Press Play to Start: ‘Katamari Damacy’ reminds us of what makes esports so great

It’s finally the end of the semester.

Who would’ve thought that we would make it this far? Looking back, there were so many uncertainties and obstacles we had to face. I am sure you, dear reader, also had your own hurdles to overcome. So be sure to pat yourself on the back for all that you have managed to accomplish. It’s not always easy to be kind to ourselves, especially when we think we are the only ones struggling.

In light of this honest discussion, allow me to peel back the curtain a bit and talk about what helped me navigate through these unprecedented times: “Katamari Damacy.” 

Yes, that game where your entire objective is to make a ball bigger by rolling up different items under a certain time limit. No, I am not joking.

Trust me, I, too, once scoffed at my friend when he recommended this game to me. 

At the time, I was about to move back to the United States after spending almost two years inside my childhood home in Brazil. My anxiety was through the roof, and all I did to treat it was turning off my brain and grinding out a plethora of forgettable gacha games, a process that made me sleep an average of four hours a night. 

Still, I held my friend’s suggestion in disdain. After all, what could a game as simple as that provide me?

The answer? Fun.

It sounds almost too obvious to be true, but at the time, it felt like a grand revelation. I was so used to being in a dark place emotionally that I didn’t even consider the possibility of leaving it. 

But, when I started playing Katamari, I finally realized how miserable I had been for the longest time. Just like how you only realize you’re hungry once food is laying right in front of you. 

This “discovery” sparked my curiosity, and I started to research about the game’s development. In the process, I found out that “Katamari’s” creator, Keita Takahashi, has a very unique perspective on video games, aiming to transmit happiness in almost a childish way. 

Perhaps what surprised me the most was finding out he, too, was struggling. In an interview with GamesIndustry, Takahashi expressed doubts about the ability of “Katamari” to make people happier, even as the game gained critical and commercial success. Before the launch of “Wattam,” one of his most recent games, he expressed similar feelings and wondered if anyone would enjoy the game. 

That was what finally woke me up.

For some reason, I expected the creator of these bright, cheerful games to be an equally happy person. But, the more I read about Takahashi, the more I understood that his games were closer to symbols of defiant joy in a sea of struggle than a product of baseless optimism. 

Even though he faces his own issues, he still does what only he can do and constantly tries to make the world a better place through his creations. 

For me, that is nothing short of inspirational.

Naturally, this made me re-evaluate not only my overall approach toward life but to esports themselves. Since most esports scenes are heavily saturated with business discussions, partnerships and gaudy optics, it is quite easy to develop a distaste for it. But doing would mean forgetting what made these scenes big in the first place: the sheer amount of fun people have when playing the game. 

Regardless of what your tastes are, there is likely a game out there that you would enjoy watching someone play. And even if it happens to have a small following, odds are you will still get some fun out of it, even if that comes from joining the professional scene yourself. 

After all, video games are always meant to be played, and having a small competitive scene only means the barrier to entry is low. 

But perhaps the biggest takeaway Takahashi’s perspective can provide for us is a better understanding of what makes esports so unique. Because while all professional sports rely on people having fun, only in esports can we name those who have actually crafted that experience from the ground up. 

If it were not for the developers who have dedicated hours of their lives to creating their games, hoping to inspire joy into the lives of others, none of this professional world would have been possible. 

I hope that, you, dear reader, see this column not only as a sentimental analysis of what makes esports great at its core but also as an invitation to genuinely explore this world. While it definitely may seem daunting at first, it is by far one of the most rewarding experiences in professional sports. 

Even if you do not feel any desire to sit down and watch a gaming tournament, I still suggest that you give video games an earnest try. You will soon find out that they have the potential to truly be life-changing
experiences. Once you do, be sure to let me know. Because while we may each enjoy different types of games, we certainly do not have to be lonely rolling stars. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a junior writing about esports. His column, “Press Play to Start,” ran every other Wednesday.