Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crunchy Katamari

Here's an old article about remarks made by Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy. He notes that videogames are a luxury, enjoyed by those untroubled by problems such as poverty and pollution. And if those problems continue to grow, we may all lose that luxury.

His point is well-taken, but it comes from observing the real world beyond games. This blog seeks to learn lessons from the games themselves. So what can be learned from Katamari Damacy?

The object of Katamari Damacy is to fill the night sky with stars, accomplished by rolling up various things on Earth into large balls that are launched into the sky. The game is gleeful about clearing the landscape of animals, people, houses and monuments, rolling them up into balls that eventually become so large that their individual components are insignificant and forgotten. Is the game being nihilistic toward all Earthly stuff? Maybe. Katamai Damacy seems heavily inspired by Japanese monster movies in which great and terrible beasts lay waste to everything they see, smashing mankind's petty achievements into a homogeneous ruin.

I think there's more to the game than mere nihilism, though. Look at how bad things are on Earth even before the Prince begins his ball-rolling journeys. Towns and cities are strewn with out-of-place animals and fruits. Wildlife lives well outside its normal habitat (what are penguins doing at a seaside park?), and there are tacky displays of commercialism everywhere - trophies, marquees, bento boxes, coin-operated arcade games, the works. In rolling all these things up, the Prince is telling people and animals alike that they have forgotten their places in the natural order. He cleanses the landscape of all such detritus (it's fascinating how sane a level looks when it's empty), presents the katamari to the King of all Cosmos, and watches as the King turns it into a star and casts it among the other stars in the sky. The chaos on Earth is thus brought to order. All Earthly things are returned to their source, the stars.

Katamari Damacy is a warning that there is a natural order of things that will be enforced whether we like it or not. If we don't abide by boundaries, we may eventually be bound by forces beyond our control. Either way, from a King's-eye perspective, there's beauty to be found and joy to be had.

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