Christmas, Consumerism, and Katamari

If you’ve ever played Katamari Damacy, you know at least one thing about it: it’s weird. In fact, it’s one of the OG “weird games”, back before it was trendy to make your game absolutely bonkers. It’s filled with odd character models, an absolutely bizarre storyline, and a surprisingly bomb soundtrack. But what you might not know is that the Katamari series actually has a much less weird and much more grounded thought process behind it: it’s about consumerism.

In an interview at the Game Developers Conference in 2009, reported here by Eurogamer, Katamari creator Keita Takahashi said that he saw the game as a comment on a “consumption society.” It’s not hard to see if you’ve played, or even just watched, the game. Katamari Damacy’s core gameplay revolves around collecting absolutely anything and everything you can find scattered around the map, eventually causing your titular katamari to grow to colossal proportions. On its own, it seems like a fun gimmick, and it certainly makes for a unique gaming experience. But paired with Takahashi’s interview, Katamari’s fun colors and J-pop soundtrack take on a slightly darker tone.

I picked up Katamari Damacy REROLL on the Switch eShop’s Black Friday sale this year (which now feels deeply ironic), because I loved what little I’d been able to play on Game Pass before it was removed earlier this year. And while I think it’s a ridiculously fun game, there is something to be said for the slightly unnerving nature in which you grow into an all-consuming ball of material goods. You might start out picking up coins and matches, but eventually you’ll be slurping up dogs, sheep, and even people, who cry out in fear as you do so. It’s easy to laugh off since the rest of the game is so ridiculously over-the-top, but there’s something more there that just feels…odd.

Like I said, I picked up the game on the eShop during the Black Friday sale, meaning I’ve been playing it just when that “consumption society” is at its most ravenous. It certainly seems like no accident that just after celebrating a day literally centered around treasuring our blessings, we set out to acquire more stuff. All this leads up to the day we celebrate God’s gift to humanity: the birth of His Son. The entire season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, is centered around thankfulness and remembering our blessings, but instead, through some cruel twist of fate, we get swept up in a katamari of our own, dragging those around us kicking and screaming on a quest for…something.

I realize that I’m really not treading any new ground here. We’ve all heard the “reason for the season” speeches, and we all get that the consumerism surrounding Christmas is often toxic and destructive. But I think the greatest danger of this kind of consumerism is simple: we all think we’re immune to it.

“I don’t go Black Friday shopping.” “I’m not obsessed with the next new thing.” “I’ve never trampled someone in a Target.” These are all things I tell myself all the time when I see the ridiculous lengths some people will go to in order to snag that deal. But if consumerism didn’t have its hooks in all of us, then advertising wouldn’t be the multibillion-dollar industry that it is. True, we may not center our lives around getting the newest iPhone or buying a new dress every other week, but there are subtler ways in which the treasures of this world seduce us.

When was the last time you opened your home to someone in need? When was the last time you truly gave money to someone who asked, without asking or wondering what they would do with it? When was the last time you stopped a busy day to spend some of your precious, precious time with a hurting friend? These are questions I’m asking myself, because these are all ways in which stuff can consume our waking thoughts. And these aren’t radical concepts, either. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:41-43)

When was the last time you were willing to sacrifice comfort and stability for the sake of someone who needed you? Do we actually take Christ at His word when we read the Sermon on the Mount? It’s easy to take lightly since it’s made its way into pop Christianity, but the Sermon on the Mount is downright terrifying when you take it to its final conclusion. Jesus asks everything of His followers, and for a world that’s hurting as much as ours does, we must look like fools for not seeing what’s right in front of our noses. As Skye Jethani puts it in his book What If Jesus Was Serious?: “What if much of the culture’s judgment of Christians isn’t the result of obeying Jesus, but the result of Christians ignoring Him?”

Jesus continues: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Do I actually act like I believe this? Do I actually act like my treasure, and my ultimate security and hope, is in heaven? I’m not asking if I say I believe it, but do I act like it? Again, as Jethani puts it: “We may say that Jesus is our Lord, but that alone does not make it so. The true lord of our life is revealed by our actions, not by our declarations. If we are to enter Jesus’ kingdom, He must actually be our King, and if we persistently live in a manner that denies His authority, no amount of verbal praise and exaltation will make Him so.”

How often do I lift my hands and spout out how good He is, only to go home and spend my time absolutely consumed by my comfort? How often do I ignore the cries of hurting people, of a hurting nation, because my comfort is at stake? To a God Who gave everything to be with us, these vain exhalations and praises are as ridiculous as the situations in Katamari Damacy, and far less amusing, I’m sure.

I’m not sure where this lands for you. For me, it makes me wonder why the church has been absent from the cultural issues of the day, merely because we have written off “the world” and its inhabitants as a lost cause unless they happen to stumble their way into a church. We, as the church, must step back and ask ourselves if our lives are based on really, truly placing our treasure in Heaven, or if it’s based on protecting what we already have, perhaps even under the guise of protecting others. I know it’s a trap I can fall into myself.

Christmas is a season of hope, joy, love, and peace. None of this is meant to shame or degrade anyone. There is indeed a place for wisdom and discernment even in our generosity, and there is a place for self-care and ensuring that you are well enough to give wholeheartedly to others. None of this denies that. But I want to speak to the impulse to protect our own stuff, not even material things, but our state of being. If Jesus was serious, there’s far more to this Christianity thing than putting a 20 in the tithe bucket every Sunday. What would happen if our homes, businesses, cars, computers, time, energy, absolutely everything was dedicated to Him and Him alone? What if we indeed had no concern for our future, or even our safety, instead putting everything into a radical hope in Jesus, His command to love our neighbor, and His assurance that His burden is easy and His yoke is light?

Jesus is a paradoxical teacher. He demands absolutely everything, but still says that we will find rest in Him. He urges us to give everything, and assures us that, in doing so, we will gain everything. I don’t know what that means, and quite frankly, I’m terrified to find out. But I do know that the ever-snowballing katamari of stuff won’t satisfy. It will simply get bigger and bigger, and there’s no King of All Cosmos that will rainbow it out of our way. But if we let the King of All Kings break us free, then who knows what lies in store?

I will continue to enjoy Katamari Damacy REROLL precisely because it is weird and ridiculous. It’s my favorite part of the game. But Takahashi’s comments will always be in the back of my mind as I play it, and I actually don’t think that ruins the game at all. Instead, it adds some welcome depth to an otherwise bizarre experience, and it’s a welcome reminder that, in the heat of the Christmas season, there really is only one lasting gift. So take some time to really give Him your all. And do take some time to enjoy the blessings He has given you this Christmas. Then ask Him for strength, wisdom, and opportunities to share those blessings with others.

Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

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