Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Lady Geek Girl & Friends. I hope all of our American readers enjoyed their long holiday. I know I did. I spent my break replaying an old fave: the first Pikmin game, and the only one I’ve ever played, which came out for the GameCube way back in 2001. Playing as the character Captain Olimar, who just recently crashed on an alien planet, the purpose of the game is to find all the missing parts of his spaceship before his life support runs out in thirty days. Along his journey, Olimar discovers Pikmin, tiny woodland creatures that he can use to accomplish his tasks, and with all this in mind, my younger self devoured this game the first chance I got. It had some decent animation, space stuff, and adorable little monsters for my main character to enslave. I loved Pikmin so much that it wasn’t until going back and replaying it this week that I realized it was the only game I ever bought for the GameCube. That’s right, I stole my brother’s super nice gaming system for the purpose of playing one game. I’m not sure we ever owned any other games for it. Sixteen years later, that hasn’t changed, and looking back, I regret nothing. To this day, Pikmin remains one of my favorite games, and it made buying a GameCube worth the price alone.
Pikmin is not much more complicated than what I just mentioned. Overall, playing as Olimar is a fun adventure that takes strategy in order to grow your Pikmin population, defeat monsters, and collect spaceship debris. You’ve got thirty days and thirty parts to find, and if you worshiped this game the same as I did to the point of being able to memorize where every single part was due to a couple dozen playthroughs, you could find every single one of those parts with multiple days left to spare.
Looking back, I can’t say that Pikmin is the most progressive game I’ve ever played. It has some of the same problems as Pokémon—you find a bunch of trusting creatures, use them for killing monsters and manual labor, and then leave the planet behind once you can. The Pikmin are prey creatures that need you to help them navigate their world, or other, larger animals eat them. So that alone, immediately, didn’t sit particularly well with me. I don’t think this is an intended message at all in the game—after all, Olimar doesn’t enslave the Pikmin on purpose; they willingly follow him. There are also a few sequels where Olimar returns to the planet and discovers even more Pikmin, but I haven’t played those games and I probably never will, so I can’t really comment on them. You could easily interpret the Pikmin as empathetic creatures helping Olimar out of the goodness of their hearts, but I mean, a shitton of them die so just one guy can live, and Olimar totally uses them.
Ethical questions aside, Pikmin still stuck with me through my youth, and even replaying it, I found that this issue is not enough to override my love for the game. When I was first introduced to Pikmin, I was just starting to notice and really get annoyed by gender in video games. Very few female characters were there for me to relate to—instead, their designs were geared toward titillating straight male gamers. The end result was a bunch of women with unrealistic and oversexualized bodies, designed first and foremost to be objects and not characters. While most of the male characters I played as also had unrealistic bodies, they weren’t for me either. They were male power fantasies and, suffice it to say, I was feeling alienated.
Pikmin only has one gendered character, Captain Olimar, but even though it’s apparent that Olimar is a dude, the game didn’t alienate me. To start, Olimar isn’t human, but a tiny, thumbsized alien with large cartoonish features. The lack of other characters meant that there were no women to needlessly sexualize, and even if they were there, I doubt the art style, which is chibified and cartoonish, would allow for it. As for Olimar, he isn’t a power fantasy. He’s just some dude in a spacesuit trying not to die, while simultaneously geeking out about all the new and exciting scientific discoveries the Pikmin world affords him. Looking back, Pikmin was totally made with male gamers in mind, but it was made in such a way that female gamers wouldn’t feel alienated and could enjoy the story just as much. There are a lot of reasons I like Pikmin, but this is definitely at the top of the list, and the game provided a safe space from all the sexist bullshit in other games that I was playing at the time, such as as Grand Theft Auto and even Final Fantasy.
I wouldn’t call Pikmin the most engaging game out there. You could easily beat it in less than one real-time day, and as I said before, the story isn’t all that complicated either. It’s just a simple game for a quick, fun experience, and to be honest, that’s all it needs to be. Pikmin provides an escape from current events for a while, without getting too wound up in suspense or plot arcs. The game will always have a special place in my heart, and if any of you have the chance to play it, I would take it.