Katamari Damacy (塊魂) as an artwork

December 11th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

“Katamari” means clump; “Damacy” means soul. It is a game of collecting objects, creating a large clump of things. Player acts as the Prince, son of the King of All Cosmos, rolls a katamari that can pick up anything smaller than its size, forming a large sticky sphere. As more things get stuck onto the katamari, it grows larger and larger and eventually able to hold people, houses, islands or even planets.

The story in the Katamari Damacy game series is not an important part of it, but a “pretext for inspired weirdness” (Colgan). Basically it was the King of All Cosmos done something accidentally that destroyed part of universe, and the Prince was sent to roll up large clumps of things, in order to for example rebuild the moon, or to fill up a black hole. However its focus on interaction, the underlying logic or algorithm, can be seen as the narrative part of the work (Manovich, Database and Narrative).

There is a wide range of objects exist in the game scene, be composed as a fresh, relaxed, joyful hyperreality. Despite of the destructive act of rolling katamari around, the atmosphere remains fun and cheerful. It is made possible by the careful selection of background music (mostly in Jazz style), cute sound effects and graphics. The game levels are nice montages of playfulness and positive child memory, for instance playground, candy shop, theme park, sunny country park with rainbow etc. The game scenes start cluttered with objects. They are clearly more packed than their real world counterparts. For example in a bedroom there are a lot of snakes, books, toys that makes the game world a celebration of wealth and materials.

Rolling katamari to collect different objects is yet another form of art, a process of creating the player’s own montage. At the time of destroying or cleaning up the world, player is creating a piece of work that can be a new planet in the game world. Its seemly contradictive destruction and creation is the same as the practice of pastiche and quotation, “to select elements and styles from the ‘database of culture’” and “to put them together into new objects” (Manovich, The Logic of Selection).

Mentioned by its Japanese creator, Keita Takahashi, at Game Developers Conference, Katamari Damacy was a comment on consumerism (Welsh). On one hand, the ultra packed scene suggested the ideals of capitalism. Cleaning the scene up by rolling the katamari over can be seen as an act of subvert to “the culture of consumption and even the value of other video games” (Sino). It is because most of the video games nowadays, as a culture interface, reflected the real world’s favor of capitalism and/or consumerism. Classical examples are SimCity, Age of Empires, and their inspired variants, where player starts with a small plain area, develops into a large place that contains a large amount of artifacts. The “more to less” direction of Katamari Damacy is the opposite of the mainstream “less to more” progress. On the other hand, picking up objects by the katamari is also a metaphor of consuming the materials around us. Although there is a target size as the goal of each stage, player is encouraged in the game to roll as much and as large as they can. It is very similar to the concept of consumerism, that people are encouraged to purchase goods or service in great amount, often in excess of their basic needs. Having the theme of consumerism in mind, the delightfulness made up by the media elements in game seems to be compensation to the emptiness feeling after mindless consumption. Even Keita Takahashi “felt empty when the objects were gone” (Welsh).

Katamari Damacy is a good example of a video game being successful in the consumer market, also being an art piece that contains message and thoughts from the creator. It was recently acquired as one of the video games in the permanent design collection of The Museum of Modern Art (Antonelli).

Bibliography

Antonelli, Paola. Video Games: 14 in the Collection, for Starters. 29 Novermber 2012. 4 December 2012 <http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/11/29/video-games-14-in-the-collection-for-starters/>.

Colgan, Mike. Review – Me and My Katamari. 18 April 2006. 3 December 2012 <http://www.gamechronicles.com/reviews/psp/meandmy/katamari.htm>.

Manovich, Lev. “Database and Narrative.” Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. 199-201.

Manovich, Lev. “The Logic of Selection.” Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. 120-124.

Sino, Cando. Metaphor: Katamari Damacy and Capitalism and Overconsumption. 8 May 2009. 4 December 2012 <http://lasttoblame.blogspot.hk/2009/05/metaphor-katamari-damacy-and-capitalism.html>.

Welsh, Oli. Katamari was comment on consumerism. 30 March 2009. 3 December 2012 <http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/katamari-was-comment-on-consumerism>.

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The “simulation” and “hyperreality” aspect of Epic Win

November 7th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Epic Win quests screenshot
Epic Win profile screenshot
Epic Win progress screenshot
Epic Win progress screenshot 2

Epic Win is a game that runs in the Apple iOS platform (iPhone/iPad). It is a fusion of role-playing game, referred as RPG, and To-Do list application. Players define and input their own personal objectives in real life as game objectives. Once players mark an objective as complete, they will be moved forward in a quest map and may discover loot of game item. Experience points, referred as XP in the game, will also be given which will level up the player.

The game is set in a strongly naturalistic virtual world in an extreme case that, in fact, the virtual game world is built on top of the real world. The game objectives are objective in real life. To complete the objective, players have to perform real life action using their own physical body. However, the game world is not exactly the real world. Epic Win’s game world is virtual in the sense that there are virtual game elements like XP, treasure loots that do not exist in real world.

The simulation approach of Epic Win is different from typical simulation games like The Sims. Because the game world of Epic Win is built on top of the real world with added virtual elements, instead of started as a virtual world and added real world characteristic, the simulation direction is the opposite of typical simulation games. Epic Win uses the real world and simulates a typical RPG world; typical simulation games use a virtual world and simulate the real world. As Manovich suggested, “we do not necessarily have to think of immersion in the virtual and augmentation of the physical as opposites” (Manovich, The poetics of augmented space). Although the approaches are different to each other, both outcome of Epic Win and typical simulation games is a mixed reality.

Simulation requires modeling the logic or behavior of the simulation target (Manovich, The Illusions). Epic Win modeled a typical medieval themed RPG world in several ways. Firstly, it modeled the game logic, which is to complete missions (objectives) to gain points and collect game items in order to level up. In RPG, when the player level up, the ability of the player will be increased. Since a game cannot directly increase the player’s abilities in real life, Epic Win modeled this with virtual abilities of a RPG character, eg. “strength”, “intelligent” etc. Secondly, a typically RPG game has a story line. Epic Win simulated it by taking the seemly non-related real life objectives, map onto a logical narrative experience. Lastly, typical RPG uses a fantasy world. Epic Win simulated the fantasy world by extensive use of heavily stylized media, including wordings, graphics, and sounds, in medieval theme. The game items contained in the loots which players collect, are also typical object in a fantasy world.

Epic Win presents to players a hyperreality that solving real life problems will be rewarded with XP and treasures that can enhance the virtual character of the player. Since such world presented by Epic Win does not really exist, it matches the definition of hyperreality, “A real without origin or reality” (Baudrillard). This character development, i.e. level up, is one of the basic fulfillments of playing RPG. The progress of player is simulated as an exploration in a virtual world. It corresponds to the story-telling part of a RPG, which can also encourage player to move forward, in terms of completing tasks, and immerse into the virtual world, the enhanced real world.

The process of adding playful game elements in real life activity, which is increasing popular nowadays, is referred as gamification. It is “the application of digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges” (Werbach). I consider it as a form of mixed reality as well as a hyperreality. It is because its aim is clearly to trick users to enjoy non-game activity as they enjoy games, making the boundary of entertainment and work blurry. Al Gore summed up, “Games are the new normal.” (Tsai). People will increasingly treat real life as game, and work as entertainment. Even the military is using the same technologies and employing the same visual forms (Manovich, Kino-Eye and Simulators). Virtual awards, game media and game concepts are natural additions to daily life activity.

Gamification as demonstrated by Epic Win is an interesting example of “simulation” and “hyperreality”. There were players of Epic Win observed an uptick in their productivity (Rattray). Further scientific measurement of the relation between productivity improvement and game immersiveness would be useful.

Bibliography

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Manovich, Lev. “Kino-Eye and Simulators.” Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. 234-240.

Manovich, Lev. “The Illusions.” Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. 162-167.

Manovich, Lev. “The poetics of augmented space.” Visual Communication (2006): 219-240.

Rattray, Tim. EpicWin Gives You Loot For Doing Your Chores. 18 Augest 2010. 30 Oct 2012 <http://www.slidetoplay.com/story/epicwin-gives-you-loot-for-doing-your-chores>.

Tsai, Charles. Al Gore: ‘Games Are the New Normal’. 22 June 2011. 30 Oct 2012 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-tsai/al-gore-games-social-good_b_881017.html>.

Werbach, Kevin. Gamification. 2012. 29 Oct 2012 <https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification>.

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