games provide much more than a cognitive workout:everything bad is good for you, pt 3

games may be helping to raise raw IQ scores, but much more importantly they also also reinforce the dominant culture’s norms of material rewards and consumerism and one of the most interesting games of the past year, katamari damacy, praised for being both witty and non-violent, basically rewards players for consuming as much material goods possible.
katamaridamacy1.jpg the following is slightly edited analysis of the game by rylish moeller, an english prof who is very active on the techrhet listserv.

katamari damacy is an extraordinarily interesting game. the game’s lead designer had as one of his top goals to “make a game that would appeal to people who have become disillusioned with recent games and rekindle their passion.” for more, read the game’s postmortem in the december 2004 issue of gamedeveloper. my point is that most games support models of consumerism and monopoly capital through internal economies (collecting stuff, money, power-ups, etc.), gameplay (viewing objects and people as consumables as in katamari), and even at meta-levels such as this one where the lead developer wishes to rekindle lost passion for consuming (er, playing) games. while this doesn’t really surprise me, i am surprised that when we discuss what we learn by playing games, we are not (often) discussing these very interesting, ideological issues that stem from the very social relationships and cultures of production that engender the games in the first place, those that we willingly subject ourselves to as we play.
but katamari is an interesting game to discuss since it calls issues like consumerism and environmentalism to the foreground in a very overt sort of way. in another revealing comment, the game’s developer (keita takahashi) hopes that this game will motivate other developers to “create something new, without focusing on the bottom line for once.” so, we cannot really discuss games and learning and literacy without spending some time grounding that conversation in the economic and cultural environments which drive game production. my worry is not that games are too complicated or too violent or too masculine or too racist but that they are these things in order to perpetuate consumerism.

note: the point of this is not to trash katamari damacy or games in general, but rather to point out that while IQ is possibly being raised, other perhaps more significant lessons are being learned as well.

One thought on “games provide much more than a cognitive workout:everything bad is good for you, pt 3

  1. rylish moeller

    thanks for the plug, bob. and i do want to second your disclaimer that my critique of the fantastic game katamari is not to trash it, but to simply point out that games teach multiple things to multiple people.

    we just did a game study night at the utah state university’s chapter of the learning games initiative on katamari damacy and its sequel, we [heart] katamari, and one of the presiding themes was how the game made players feel good about their progress (which is measured by consuming objects or getting them to stick to your katamari). such progress is measured by your katamari growing in size, smaller objects disappearing, the ability to pick up larger objects like planes, clouds, buildings, islands, and so on. so the entire environment is built to be consumed.

    the games also seem to support a sort of commodity fetishism, which is a marxian term referring to the process whereby products become divorced from their exchange value.

    but this is not to say that we cannot learn other things from these games. we can and do.

    for more on the learning games initiative, please point your browser to

Comments are closed.