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We Live Katamari

Philosophy | Friday, September 15th, 2006 | 10 years, 10 months ago

Gamecareerguide.com has just published the first of a three-part critique of the underlying messages conveyed in the Katamari Damacy game series. While I’m disappointed that I have to wait to read the other two parts of this critique, I’m glad it’s being posted at all. This is a game worth in-depth analysis.

One of my favourite aspects of video games is the representation of the real world. Many people are enthusiastic about this aspect of gaming but most don’t share my take on the subject. I wouldn’t be a card-carrying nerd if I wasn’t wowed by pixel shaders and bump mapping and advanced AI, but what really fascinates me is the artistic representation of reality – the statement made about our world facilitated by creative use of limited resources.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the greatest contenders in this field as its depiction of a fictional California-esque state is totally astounding, replete with buildings, streets, varied geography, natural wonders, rolling landscapes, and all juxtaposed by a pissed-off populace.

 

sanandreas-01.jpg

 

There’s a great scene in Lucasarts’ Grim Fandango where Manny Calavera, protagonist and reaper, travels to the realm of the living to collect the souls of recently poisoned fast food patrons, and the real world is quite a ridiculous caricature that is completely alien through the eyes of residents of the land of the dead.

 

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Katamari Damacy is unique in that the protagonists are not human at all, but permanent residents of deep space. To The King of All Cosmos and The Prince, Earth is one planet of millions, but it is not just any planet. The Earth is populated by excitable little people who have absolutely littered their entire planet with stuff, and it is this stuff that makes Earth a suitable place to collect materials to repopulate space with stars.

 

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Stuff here, stuff there, stuff everywhere! Not only can anything smaller than your katamari be rolled-up and added to the clump, but every collected item can later be examined replete with a concise but innocently baffling description in the limited omniscient of the space-faring royal family. Some such descriptions of the hundreds upon hundreds of ordinary objects and creatures include:

Coconut Crab — “A crab with strong claws. It doesn’t look anything like a coconut at all…”
Peach — “A butt-shaped fruit that is more tasty than butts.”
Faucet — “Hot and cold water comes out of the same place. We are amazed.”
Loud Momma — “Her voice is loud and when she laughs, babies start screaming.”

This is why the game is deserving of critique – because the game itself is a critique of urban civilization. It patently points out how much more complex and frivolous and ludicrous our lifestyle is compared to the orderly motion of the galactic ocean.

Furthermore, this analysis goes to show how effective the game is at alleviating stress! Consider all the things you worry about in a day – the cost of living, pollution, rush hour traffic, long lines, crime, the environment, the fact that you’ll never visit all the places you want to see, etc. All these things become insignificant in Katamari Damacy. You needn’t worry about any issues – any objects – larger than your katamari until later on because for now they are simply obstacles, and anything smaller is all but an insignificant bump. To The Prince, ignorance is bliss. All that matters is to keep on rolling. Put your frustrations aside, block out all unneccesary data, and just keep on rolling. Just push and push, your katamari grows and grows, and before you know it you’re towering over people and cars and buildings and mountains until the very curvature of the planet is a minute detail of the great cosmic tapestry.

There are a million possible interpretations of this depiction of reality. One could argue that the game is an advocate of Buddhism, declaring earthly luxuries as mere white noise. Or perhaps the katamari is the embodiment of Taoism, illustrating that one must flow along the path of least resistance, allowing nature to be your guide. A pessimist may choose the perspective of this virtual Earth’s hapless citizens, declaring that you must always be prepared for disaster because you never know when you’ll get rolled up next to a winged whale’s blowhole.

In the end, the beauty of Katamari Damacy is the fact that so many concepts are introduced but no questions are answered. Perhaps this is the true meaning of the game – simply focus on the little things and the big pieces will fall into place.

When you look into the world of Katamari Damacy do you see yourself staring back?

— edit —

Here are parts two and three of Katamari Damacy: A Critique by Ryan Stancl. I was quite disappointed by this series. It felt very clinical and lifeless. I much prefer the fungineer omniscient.

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Speak softly and carry a big mic

PC Apps | Monday, September 11th, 2006 | 10 years, 10 months ago

I’ve been testing Microsoft Windows Vista this week and so far I’m having a lot of fun! There are all kinds of awesome features that I’m really excited about, not the least of which is the voice recognition functionality. In fact, I’m dictating this log entry right now and am rather impressed with the degree of accuracy. Thus far I’ve only had to make two corrections. The speech recognition engine seems rather intelligent in that it always seems to choose the correct word in context even when one word sounds like another.

Believe it or not, Vista is an even better blogger than I am since this entry is taking longer than when I type.

In addition to dictation I’m particularly impressed with how easy it is to navigate native and third party applications without touching the mouse. To click any button on an ordinary windows application interface I can either say out loud the name of the button (you can cover the mouse over the button to see the tool tip if you’re not sure) or I can say “show numbers” to overlay numbers on top of every button on the interface. I then say the corresponding number out loud, followed by OK, to click that button. Using “show numbers” I can even click elements on a webpage, such as a link or text box, to browse the web or even use the message forum.

I admit to this point I’ve been speaking fragments rather slowly and in a monotonous tone, so just for fun and all read an excerpt from Douglas Coupland’s JPod verbatim:

“Brea told me this great story. She was assigned to show around a visiting middleware consultant from France. Nobody was sure if he was gay or not. His name is surge to quote—which is sort of funny in itself, because in high school, the fictional guy in my French textbook was searched and quo. Everyone my age in my school district has the same surge to call die in their ads, forever asking where the metro is.”

For comparison hull type the same paragraph:

“Bree told me this great story. She was assigned to show around a visiting middleware consultant from France. Nobody was sure if he was gay or not. His name is Serge Duclos—which is sort of funny in itself, because in high school, the fictional guy in my French textbook was Serge Duclos. Everyone my age in my school district has this same Serge Duclos guy in their heads, forever asking where the Métro is.”

Aside from having to be mindful enough to say punctuation marks out loud, to my great surprise dictation works phenomenally well. While this may not spell a new era in data entry (imagine the noisy workplace) it is certainly a testament to how far personal computer accessibility has come. I admit, though I’m sure I look like a raving lunatic, I’ve really enjoyed controlling my computer without touching it.

Release Candidate 1 of Microsoft Windows Vista has just been released, so it is currently only available to those who signed up previously. Check this website periodically if you would like to beta test the next version.

Audibly yours,
Brian Damage

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