Katamari Damacy: Play Theory and Anthropology

Upon first inspection, Katamari Damacy is unapologetically absurd. Roll over objects to make your player-controlled ball more massive, therefore allowing you to roll over and absorb larger pieces of the world. This simple constraint is conveyed simply, warning sirens and a spray of severed parts signaling to the player when an object is still too big to pick up, while rewarding the player with a sound clip when new acquisitions are made to the ball. This simple form of play, wrapped in a bundle of absurdness and hilarity, is inexplicably fun. We sit there, rolling and absorbing whales and people and trees and buildings because it is for some reason enjoyable in and of itself. Katamari Damacy doesn’t provide external value or training or carries a particularly paradigm shifting message. And maybe that’s okay.

In Homo Ludens, what Huizinga examines, amongst other things, is the reason for why we play. Diverged from biological or rational purpose, we, amongst other animals, play for fun. Similarly to how Huizinga recognizes both more primitive and structured forms of play: in the forms in the ways children and animals play and the structured multi-faceted forms of play that we disperse amongst our own days; the way in which Katamari Damacy is enjoyable can be seen in a similar light. Children, presented with damp sand or dirt or clay or snow, immediately give into the urge to clump and ball the material into as large of a ball as possible. This simple form of play, separated from any meaningful purpose or reason, when compared to Katamari Damacy, potentially provides context for why Katamari Damacy is so enjoyable. Our moment of momentum, free to roll wherever we wish, oblivious to the outside world, is fun in ways the English language cannot describe.

Huizinga, Johan. 1949, Homo Ludens. London: Routledge.<http://art.yale.edu/file_columns/0000/1474/homo_ludens_johan_huizinga_routledge_1949_.pdf>

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