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Not for children

January 28th, 2005 · No Comments · Gaming, PS2

People complain about video games like the Grand Theft Auto series being a dangerous influence on today’s youth, but I don’t see the problem. These games are clearly labeled for adults. If someone underage is able to buy such a game, it’s not the fault of the people who made the game, but the fault of the store that sold it.

If a store sells beer to a minor without checking for proof of age, that’s not the fault of the beer companies. The same standard should be used for videogames as well.

But what I do find unacceptable, though, is when a game with clearly inappropriate content is targeted towards kids. When I buy a game that is rated “E” for “Everyone” by the ESRB, I expect wholesome family fun. You know, for the kids.

But that is not what you get when you buy Katamari Damacy for Playstation 2. What you get is a very dark, very disturbing game.

This recent import from Japan is practically a videogame trojan horse with the box decked out with seemingly innocent cartoon characters and festive bright colors. Even when you start up the game, the silly music and sounds add to the sense that this isn’t so much a game as sweet little child’s toy.

But things quickly take a turn for the worse. A turn into the seedy world of substance abuse and seriously dysfunctional families.

At the onset of the game we are introduced to our character, “the Prince of all Creation” who is a mere 2 centimeters tall. We also fleetingly see the Prince’s mother, the Queen of all Creation before being introduced to the King of All Creation who is so massive he can hold the Prince in the palm of his hand.

So already the game is sending a subtle message: you are a tiny, powerless speck compared to your father. This will have disturbing ramifications later.

The King, your father in the game, explains that “somehow” he has managed to lose all the stars in the sky. It is hinted that this may be the result of intoxication on the King’s part. It certainly shows extremely careless disregard, and the King of All Creation isn’t even remotely apologetic for this, nor does he accept any responsibility for his actions. Instead, he tasks his son, the player, with covering up and fixing the damage he caused while drunk and/or high.

This premise is about as anti-family as any game could hope for. But it gets worse. The Prince can make new stars by visiting Earth and stealing things. That’s right. Dad trashes the place, and Junior goes out to rob to fix it.

How does it work? The King gives the Prince a “katamari” which is basically a sticky ball. The Prince rolls this ball around to pick up any items which aren’t much bigger than the katamari. Over time, the katamari can get pretty big, and the goal for most of the levels of the game is either to get the katamari to a certain size or to collect as many of a certain class of item as possible, all within a time limit.

In addition to all sorts of inanimate objects, your katamari eventually starts to contain things like cats, children, adults, and eventually entire houses. When the King comes at the end of the level, if the katamari is suitable, he flings it up into space into a fireball. That’s right, the lives and property of innocent people are nothing. It seems there is no atrocity the Prince should not commit in order to fix the damage his father caused.

Like most addicts, the King of All Creation is completely self-absorbed and incapable of intimacy. He makes snide insults about the stature of the Prince. He is impatient and demanding. He withholds any sort of approval for the efforts his son is making, frequently complaining that the katamari could be bigger or better. Nothing is ever good enough for Dad.

Somewhere in his heart, though, he knows he is being wrong. The King of All Creation tries to assuage his guilt through presents for the Prince. But even this attempted gesture of kindness falls short, as the King cannot be bothered to give the gift directly to the Prince. Instead, he just tells his son the gift must be somewhere lying around on Earth, and he can just pick it up himself while he makes his katamari.

The same katamari that the Prince is making because of his father’s shameful behavior.

And woe to the Prince if he fails to meet his father’s expectations! The screen turns black and stormy, as the Prince falls to his knees weeping and prostrates himself before his scornful Father, desperately seeking forgiveness. At this point in the game, I was expecting the King of All Creation to beat the Prince bloody.

And where is the Queen of All Creation during all this? Absent! Utterly and completely absent. I have no doubt the Prince’s mother is all too aware of her drunken and abusive husband’s rage, and simply stays out of his way. Doesn’t she love her son? What mother would allow this? I suspect that she, too, is also an alcoholic. Or at least codependent.

What makes this all so hard to swallow is how the game takes this tale of a sick, destructive family and dresses it up with cute characters, catchy music and strangely addictive game play, as if such things were perfectly normal and okay, maybe even fun.

Katamari Damacy, shame on you!

But at least the game isn’t very long. I finished it in about six hours.

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