Katamari Damacy and Consumption

Monday, October 24th, 2005

Ben Vershbow at if:Book writes of Katamari Damacy:

I’ve played a bit of Katamari lately and have enjoyed it. It’s a world charged with static electricity, everything sticks. Each object has been lovingly rendered in its peculiarity and stubbornness. If your katamari picks up something long and narrow, say, a #2 pencil, and attaches to it in such a way that it sticks out far from the clump, it will impede your movement. Each time the pencil hits the ground, you have to kind of pole vault the entire ball. It’s not hard to see how the game trains visual puzzle-solving skills, sensitivity to shape, spatial relationships (at least virtual ones), etc.

That being said, I agree with Bob and Rylish (links in original) that there is an internal economy at work here that teaches children to be consumers. A deep acquisition anxiety runs through the game, bringing to mind another Japanese pop phenom: Pokémon. Pokémon (called “Pocket Monsters” in Japan) always struck me as particularly insidious, far more predatory than anything I grew up with, because its whole narrative universe is based on consumption.

I don’t think that Katamari teaches children to be consumers. It’s not “acquisition anxiety.” Everyone knows that Katamari is about turning children into space-craving nuke-monkeys.

Consumer here is just too vague. We need a stronger link here.

Options in the list: could be greed. Could be a dehumanizing dark for mistaking people as pencils.

Could be the player has something entirely different on their minds.

Sometimes I take a look at teen magazines, like Teen People. There is darkness in these texts, weaving allure with want. Allure cannot exist without want.

Rylish’s argument is more nuanced:

so, we cannot really discuss games and learning and literacy without spending some time grounding that conversation in the economic and cultural environments which drive game production. my worry is not that games are too complicated or too violent or too masculine or too racist but that they are these things in order to perpetuate consumerism.

For the sake of perspective, what concern isn’t mixed up with some consumerist motivation or market drive? Even moraity needs a market.

5 responses to “Katamari Damacy and Consumption”

  1. susan says:

    g.d. moralists. What exactly is wrong with consumerism? Did not God, or Mother Nature, or some great cosmic blast not leave a great ball of earth with eaters and the eaten? Users and usees? Shall we all sit with our hands out to government, and those high stinkers among stinkers, capitalist pigs who can gather, produce and dispense that which we need to survive? Or shall we learn how to best provide for ourselves. What self-righteous moralistic rot.

  2. rylish says:

    wow, susan, you’ve just made the worst argument for consumerism i’ve ever read.

    in fact, consumerism is anything but natural. read richard ohmann’s selling culture or stuart ewan’s captain’s of consciousness and you’ll begin to realize the level to which we have been trained to accept it by manufacturing, industry, and marketing.

    in fact–and this will surely draw more expletives–your logic of natural selection above was used to fuel hitler’s fascism and the nazi regime. several members of the frankfurt school were exiled german citizens living in the united states during wwii, and they wrote extensively about the similarities between hitler’s fascist propaganda and u.s. advertising. it’s not a fun comparison, but much of it and many of their predictions ring true even today. i’d especially recommend adorno and horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment and adorno’s the culture industry.

    but this would assume that you were interested in investigating the problem and not just being reactionary. i hope that assumption holds.

  3. rylish says:

    i agree that consumerism is not the best word to describe the experience of playing katamari. in fact, in some ways, consumerism is almost rendered absurd by the overemphasis on collecting stuff, almost for its own sake.

    i am working on an article that examines the role that consumerism plays in the game. you can read more by joining the learning games initiative (lgi) at http://lgi.mesmernet.org.

    i made the original argument (cited above) in response to another listserv member who had argued that consumerism does not play a role in game design or production. i am trying to change that perception.

  4. susan says:

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding the intellectual use of the word consumerism and applying grassroots terminology to what should have been a more intellectually based argument. Thank you for the fingerpoints to more reading, as I would like to better understand this issue and will do so (between bunker meetings).

  5. Fernando says:

    Old post but I thought I should comment.

    Katamari is indeed about consumerism, but it isn’t about teaching people to be consumers, it is the opposite.

    In the game, you are told to collect stuff and you are treated badly if you didn’t collect enough stuff. The more stuff you collect, the harder you work, the heavier and clumsier you get.

    Then, after all you collect, the King of Cosmos just goes and shoots all your effort into space to become a tiny star.

    The game is a comment on consumerism all right, but if you pay attention the the king’s cynism, you’ll see it is actually a negative comment on consumerism.

    Above all, the game emphasizes rolling things to get together. The king is always saying how earth is full of things and giving little value to that, he is always pushing you hard to work hard.

    The King of All Cosmos and the gameplay mechanics serve to say that all stuff you buy and collect are unimportant, it’ll all go away, what is important is being with other people.