You might think the Katamari Damacy games are wacky fun for the whole family, and they are, but just for kicks, I did an easy-breezy, amateurish philosophical analysis of the games to find out what they tell us about meaning and the nature of existence.
The Katamari games star a character called the Prince, who rolls a Katamari ball to collect objects and people in order to make new stars and other heavenly bodies.
It’s a unique gameplay mechanic that had a big impact on many of the indie games we see today.
The gameplay is so strange and so different that I figured I’d try to turn it into an allegory.
To do that, I’m gonna borrow concepts from a few different schools of thought, concepts that relate to the search for meaning in modern life.
Concept #1: Meaning is dependent on experience
The first concept comes to us from relativism.
Relativism supports the idea that meaning and truth are heavily dependent on countless factors that impact an individual’s life.
Someone who grew up in ancient Egypt would most likely have different values, beliefs, and goals, than a modern-day kid from Debuke. Neither set of beliefs and values is more valid than the other.
And that’s the idea we’re going to take with us: experiences and context are important because they influence one’s perception of meaning and what’s important.
Concept #2: Deconstruction helps us understand life
The next concept has its roots in postmodernism.
Postmodernism is a huge topic and it’s especially difficult to summarize, but for now, imagine that postmodernism is an early-90s grunge kid who doesn’t trust authority and doesn’t see the point in all the stuff society used to value.
But postmodernism still cares a lot about art, and in the process of creating art that feels fresh, it deconstructs art forms.
Postmodernism’s books know that they’re books and address the reader directly. Postmodernism’s music might not even have audible sounds.
That’s our second concept: deconstructing the world can help us understand it.
Concept #3: Life is still worth living
The final concept could be attributed to several different philosophies, but most recently, I’ve seen it promoted by a particular movement called New Genuine.
New Genuine is sort of, kind of a post-postmodernist movement in that it opposes the characteristic cynicism and irony of postmodernism, replacing it with sincerity and kindness, not performed to earn religious rewards in the afterlife, but just to make the world more pleasant and livable.
For millennia, people have believed that life has inherent meaning, but for certain post-postmodern thinkers, that purpose and meaning is now constructed. It’s not something objective handed down to us by external forces.
Life means something if you want it to mean something. Post-postmodernism is generally much more optimistic than its predecessor. People can be happy if they do good things.
So that’s the concept to remember here: life is worth living and your actions have value.
Putting it All Together
So if we put these ideas together, I think they form a pretty good description of the Katamari games.
They’re about changing perspectives and value judgments, they have a large emphasis on deconstruction, and they give players clear objectives that they achieve through meaningful action.
With all this in mind, we can turn Katamari into an allegory for a life’s journey toward success and/or fulfillment.
The Katamari ball represents a human soul. Like actual souls, each one is different and will take a different path from the one that came before.
The objects you collect represent individual experiences throughout a person’s life. The people you collect, in turn, can represent relationships that person has, from their family to school friends to people they only interact with in passing.
In line with relativism, each of these experiences changes your trajectory in some way. Some might even send you rolling off the edge of a cliff.
The enormous spread of objects and people brings back that postmodern technique of deconstruction. Each environment includes so many tiny, mundane details that help us understand those environments.
The game camera symbolizes a person’s perspective and how they make value judgments at any given time.
The perspective is changing almost constantly, which is exactly how perspective works in real life, even if the changes are sometimes minor.
During any given point of perspective, different objects become more or less valuable, just as, in life, your current situation can heavily determine your priorities and interests.
But what’s it all for? Well, using the post-postmodern idea that life is worth living, even if just for the sake of experiencing different things, each level sees the individual rising to new heights, literally.
They have a much better view of their life environment and have come to understand it. Whereas in the first minute they might have gotten lost in city streets, now they can see everything, having collected all these hundreds of experiences and relationships.
The Royal Rainbow is the moment of ascension, when that person achieves success, fulfillment, nirvana, or whatever their personal goal happened to be.
I think this is a pretty fun way for Katamari to take on new meaning. Few games let the player develop so drastically in so little time, something that only happens in real life over a period of years.
Katamari is about progress, gaining something each step of the way, and that’s such a great way to look at life: acknowledging the significance of each tiny experience and interaction and seeking out more, excited to see how things look from a new perspective.
So that’s about it. I think it was a lot more interesting to apply multiple philosophical concepts to the games rather than saying that it promotes just one school of thought.
This piece was a bit denser than what I usually do, so feel free to check out my other videos for lighter fare.
Thanks for stopping by.