Katamari and Consumerism

Saturday, December 10th, 2005

Ryan Moeller has added further comments to this entry on consumerism and Katamari Damacy. In addition to his comments, he points to the Learning Games Initiative, in whose work, and other initiatives like it, I have lots of interest.

But I want limit my use of the term consumerism to its pejorative context: in this sense, generally speaking, consumerism points to a direct connection between purchase and happiness and other related issues. This is what I meant by the allure and want comment in modern magazines. Fads, looks, styles, and poses–all these generate in an audience a want of those things for their own sake. “I want that lipstick,” Marv says, without knowing why, and having no other alternatives. But what does Marv himself produce or create?

In this sense, consumerism also infects education, in that people will take course after course only if they think it will get them a job (the job for its own sake is the key). Yes, we all need jobs, but the point is made regardless because we don’t often think about the undertow.

I am a consumer myself. I wanted Gran Turismo 4 no matter what. I played GT3 and had to have the next version because it had to be bigger, better, and badder. So I purchased it and it gave me a sense of “electricty” just to hold it. I know now that I had been taken for a ride: yeah, the physics had been improved, but nothing about the overall stimulus changed. The world of Gran Turismo just isn’t that interesting.

It’s a different story with Syberia. I wanted the next version to finish the story begun in the first. Was I satisfied? Sure. I wanted the story not the game for many reasons. I find that Katamri delights at many complex levels, one being the experience and design possibilities of its spaces. Delight in Katamari may be triggered by the desire to get more, but I disagree that this is a specific consumerist desire or impulse. Then again, I am also open to counter claims. Very much open.

My personal view is that we live in age of viscious consumerism (Christmas anyone?). I got an earful of this from students the other day as they detailed their complicated woes with the financial aid process, text books, and the future.


3 responses to “Katamari and Consumerism”

  1. Christopher says:

    I was rolled up by a Katamari! We love it here in our house. Our son got it for his birthday but I think I play it more than he does.

    I don’t see Katamari as consumerism, just a fun excuse to collect things (without paying for them). It’s almost like an intergalactic form of kleptomania.

  2. i don’t understand how this usage is pejorative; can you explain?

    But I want limit my use of the term consumerism to its pejorative context: in this sense, generally speaking, consumerism points to a direct connection between purchase and happiness and other related issues.

    and i think there is a case for this definition applying to katamari: a player’s work at collecting objects results in happiness (joy in completing a goal or level) and in greater exchange value as one collects bigger objects and advances to more challenging levels. eventually, the entire planet looks like a mass of consumable objects.

    but what’s key to me in your post above is the dissatisfaction that comes–along with great excitement, anticipation, and promise–with most consumer products. whether we’re talking about planned obsolescence (where manufacturers make more or less disposable products) or newer and improved versions that seek to quickly capitalize on a product’s success, part of what keeps us consuming is the hope that the right product is out there that will do the things we want it to.

    so in this way, too, katamari presents a consumerist view in its gameplay: we keep playing more of the same, collecting more of the same, just bigger. we [heart] katamari shakes this up a little by letting us choose different avatars and katamari and by shaking up the linearity of the gameplay somewhat, but it still is basically more of the same. ironically, it’s packaged under a consumerist mindset, too: the premise of the game is to create a sequel based upon the huge success and popularity of the first version.

    i appreciate this forum, however fleeting and temporary, especially to get a chance to think about some of these elements.

  3. Steve says:

    Ryan,

    A recent Lancet editorial used the adjective “naked” to qualify a type of consumerism that puts the needs of health care providers over the needs of those they’re supposed to serve, manage, or heal. Meaning that the editorial writers see some element of positivity to “clothed” consumerism. In other words, the term consumerism for some is supposed to describe a system of mutual or positive exchange.

    I partly agree with Baudrillard’s ambient consumerism thesis and even with Lauren Langman who argues forcefully the connection between the sustaining of identity and power in the context of global consumption and consumerism, although I disagree with his colonialist framework.

    I’m very much interested in contexts, which is why I mention the above.

    But I hope my disagreement doesn’t come off as trivial or stubborn. You write: “katamari presents a consumerist view in its gameplay: we keep playing more of the same, collecting more of the same, just bigger.” Number one: I’m not a fan of the second version of Katamari for the very reasons you present here. we [love] is a candied apple. I agree that games (Midway’s present woes over Gauntlet are bearing this out) exist within a system of exchange that often (I’m being really tame here because I really think that the problems run much deeper than I’m making them sound) but not always takes on a consumerist glow. Katamari 2 in my mind is a dangerous joke. I hate to see an aesthetic success diminished by a foolish attempt to gratify.

    But I have to keep coming back to qualifications. Katamari, I would argue, much like a good novel, is consumed in a formative and figurative sense. I consume Borges like crazy as an intellectual vitamin.

    You write: “and i think there is a case for this definition applying to katamari: a player’s work at collecting objects results in happiness (joy in completing a goal or level) and in greater exchange value as one collects bigger objects and advances to more challenging levels.” This position is interesting. I’m interested in understanding what you think are the limits of this critique? Wouldn’t this also describe job promotion? Or Chess?