The worldbuilding of my favourite game series, PikminPosted: August 6, 2013
I’ve been a little preoccupied lately. Pikmin 3 came out for the Wii U video game system a few days ago, after about a decade of development, and you can bet I was on that like a raccoon on a ham sandwich.
Pikmin is a series I enjoy as a video game enthusiast, but also as a writer. The Pikmin games focus on an Earth-like planet with tiny, unusual wildlife. The titular characters are these little guys, the various subspecies of Pikmin:
They’re sort of like an ant colony: cooperative and eager to serve a leader. When equally tiny alien spacemen land on the planet, they often find that they need the Pikmin’s help to survive in the harsh ecosystem. Game play is all about strategy and time management. You direct Pikmin to build bridges, collect items and fight off predatory animals. That last one can be very challenging. Pikmin are tenacious fighters but they’re at the bottom of their world’s food chain. Everything eats Pikmin.
I think what I love most about Pikmin games is the sense of genuine wonder. Fantasy fans definitely marvel at the dragons and beasts they see, but the characters actually facing those creatures don’t find it marvellous. They’re used to their world’s beasts — either that or the beast is barely even the point. The character is simply grimacing and pulling a sword, wondering how they’ll get past this obstacle. Fantasy can be weirdly jaded toward its own amazing details. I like fantasy video games with creatures and magic, but the creatures are often just so many units to be slaughtered.
Whereas in Pikmin’s science fiction setting, there are people in space suits noticing every animal and commenting on it. Each surprise is noted and reacted to. Even common Earth plants look new when you’re seeing them from the characters’ inch-tall perspective. The staple character of the series, Captain Olimar, is a deliveryman with a deep personal love of biology: he opines at length on the plants and animals he’s discovering. Sometimes he’s unsure whether he’ll live to see another day but he’s still eagerly documenting an insect he just discovered. The wildlife often get Latin genus names, and commentary how they evolved their particular traits.
There’s even a treasure hunt factor when the space explorers mention their own culture. Since the explorers are focusing their attention on the Pikmin planet, they’re not exactly turning to the player and explaining their homeworld. They reveal themselves in offhand tidbits. Captain Olimar stated in the first Pikmin game that oxygen is “poisonous” to his species, and I’ve been trying to figure out his physiology ever since. If he doesn’t breathe oxygen, what does he breathe? I’d love to know. Pikmin 3 stated that Olimar’s race is vegetarian, and I the writer thought this was enormously exciting information. (Contradictory with previous information, too. The intrigue thickens!) I’m as curious about the space explorers as they are about the Pikmin world — the world we’re exploring together.
I believe that video games are a genuine artistic media. They can create worlds for us to walk around in, and tell stories for us to laugh and cry over. They can pose weighty questions, or just show us something cool we’ve never seen. Pikmin is a great example of what I mean. I’m not just playing some time-wasting game until dawn: I’m rolling around in everything I love about speculative fiction.
- Flashback post: A magic spell by any other name (heidicvlach.com)
- Miyamoto Says He Is Busy With His New IP (mynintendonews.com)
- Aligare wildlife: the basilisk (heidicvlach.com)