In the myth of Sisyphus the task is to roll the ball to the top without quite knowing where the top is. There’s no mark, no point, no code. Sisyphus pushes the ball up, but it either falls short or falls over the unmarked peak, and rolls back down again. In the myth of Katamari there is no such ambiguity. Each threshold is clearly marked. The analog movement of rolling the ball, continuously increasing its size, takes place within the given limits of the digital. There is an exact mark at which it flips from being too small to just the right size. The reign of topology subordinates the analog to the digital. Where once analog and digital maintained an ambiguous and continuous — analog — relation to each other and to the world, the digital now distinguishes itself sharply from the analog, subsuming the analog difference under the digital distinction. This is a transformation not merely in forms of communication or entertainment, not even in forms of power or of topos, but a change in being itself. The digital appears, finally, to install topology in the world — only in the process it has installed the world within topology. In Katamari Damacy, the world is just stuff, there for the clumping. It is King Digital’s decision on its name, size and place in the heavens that gives it being.
The screen in Katamari Damacy shows a clock in the corner, an old-fashioned analog clock with a sweeping hand. The game is an allegorithm of a double process, by which the analog movements of the gamer are transformed into the digital, but also of how the digital decisions of the game are expressed to the gamer in a familiar analog form. Gamespace subordinates all of time and space to the digital. Paul Virilio: “… space had been measured, mapped, time has become clock time, the diversity of relief, of topography, gave way to topology…”.* In topographic times the clock tower showed its face to the town over which it presided; now time is blinking digits, seen anywhere and everywhere. Just check your cellphone. The hands of the analog clock turn time into movement in space, reducing it to line that rotates on a plane. The digital clock substitutes one coded sign for another, at fixed intervals, drawing each from an abstract space where all the signs of the code exist simultaneously. All of time becomes a series of discrete, equivalent and interchangeable units. At each interval, time can be arrested and made to yield a number. Where the analog temporalized space, now the digital spatializes time.
Twist the sticks on the controller and on the screen the Prince turns the ball. Roll the ball and it gradually grows as it picks up things. The icon in the corner grows as the ball grows. One movement doubles another. The icon records, in this measuring continuum, how several movements, operating together, produce a transformation. It tracks the movement of rolling the ball, a movement that continuously transforms itself out of itself. The analog is all about relations. The digital is all about boundaries. The digital does not follow a moving line, it imposes a grid of lines which function as thresholds. The line at which the ball is deemed big enough is imposed by King Digital. In the analog, difference is a productivity in excess of itself; in the digital, distinction is a negation that comes from without. Roll the ball as much as you like, but unless is reaches the size King Digital demands within the time He allows, you fail — and are subjected to His lofty disdain. This is the limit to movement that appears time and time again.
The analog is variation along a line, a difference of more — and less. The digital is divided by a line, a distinction between either/or. Either the ball clumps enough stuff be a star or it doesn’t. The analog may vary along more than one line at once, producing the appearance of a qualitative difference. The digital introduces a code, which may produce complex relations among its terms, but all the terms are separated by the same line of absolute distinction. All the Katamari balls that are big enough become stars, each with its own name and location, but all are points in the same heavens. In this digital cosmos, everything is of the same substance. Nothing is really qualitatively different. A cow, a car, your cousin: each has its shape and color, but in the end its all the same, just stuff. In Katamari Damacy it is mostly consumer stuff, but this goes far beyond a critique of the commodity. Topology can make infinite digital distinctions. It is all just bits and all bits are equivalent. The digital separates everything into discrete segments by imposing a universal code that allows anything to be connected to anything else — topology — but prevents anything from ever being different. The cosmos of difference is what King Digital has lost, and what he commands his gamer Prince to replace with a cosmos composed of distinctions.
The analog may move backwards or forwards along a line, or even track movement across three or more dimensions, but only with the imposition of the digital code is it possible to cut the terms bounded by the digital line and rearrange them. Rather than an analog movement through space and time, the digital opens the possibility of jumping between points in a three dimensional space in which terms are arrayed along different axes and are drawn together via the code. Rather than a continuous line moving out from a point into a three dimensional space, one imagines rather a three dimensional space of fixed points, which can be called upon by the code to make up a straight line of distinct units. Because it is digital, the game can be ‘saved’. After you have successfully rolled a ball, you can save it. Saving takes place at the digital threshold. The digital creates a time that can be saved by making all of time equivalent. It is a time without violence. What is saved does not suffer from erosion or decomposition or decay. It always comes back as the same — unless the system crashes, and the digital can no longer impose its code — in which case it may never come back at all. The digital cosmos is more perfect, yet so much more fragile.