Katamari Surprise

Katamari DamacyThe last few years in video gaming have been a mixed bag for me. But every now and then a few surprises stand out. Take, for example, this neat little video game that I encountered in a little Senmaya game store back in 2004. I was cruising the magazine section, looking for some porn magazines on photography. It was at that moment that I heard it. A very catchy little, “na nana nana nana na nana”. I looked over the divider and saw a bizzare scene on the TV display. There were two cows grazing and a massive ball appeared beyond them in the distance. This ball seemed to be composed entirely of cars, trees and other large objects. I went up to the clerk and asked him about the game. He said they called it “??”?or Katamari Damashi. He explained that the concept of the game was to roll everything into a massive ball, and retstore the Univerise to the way it had been before its creator got drunk and smashed everything to pieces.

I instantly assumed this was one of those games that never leaves Japan. We have a metric truckload of them here in Japan. I can list countless dating simulators, cooking games and pachinko titles that will never touch the hands of the unwashed masses back in Canada. Yet, How was I to know what lay in store for this little gem of a game?

Not two years has gone by and I’ve already heard it used in popular culture and the media. Podcasts have made songs out its soundtrack, and legions of fans have made paintings and crafts as an ode to the king of the Universe. Two sequels have already been made. The most surprising thing I’ve heard from this is that the author of the game isn’t even a fan of video games. In fact, it seems he hates them. I’m surprised they convinced him to make more.

The one issue that still puzzles me from this “Katamari Surprise” is not how the game became a hit, but how it has become a legend. Would I be so bold in proclaiming that Katamari Damashii has now reached the level of “household name.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I were correct on that assumption. I teach over two hundred Junior High and Elementary students here in Japan, and every one of them knows the words “Katamari Damashii.” I am shocked to learn that many people all around the world also know of the game.

From all this, the one conclusion that I arrive at is that games seem to be either really good or really bad. There is no longer any middle ground. In the past few years, games like “Katamari Damashii”, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”, and others have been injecting countless cc’s of stimulant into an otherwise dull and uninspired industry. I feel have the Japanese to thank for this. If I haven’t said it yet on this blog, I will now. I believe that the Japanese culture churns out some of the most creative people on the planet today. This is bold statment when you look at the way this same culture has progressed over the last oen hundred years. The education system seems to have been created to drain every precious drop of creativity from students. However, I have a feeling there is a renaissance brewing. And that fire is being fueled by the gaming, movie and arts industries. What will spew next from the firey womb of Japan’s artistic community? That is yet to be determined.

In retrospect this also might help to explain the way my life has progressed over the last three years. I’ve developed an artist side that I never ever knew I had. I can only think that living in Japan has helped that. I help help but look back at that quirky little game and feel that we now have a more profound connection. You might call that link Japan.