Legal Personhood in Video Games, Canonical Media and Fandom

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Tranter, Kieran

Crawley, Karen

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MacNeil, William

Yui, Kiyomitsu

Peters, Timothy

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This thesis explores the intersections of law, popular culture and medium through a cultural legal reading of the transmedial universe of Persona 4, a Japanese video game. Seeking to mimic the journey of how an ideal consumeristic fan of Persona 4 may move about the texts – not abandoning the franchise at the conclusion of the core game, but instead pursuing Persona 4’s many available official spin-offs, sequels and retellings – this thesis illustrates how cultural legal studies can be enriched by analysing a text beyond the initial point of contact. Synthesising methodologies from areas of video game studies, fan studies, psychoanalysis and cultural legal studies, this investigates the many multimodal texts of Persona 4, from video game to manga to stage play. In undertaking this investigation, this thesis tracks both how the change in medium can affect and/or alter a text’s jurisprudential meaning and also demonstrates how a cultural legal reading can be enhanced, subverted or destabilised through this transmedial analysis. Following a strain of cultural legal studies that reads popular culture texts as suggestive jurisprudential reimaginings of law, this thesis identifies Persona 4 as a complex retelling of the relationship of the person to law. This articulation of personhood within Persona 4 is considered on two levels: a metatextual level and a textual level. On a metatextual level, the thesis analogises the entwined relationship of player and digital avatar with the symbolic legal mask of personhood and the embodied individual experience that it covers. The familiar fragmentation between self and player conjures up juristic associations of personhood that mirror different occupiers of the legal persona. On a textual level, Persona 4 questions of a split self are visible through game’s narrative content, distinct realms of gameplay styles, and frequent references to notable psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. Regardless of Persona 4’s attempt to craft a narrative of a singular, monadic self, Persona 4 demonstrates the inability of the creators and players to let go of their fragmented identity even within a fictional setting. The persistent thematic of self and identity throughout the game opens up a space of critique that animates the tensions of the legal subject as a fictional, imaginary identity that law uses to construct and bind subjects to it. Beyond the core game, this thesis also examines how the narrative of legal personhood that courses through each iteration and retelling of the Persona 4 universe is changed by its medium, extended by new additions to the world, or challenged by canonical inconsistencies or redactions. Furthermore, the thematic of the fragmented self that undercuts the Persona 4 universe resonates with fans who tailor this theme to their own narration of circumstance and self through their fan artefacts. Fan creations are examined as fan explorations of the uncertainty of their own identies, using romantic and sexually-oriented artefacts to transgress the limitations of their ‘real’ selves in a fictional way. Humorous fan works, on the other hand, play with the space between avatar and person, constantly seeking a concrete articulation of the self yet never being able to find one. The journey through Persona 4 ultimately evinces a struggle for the consumer to experience themselves as anything but fractitious. The video game acts as a catalyst for people knowingly experiencing themselves as permanently divided – between player and avatar – and carrying this tension forward into other iterations of Persona 4 as well as their own creations within the universe. Unable to achieve the singular, unified self that Persona 4 allegedly promotes, consumers of Persona 4’s universe struggle with the revelation that legal personality is truly discordant with the self despite the illusions of unity they are sold.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Griffith Law School

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Popular culture

Video games



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