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The Art of Pikmin

Introduction

11 days since proper sleep:

Given the trend of the last couple articles I’ve written, it is apparent that my inspiration comes well after sundown. Just last night I found myself watching the gameplay of one of my favorite childhood games, Pikmin. And just tonight, I find myself sitting in a library past midnight deciphering the real world significance of the walking vegetation.

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-Nintendo has released two sequels since the 2001 original.-

What is “Pikmin”?

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the game stars tiny protagonist, Olimar whose mission, after crash landing in unmarked territory, is to gather the missing pieces of his rocket ship in 30 days. Upon regaining consciousness, he stumbles upon a structure he immediately calls an onion, which then releases and plants a seed into the ground. Olimar plucks the plant out of the dirt and unveils a species new to him. He names it, “Pikmin.” This is where the game begins.

Captain_Olimar_and_Pikmin_-_Super_Smash_Bros._for_Nintendo_3DS_and_Wii_UFor the rest of the game the player controls Olimar and, through him, the Pikmin too. As Olimar, the player must lead the Pikmin around the forest and direct them to pick up random objects, attack larger predators and break down walls. The more objects the player collects and brings to the onion, the more Pikmin are created, creating a cycle as the game progresses. Every night, with onions close behind, Olimar hovers in his rocket. In this time, he waits for daylight and ponders his new findings, growing relationship with the environment and his future. (Much like myself lying in bed).

“I have somehow managed to launch the Dolphin, but I was surprised to see the Onion lift off with me. Perhaps the Pikmin cannot survive overnight on the planet’s surface. Or have they merely decided to join me for other reasons? Either way, it seems they will help me again, tomorrow.” – Olimar’s Voyage Log

 

Pikmin and the real world

Out of curiousity I researched the origin of the game. To my amazement, but not my surprise, I found that the game is inspired by developer, Shigeru Miyamoto’s interest in gardening. What impressed me the most was this quote from Miyamoto discussing the concept of teamwork in Pikmin:

“When we think about video games, we always have the idea of a start and a goal, and it’s like a race between individual players: who can make it and who won’t?” he says. “And I thought, ‘Why does it have to be a competition? Why can’t everyone just move together in the same direction, carrying things as a team? Who made these rules in the first place, anyway?'”

The space in this game only allows for one player at a time. However, that player must still work with the Pikmin to survive the 30 days. Since there is only a finite amount of seeds and time to produce them, the player is rewarded for the careful use Pikmin and punished for reckless behavior. This restraint calls for both the player and Pikmin to reach the finish line together.

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With these concepts in mind, we, gamers with critical thought, can dissect the meaning and real world implications of the game. Considering the central theme of nature and PNF 404’s similarities to Earth, it is only natural (no pun intended) to quickly identify a link between the gameplay and its message about the environment.

At first glance the game may seem anthropocentric. It does involve a human-like being utilizing nature in order to progress its own agenda. However, through Olimar’s journal entries we learn that Pikmin are unable to maintain their population and thrive in their current terrain without his guidance, revealing that their relationship is quite symbiotic.

"When I see the Pikmin engaged in fierce battle with other creatures of this world, I often grow uneasy wondering why they never attack me... Could it be that they actually view me as a parental figure? A strange, disturbing thought..." -Olimar’s Voyage Log

Olimar needs the Pikmin in order to gather his parts, and the Pikmin need Olimar to lead them and multiply safely. The interdependency of this relationship can be observed within the first four days of the game (video below). Within this time span, Olimar is able to collect a total of six parts for his ship and help the Pikmin population grow ten times larger than it was on the first day.

Olimar’s role can be interpreted as a symbol for humankind and the Pikmin as nature. Though we can use our planets resources to fuel our progression, we must consider nature not as tool, but as a companion if we want both entities to flourish. Through the game’s use of setting and team driven gameplay, as well as the rhetoric of the story told through the different interactions in each level, the voyage log and the outside interviews with Miyamoto, the messages of harmony and cooperation are portrayed perfectly.

The rhetoric of video games

The idea that video games can also achieve the status of art is as viable as it has ever been. Although this is not true for every video game, we, as critical thinkers, are able to analyze and know when to draw connections to the games we pick up. This is important because at their core video games are only meant for play. However, if we step back and examine their subtleties as if they were art, we can derive significant meaning from their designs and compare them with our own truths in a real world context.

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Similar to art, my interpretation of Pikmin is not the only reasonable one. It could be about exploration or obedience or anything else. What is notable is that the game, much like others, is conducive to the act interpretation. And though my thoughts on environmentalism are no different now than they were before this analysis, I can say my ability to detect and evaluate video games on a new level has grown (pun intended). End log.

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If you have any interpretations of your own or any other comments please post them below. Also check out our other articles. Thank you!

Written by Renz Lorenzo

Renz is a big fan of multiplayer party games. Some of his favorites series' are Ratchet and Clank, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros, Pikmin and Mario Party. He loves playing with others and occasionally gets loud during intense moments of play.

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