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  • Katamari Damacy A Critique: Part Two

    [09.28.06]
    - Ryan Stancl


  •  Marxist

    When looking at a piece of art from a Marxist perspective, everything has to do with society and class. A piece of art’s only function is to enforce or challenge a certain society, their values. Art can be looked at as a way to see the culture it came from and how it relates to the culture that is viewing it.

    Marx believes that the ideas of society, such as books, movies, or anything in pop culture, are the values of the ruling class pushed on the lower classes (Rivkin, 1998).

    Marxist critics believe a certain type of work arises from a certain cultural time in history. For example, the novel arose when the up-and-coming middle class needed a way to express itself and more people were reading due to higher literacy and the printing press. Over in Ireland, turbulent times tended to produce great literal works until the Irish gained independence from Britain when the predominant form became the short story. Why did the video game start when it did? Ah, but that is a topic for another article.

    In the end, the Marxist critic is all about society, class, and social relations.

    In Katamari Damacy, there are two societal observations that run throughout the game that deserve a quick comment (and then a third, larger observation to follow).

    First, when the player presses the Start button to pause the game, a fact pops up on the screen that’s different every time. In the top left-hand corner of the screen is the size of the katamari, and next to it there is a comparison of how big it is to the size of a random object in the game – “Your katamari is as big as *a number* of *an object.*” This is making a comment on how everyone in today’s society is constantly comparing things: the prices of items, their bodies to others, their happiness to their friends, etc.

    Second, the children stars of the game deserve some looking at in terms of Marxist interpretation.

    What’s interesting is that they and they alone seem to be the ones that get what’s going on with the cosmos. The young boy of the Hoshino family – the family featured in the cutscenes in between levels – is the only one that sees the reports on TV about how the stars in the sky are out, even seeing the King and the Prince out in the world doing their thing.

    The young girl of the family gets it even more than her brother perhaps, as she ‘feels’ the cosmos restoring itself when the Prince rolls up a constellation, exclaiming “Oh! I feel it! I feel the cosmos!”

    The mother doesn’t seem to listen to her children, to understand, as she’s too preoccupied with getting to the father who is taking off to the moon in a few days.

    The older people get, the more effort they put into getting somewhere they think they want to be, when really they’ve been there all along. The mother and father want to build a rocket to get to the moon, yet the children are already there in a sense. The children understand fathoms more than most adults are willing to admit, and they’re usually ignored. It could also simply be a comment on the prevalence of bad parenting in our society.


    However, perhaps the best critique coming from the Marxist perspective can be made on the unusually large emphasis Katamari Damacy has put on collecting items.

    Every time the player picks up an object it says what it is in the bottom left-hand corner and is then catalogued for the player to view later from the main menu. At the end of each level, there is a screen that tells the player how big he got his katamari, what time he finished the objective in, how many objects he collected, and what the object was that he collected the most of.

    On the objects collected menu, the user can choose to view what he’s collected by object types, the location in which he picked up the objects, or by the size of the objects. There is also another sub-section that has a list of all the proper named items in the game that are more difficult to find and roll up.

    In the object types screen, there are four pages worth of object types alone – Food, Trash, Fashion, Animals, and Children, to name a few.

    Selecting a type (or a size, a location) brings up another screen of all the objects of that type. The ones that haven’t been collected yet will appear as a question mark, but the ones that have been collected will have a picture of it, what it is, the place in which it was found, the size the katamari was in order to roll it up, and a short description of the object.

    These descriptions alone could be documented and analyzed and lead to a paper themselves, descriptions like “Check Book – A book filled with numbers. People smile or cry reading this book. It must be a very good novel,” “Display Stand – You can put anything you like here, except naughty things,” and “Minivan – Small yet large. Very ambiguous.” A lot of them offer up harmless observations about naming conventions, the English language, society, and life in general.

    But why is there all this emphasis on collecting in Katamari Damacy?

    Ignoring the surface fact that it extends gameplay, collecting stuff is something that is integral to people, especially children, especially this day and age. From an essay entitled “Unpacking: Walter Benjamin and His Library,” author Joseph Lewandowski says this about children and collecting:

    They collect forgotten and ignored phenomena, they name “dead” objects. According to Benjamin, such an alternative world-view accomplishes a kind of renewal and rescue – children retrieve objects and stimulate life in a frozen cultural modernity; they re-enchant, albeit momentarily, a disenchanted world […] It is precisely in collecting as a child-like ‘mode of acquisition’ that a genuine collector emerges: ‘To renew the old world – that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things.’ Thus collecting demands an orientation to the world of things that is always threatened: ensnared in the body and life of the bourgeois, trapped in the ‘old,’ mature world of adulthood, the ‘child-like element’ that leads the collector to rescue dead objects is akin to a rather bad category mistake. In a disenchanted world, books are to be sold, counted, divided, known; not phenomenally experienced, seen, related to via mimicry, intimately undergone. Genuine collecting for Benjamin, we might say, is a kind of acquisition that is motivated by ‘immaturity.’

    Collecting is something that is innate in people, something that lasts an entire lifetime. It’s about the above, but also about having to gather together everything in one’s life, catalogue it, and organize it neatly, for in a world that is so chaotic, some order is welcome.

    Also, lately it’s about just hitting the right buttons in marketing to the consumer, hitting on that need to have everything, to ‘collect it all.’

    Whatever it is, this collecting facet in Katamari Damacy says a lot about our culture, which is what Marxists look for when interpreting a work of art.

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