Sisyphus, founder of Corinth, father of Odysseus, founder of the Ismithian Games, is best known for a most cruel and unusual punishment, meted out to him by the Gods. He was to roll a huge stone up the mountainside, watch as it rolled back down again, and then start all over again. Nobody knows what he did that required such a punishment. Perhaps it was for revealing the designs of the Gods to mortals, for revealing the forms beyond the mere particulars of mortal life would, in topical times be a serious crime. Or perhaps, more prosaically, it was for his habit of murdering seafarers and travelers. Topical space, where each law, each God, is bordered by zones of indifference, would surely be troubled by such a transgression of the rules of ‘xenia’, of the gift one owes to strangers. Anne Carson: “The characteristic features of xenia, namely its basis in reciprocation and its assumption of perpetuity, seem to have woven a texture of personal alliances that held the ancient world together.” Or so it was in the age of the topic.

In a topographic world, Sisyphus is not a victim, he is a hero. He revels in this world from which the Gods and their intangible forms have fled. His labor is everyone’s labor, pointless, repetitive, endless, shoulder to the wheel of fortune. Indifference is no longer a matter of the vague borders between spaces, but of the useless repetition of time, each moment of which is just as pointless as space in topical times was unmarked. Albert Camus: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.”

And in our topological world? Where is Sisyphus now? Using the analog sticks on the game controller, you move a little character who rolls a ball. The ball is called a Katamari, and the game is called Katamari Damacy. As the Katamari ball rolls, things stick to it. At first it is small things that stick, household items picked up off the living room floor. The ball gets bigger as things stick to it, and so it can pick up bigger and bigger things. To move the ball, you twizzle the little analog joysticks. The whole game seems analog. Push the sticks forward, and the character rolls the ball forward. Pull the sticks back and the character rolls the ball back. Turn left, turn right — it feels as though the variable pressure on the sticks translates into variable movements. This is analog — a relation of continuous variation. Only it isn’t really. It is a digital game. The game converts the continuous movement of your thumbs on the sticks into a digital code.

The game is a computer. It turns movements into decisions — back/forwards, left/right, stop/start. A string of algorithms calculates the outcomes of each movement. If you roll your ball over a small object, you pick it up. If you roll your ball over one that is too big, you collide with it, throwing off a few things you have already gathered. To the game it’s a simple decision — big/small. To the gamer, it’s something to be learned by trial and error. Oops! Too big. As you roll your ball around, making it bigger and bigger, an icon in the corner of the screen shows your progress. There’s your ball, and there is a circle that shows the size it must grow to if you are to win this level. It grows, gradually, incrementally, but at some point — a decision. Big enough! It is as if there is an analog progression up to a digital threshold.

In Katamari Damacy, you are a Prince send down to earth by a careless King who destroyed the heavens. The balls you roll up are offerings to him. If the balls are big enough he replaces the stars in the sky with them. Perhaps it is an allegory for the relation that holds now between the analog and the digital. The twizzling of the sticks, the rolling up of the balls, is the analog labor of remaking the world of appearances within a topology that recognizes only the digital. The analog is just a way of experiencing the digital. The decision on whether something can appear or not appear is digital. You, and your character the Prince, are confined to the analog, rolling from topic to topic. The King commands the digital heavens. He decides what point in the heavens each ball is to occupy.

(9) Comments for 076.
posted: 5/22/2006

having only read a few pages…

katamari as sisyphusian torment AND redemption! king of all cosmos as existential smackdown! i love it!

McKenzie Wark responds to jackson ninly
posted: 5/22/2006

well i’m glad. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but i think games are interesting and important enough to warrant speculation on the big themes.

posted: 5/25/2006

Now this is good: Suddenly you (we) are making some great connections
Olympian Games – the great competition: Umm Time for coffee

Perhaps time to declare an interest:
45 Years on this planet and I still haven’t figured out what the game IS.

For a while I thought it was “be clever”, “worship god” and “be nice to people”. Then I realised (too late) it was “produce wealth and security”.

Now I think it is “Find happiness, be creative” but I struggle.

Along the way an acident happened and (with more than a little help!) I brought a new life, a daughter, now 10 years old, into the game. Unplanned game strategy and the best thing that ever happened to me.

The “happiness” game isn’t working for me right now. Can I say that? Will you all judge me as a crap player as a result?

McKenzie Wark responds to s
posted: 7/13/2006

I know how you feel, S. And what do we tell our kids? I thought my parents hadn’t figured out the game but surely i would. NOw i’m kicking that one down to the next generation…

Max Merenda responds to s
posted: 3/7/2007

I must have rolled too much int. skill in this game for it burdains me to surrounded idiotic fools… (14 years old)

posted: 10/24/2006

Interesting how the tale first starts off as a curse, but by playing the game and unlocking more levels or trying to beat a previous score, it becomes a completely voluntary thing! Not so much of a curse any more lol

posted: 12/21/2006

I roll therefore I am.

posted: 12/29/2006

Wow, just Wow. You tie in our game with the myth of Sisyphus. We are honored. For that, we’ll make the Prince roll a katamari for you.

McKenzie Wark responds to The King of All Cosmos
posted: 1/3/2007

Writing theory is like rolling Katamari. Its all in the clumping… altho’ usually it feels more like Sisyphus…

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(10) Comments for 080.
posted: 5/23/2006

“you are a Prince send down to earth”

Editor check!

posted: 5/25/2006

That is not really a matter of concern for the editors, dear Ian. Proofreaders are for catching typos. Besides, any real editor would have sooner pointed out this manuscript’s ridiculous, hopelessly obtuse, faux pretensious pandering to the video game community. “Gee guys, do you remember playing Game X? That was really heavy.” Mark: a spade is a spade.

I liked the hacker manifesto. This doesn’t have substance…your medium here is so ridiculous and intrusive–it’s a pastel trainwreck. Take some time off, and teach a little. Writing intelligently is really difficult, and I salute you for occasionally doing it.

McKenzie Wark responds to toad
posted: 5/26/2006

harsh, dude

posted: 6/1/2006

Katamari Damacy sometimes strikes me as *total* metaphor — all about that unreality of reality; everything is reference — note the cut scenes that register key points in the game arc within an anime-style “everyday life.” Everything is connected, rolled up in a ball. “I want to wad you up into my life,” as one of the lyrics puts it. Right. Life as *getting stuff*… or life as “rolling,” which young informants tell me refers to Ecstasy…

Metaphor? Metaphor on drugs!

McKenzie Wark responds to sam
posted: 6/1/2006

This sense of what you call ‘total metaphor’ is what makes it a candidate for the status of great work of art.

I don’t entirely subscribe to the idea of the ‘great work of art’. One should undercut it sometimes — and here i try to do that in the State of Emergency and SimEarth chapters. Both of which fail aestehtically, for interesting reasons.

posted: 6/18/2006

The cutest game yet and look at the barbs it elicits in the comments!

posted: 9/25/2006

I totally agree with the above comment.

When I think of Katamari Damacy, I’m reminded of simple, carefree pleasures. it’s like being a kid again. Bright…happy…and just plain fun. I think that’s the whole message of Katamari. Just keep things simple.

posted: 10/25/2006

I feel that a lot of this is pompous nonsense that tries too hard to put a meaning into games that very well may not exist. I skimmed through some of the passages and found myself completely disinterested in the text. While it’s interesting to speculate and compare themes of video games to existing stories, but I think that what a lot of this is is pushing it too far.

McKenzie Wark responds to Anonymous
posted: 10/25/2006

I skimmed through your comment but i decided it was also just pompous nonsense.

Milo responds to McKenzie Wark
posted: 2/10/2007

This may be a place for intelligent discussion, but I simply cannot resist: Oh snap!

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