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.
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.
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.
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?
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