role that she’s been cast in by Kamoshida, and turn it around by accepting that she is not the reason Shiho was raped. Once she realizes that she has power in the situation to make Kamoshida pay for his crimes, she awakens to her Persona. This is the Persona that she chose for herself. A stronger one that can help her survive in this reality. That’s what the ego does. 

This new “ego” or “identity” that she created for herself was transmuted from a shadow. In Persona 5, shadow is symbolized as the disbelief and unconscious restraints that we place upon ourselves. In Persona 4, it was actually characterized by a protagonist’s doppelganger that he/she must defeat and accept in order to obtain it’s power.

Shadows are the "Id"

These are unconscious aspects of ourselves that we lock away, don’t accept, and that your ego doesn’t align with in your daily life.

Like in the example above with Ann and Kamoshida, Kamoshida’s shadow was directly personified as a shadow that the characters had to negotiate to accept their darkness, crimes, etc. in order to have a change of heart to become better versions of themselves. 

A shadow isn’t always dark. In Persona 4, the game makes it a point to show that the main characters accept the shadows as being a part of them, but not them as a whole. Thus, this makes them able to use the strengths of that shadow as their persona to use in combat.

Darkness and negativity emanates shadows in the Persona universe, and are personified as either monsters are doppelgangers of the characters. However, even though it doesn’t seem as though these shadows are you, they are a part of you.

Everyone has darkness and unconscious beliefs about themselves. Whether it’s about your appearance, intellect, etc., most people are insecure about some things, and that’s the type of emotions that would be born into shadows.

The True Self is the Master of Id & Ego (Shadow & Persona)

In Jungian Psychology, “self” is the unification of the conscious and unconscious within oneself. The Persona series finds a unique way to depict one mastering their shadow in each of their games, but it all boils down to accepting something about yourself that you didn’t before.

Ego, your Persona is mastered throughout your experiences. However, like the Fool (Joker), the true self must be more than one Persona. The protagonists of the Persona series possess the power of the wildcard, whose limitless potential is indicated by the “0” of the Fool tarot card. The wildcard allows the main protagonists of each game to wield multiple Persona and switch them on the fly.

The other characters are able to wield Persona as they are able to accept the shadow within themselves and uncover their true strength (the unification of their shadow and current identity). By only identifying with your ego, you would be missing out on an aspect of your true self. 

You exist beyond the identity of your Persona that you’ve been given, or the role that society has placed on you. You also exist beyond your shadow–beyond all of the negativity and unconscious beliefs you have about your character.

Your true self is something else. You are not the Persona, and you are not the shadow, but rather, you are the master of the ego, of the id.

Your true self is the one beneath the mask. 

Obtaining the World Arcana in Persona 5
Obtaining the World Arcana in Persona 5

In the endgame of Persona, the protagonist receives the World Arcana if the player has met the conditions to view the True Ending of the game. We can view this as the illustration of the player achieving Gnosis. The enlightenment that there’s something more to all of this (which is then that the player must defeat Yaldabaoth, the god of control.

On Personal & Collective Unconscious

Before we delve into collective unconscious, let’s talk about personal unconscious. Atlus  symbolizes the personal unconscious as dungeons in the game. In Persona 5, a character’s personal unconscious is symbolized as their palace. So as an example, Kamoshida’s palace is where his unconscious beliefs and desires manifest. Our shadow (the id which we don’t accept of ourselves but is inherently present). In that realm, Kamoshida was his shadow self because that is his unconscious.

Jung’s collective unconscious is described as a mind that is shared by all of humanity. In Persona 5, the collective unconscious is symbolized as Mementos, the final palace in the game and also a place where you can find the shadows of secondary NPC characters. This is important because mementos becomes the place where all unconscious thoughts manifest into reality. 

Yaldabaoth, the false God in the Gnostic tradition, appears in Persona 5 as the final boss of the game’s True ending. As each , we can view Yaldabaoth as our collective shadow

manifestation of our collective unconscious, of our collective ego (that has which turned away from God).

The god of control tests the humans into seeing what path will overcome if two human with the same potential (light/dark) are pitted against each other. The world was dark because that’s what the collective was seeking.

In Persona 5, the collective unconscious is symbolized as Mementos, the final palace in the game. This is the manifestation of our collective unconscious and where all of those pitiful desires take shape.

Yaldabaoth, the false God in the Gnostic tradition, appears in Persona 5 as the final boss of the game’s True ending. As each , we can view Yaldabaoth as our collective shadow. In Gnosticism, Yaldabaoth is personified more as a child that does not know what he is doing, but we are under the whim of his world until we awaken to Gnosis or the godly truth that that there is more to the world we live than meets the eye.

In Persona 5, the God of Control takes a more commanding role and tests the humans by seeing what path will overcome if two human with the same potential on different ends of the spectrum (light/dark) are pitted against each other. Would they choose to be controlled by a strong ruler, or would they choose their own lives–to be awake with their own thoughts and consciousnesses?

For the game’s final palace, Yaldabaoth turns the real world into Mementos, the plane of the collective unconscious. Shibuya becomes the embodiment of hell, as all negativity begins to manifest, but the team is able to wake up the collective consciousness by defeating the Yaldabaoth’s archangels and reminding the public of the Phantom Thieves existence.

When people stop thinking about fear, and start believing in themselves, in power, and in the Phantom Thieves instead, the collective consciousness is formed. The collective conscious is hopeful, and can manifest their own good reality against the unconscious and negative desires.  It’s because the people believed in the Phantom Thieves that they were able to gain strength. As cheesy as it may sound, there’s truth in this statement, as our beliefs and ideas shape the reality that we live in. We’re learning more and more about this everyday with Quantum theories,  but I’m not the expert to speak on that subject (yet.)

Takeaways from the Psychology of Persona

Is reading this article and learning about the ego and collective unconscious enough?

No…It shouldn’t be like this. There should be something else that I’m forgetting.

All Persona’s game have moments where the game can end immediately if the player doesn’t catch on that something is wrong with the world they’re inhabiting. This means the difference among receiving the game’s normal, bad, or good endings.

Your choice to truly save the world in Persona 5

I noted at the beginning of the article that we would discuss how to apply Persona’s remix of Jungian psychology and Gnosticism to our everyday lives.

Yaldabaoth, the god of control

The most important takeaway from this, I believe, is the reiteration that your true self is neither your persona nor your shadow, but is rather the being that has a persona and that has a shadow. Releasing our identification with ego and acknowledging and accepting our shadow will help us master these aspects of ourselves and align ourselves more closely with who we truly are.

Like in Persona, whatever choice you make and however you choose to spend your time effects how the game/your life is played out. So, think about the lessons you learned and the bonds you’ve formed, and use this knowledge to make a change for the better, like accepting the parts of yourself you normally reject and freeing yourself from societal restraints.

Will you achieve your story’s true ending?

Persona 5 Royal Will (Hopefully) Expand on These Themes

If it wasn’t for the Persona series, I doubt that I ever would have learned about Gnosticism and the Demiurge. It’s amazing how we can learn these complex psychological concepts through a medium like playing a turn-based videogame. It kinda makes you wonder what the world would be like if videogames were integrated into our learning system, but i’ll expand on that another time.

Next time we speak about Persona on our learn about series, it’ll be about Persona 5: Royal’s expansion into the depths of the psyche (once we finish playing the game that is), tarot cards, character archetypes, and more! 

P5R, the newest installment to the series will bring new palaces, characters, plot, and with those moral values and ideologies that we can take away and learn from. Just as videogames are evolving, we are too; so let’s actually think about the games we play and how they can help us reach out to the truth.

Persona 5 Royal is released to the west on March 31st, 2020. Hopefully this article will help you understand the deep psychological concepts that will be presented in P5R more. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, you can do so here.

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I've been passionate about writing and video games all my life, so I decided to take the jump and turn my passion into my career. When I'm not writing for ILLESTTECH, I'm helping content creators find unique ways to monetize their digital assets.
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