Pie in the Face

Pie in the Face
Katamari Absurdity

Brendan Main | 22 Sep 2009 13:02
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Like any good joke, Katamari Damacy offers a new way of seeing the world: one chock-full of jacks, paperclips, tangerine peels and the occasional giant squid. As part of a katamari, the mundane junk that surrounds us is transformed, made strange through motion and accumulation. In the way that for Marcel Duchamp a urinal could become a fountain and a piece of trash could be art, the things you collect transcend themselves. Yes, right now you're a lowly piece of cheese ... but soon, you'll be a star!

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This vision is so pervasive that it can prove infectious. I find that if I play for too long, I quickly begin seeing the things around me in terms of how well they might contribute to a katamari. I'll walk down the street, and plan out my route in my mind: first those pylons there, and then that mailbox. And then over there to those trash cans. And then- Ooh! A bicycle rack!

But despite the lightness of Katamari Damacy's world of plenty, the joke may be on us. By following through on an exaggeration of game logic, it parodies the inanity of gaming itself. Yes, rolling up random objects to make stars is ridiculous - but is it any less ridiculous to go searching for a blue key to unlock the blue door? How wacky is it that Mario, after being told for the umpteenth time that his princess is in another castle, doesn't just pack up and go home?

Because for all their seriousness, games are arbitrary. They follow no logic but their own. Through an absurd quest to please the monomaniacal whims of the King, who alternately reigns over the proceedings with the fervor of a dictator and the distance of a deadbeat dad, we can see how absurd we are when at play: how committed to arbitrary goals, how devoted to inane projects and how beholden we are to the rules that bind us. To take from The Big Lebowski: Sometimes you play the game, and sometimes the game plays you.

With its cosmic scope, Katamari Damacy reaches onward and upward. It isn't content with some dime store bait-and-switch. Its punch line is an entire digital world taken to its inevitable conclusion. It dreams up a utopia in which every rock, tree and house is tied together through unity of purpose: They are all part of the game, waiting patiently to be gobbled up. The result is a planet embraced by play, where everything is connected - or, at least, collectable. It's somehow fitting: After decades of chasing after coins, stars, rupees and rings, we have finally found a game willing to chase us back.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, where the only things to roll up are snowballs, shirtsleeves and the occasional flattened fruit snack. When not saving the world with thumbtacks, he blogs at www.kingandrook.com.

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