Sometimes I wish I had four hands so that I could play video games while I knit. (When I really think about it, though, gaming while knitting would probably mean bad results all around.) My hands are almost always busy with needles, so when I do put the knitting down for a game, it has to be a pretty great game. And Katamari Damacy, in its various iterations, is maybe the closest thing to a perfect game to me.
This is a game with legions of fans, so I’m sure many of you have played it and love it too. For those who haven’t, the premise is sublimely bizarre: the King of the Cosmos has accidentally destroyed the universe, and you, his tiny prince son, are tasked with restoring the planets and stars by making new ones. To create a heavenly body, you roll stuff up on earth, starting with small objects like pushpins and parsley, and gradually adding larger items like teapots, cats, apartment buildings, and clouds as your ball gets bigger.
The rolling works in an easy, natural way, with your two thumbs on two joysticks pushing it forward. (Most of the games are for the Playstation, with the newest, Touch My Katamari, for the PS Vita.) With virtually no learning curve, this is a game that is instantly fun for anyone with two thumbs.
It’s the world of Katamari Damacy that really inspires me. It’s a world full of stuff, but that stuff is curated for maximum play and discovery. Roll up an egg, and it hatches out a swan as you do so, making your ball that much bigger. Roll into a school bathroom and someone’s on the Japanese-style toilet— you may not be big enough to roll him up yet, but you can snag the pile of toilet paper sitting next to him. Grow your ball giant enough to roll up the cosmos themselves, and you’ll encounter magical incarnations of the game’s characters alongside ancient Shinto deities.
For the most part, this is a specifically Japanese world, and much of the items you roll up are specific to Japan. The game’s attitude about its nationality is refreshingly matter-of-fact. After rolling up a pile of caramels, you might roll up an “octopus sausage,” the name of which will appear on the screen, but with no further commentary about what it is. I love how the Japanese developers neither tried to make the world more generic for players in other countries nor played up the Japanese-ness of the game as a big selling point.
This is a game with no bad guys, and no real failure. (You can get shamed by your cosmic father for not living up to his expectations, but once that’s over, you just get back to rolling.) The cosmos themselves don’t contain any good or evil, and nothing in the world is too small or too big to be in play. That’s a spirit that I strive to bring to my own creative projects, and I know I’ll always return to this game for some imagination fuel.