Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crunchy Katamari

Here's an old article about remarks made by Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy. He notes that videogames are a luxury, enjoyed by those untroubled by problems such as poverty and pollution. And if those problems continue to grow, we may all lose that luxury.

His point is well-taken, but it comes from observing the real world beyond games. This blog seeks to learn lessons from the games themselves. So what can be learned from Katamari Damacy?

The object of Katamari Damacy is to fill the night sky with stars, accomplished by rolling up various things on Earth into large balls that are launched into the sky. The game is gleeful about clearing the landscape of animals, people, houses and monuments, rolling them up into balls that eventually become so large that their individual components are insignificant and forgotten. Is the game being nihilistic toward all Earthly stuff? Maybe. Katamai Damacy seems heavily inspired by Japanese monster movies in which great and terrible beasts lay waste to everything they see, smashing mankind's petty achievements into a homogeneous ruin.

I think there's more to the game than mere nihilism, though. Look at how bad things are on Earth even before the Prince begins his ball-rolling journeys. Towns and cities are strewn with out-of-place animals and fruits. Wildlife lives well outside its normal habitat (what are penguins doing at a seaside park?), and there are tacky displays of commercialism everywhere - trophies, marquees, bento boxes, coin-operated arcade games, the works. In rolling all these things up, the Prince is telling people and animals alike that they have forgotten their places in the natural order. He cleanses the landscape of all such detritus (it's fascinating how sane a level looks when it's empty), presents the katamari to the King of all Cosmos, and watches as the King turns it into a star and casts it among the other stars in the sky. The chaos on Earth is thus brought to order. All Earthly things are returned to their source, the stars.

Katamari Damacy is a warning that there is a natural order of things that will be enforced whether we like it or not. If we don't abide by boundaries, we may eventually be bound by forces beyond our control. Either way, from a King's-eye perspective, there's beauty to be found and joy to be had.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Calling Oneself a Consumer

We're consumers, right? That's just the reality of it. Is there anything inherently wrong with thinking of ourselves as consumers? Maybe there is, if the self-assessment ends there.

Episode 34 of the Humanist Network News podcast features an interview with Gurinder Singh Azad, a humanist activist in India who works as a telemarketer to Americans. At about minute 54 in the podcast, the activist talks about how the rising economic success of call center employees has given them a thirst for material luxuries. The interviewer, Duncan Crary, comments that consumerism is like a drug being exported from America to India.

Mr. Azad disagrees with this, saying that Indians have developed consumerist attitudes on their own. Other countries are not to blame if Indians are increasingly embracing wealth over health.

Mr. Crary then observes: "People refer to themselves, a lot of times, as consumers. It's a very unhealthy thing to refer to oneself as a consumer. Because a consumer has no responsibility to do anything but consume."

On that, the two agree, as do I. When I'm merely a consumer, I only care about whether that new product--whether it's a hamburger, game console, or car--fulfills its function and serves my private needs. I don't think about how that product might be affecting me beyond its intended purpose. I don't think about the costs borne in its manufacture or its disposal.

We should think of ourselves as more than consumers or end-users. Our willingness to buy stuff is the reason stuff exists. We're the effectors. Imagine playing a "god game" sim, moving that hand around to dig the ore, put it in a factory, create products, and move those products to stores. That's the consumer's Hand of God doing the work, changing the landscape and perhaps bringing on disasters.

It's great when companies give us ways to reduce our environmental impact, such as digital distribution and "green" household products. We might find it easy to dismiss these options as having minuscule effect or as mere marketing ploys. But they're a start and, as people who are much more than just consumers, we should take advantage of them.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pancakes vs. Nuclear Bombs

We had been doing so well with the downloadable content for Fallout 3. Fine, there were glitches and disappointments, but at least the add-ons were downloadable rather than packaged and shipped to retail stores. But then they put the first two add-ons on store shelves, and did the same with the next two. What's more, they're going to release everything again in a Game of the Year retail package in mid-October. I know that making the add-ons available for retail purchase helps those who cannot download the them, but isn't it wasteful and unnecessary to release these intermediate packages between the regular and GOTY editions?

Manufactured, packaged, shipped and sold without good reason, these retail add-on packs are a waste of resources. Of course, I'll be contributing to the problem by purchasing the GOTY edition "just to have it," even though I have the collector's edition and can download the add-ons.

Pancakes are delicious. They can be made in a variety of flavors, or even plain. A stack of pancakes in the morning will makes you happy, satisfied, and ready to take on the day. Nuclear bombs can cause severe burns, hemorrhaging, and death.

Pancakes are easy to make. Even if you make a mistake, it's no big deal. Just clean up and try again! Nuclear bombs are very hard to make. You really need to know what you're doing because if you add too much of this or that ingredient, your day is probably ruined.

Pancakes are inexpensive. Even those of modest means can afford to whip up a batch of pancakes for Sunday brunch. Nuclear bombs are very expensive to buy and then you have to worry about storing them. You might have been able to afford nuclear bombs through financing options once upon a time, but in this economy? Come on.

Pancakes make you popular. If you say, "Look everyone, I have pancakes," people will want to be your friends. That's because everyone loves pancakes. If you say, "Look everyone, I have nuclear bombs," people will get really mad at you. They won't want to be your friends anymore, even if you later serve pancakes.

Pancakes are fun. You can make them in a variety of shapes, like hearts and stars. Kids like that. You can make them thick, thin, or normal. You can eat them one by one or stack them up and dig into them like that. It's even fun to pour syrup on pancakes and watch as it expands in a pool and drips down the side in little rivulets. Nuclear bombs aren't as fun. Pouring syrup on them just makes a sad mess. They don't encourage much creativity and only come in shapes that kids don't like.

I think I've made the case for pancakes pretty well. So instead of buying some nuclear bombs or Fallout 3 retail add-ons this morning, why not enjoy some pancakes?

Pancakes. They're on the plate.