Do Pikmin have to die?

My four-year-old son was very clear on this topic: If that’s how it is, then he will not be involved. He was genuinly mad at me for taking such poor care of the Pikmin and refused to watch me play this killer game any longer. It’s not easy to find video games that keep my kids engaged but don’t challenge their minds too much.

My already seven-year-old daughter was also not happy about yellow and red Pikmin miserably drowning every now and then. Pikmin being eaten with gleeful bites by the fauna of the planet Captain Olimar was stranded on were just as bad. I had to keep promising to be careful, but caution is not enough with Pikmin. You also have to be skillful, and perhaps just endure that it’s not always possible to safely navigate 100 scurrying characters across narrow bridges in a 21-year-old game.

She accepted all that, because whenever a Pikmin clumsily tumbled or waved cheerfully or expressed some other form of cuteness, it compensated for the painful losses. Tracking down the spaceship parts, exploring new areas, and triumphing over a particularly nasty bug did the rest to keep her at my side for the whole adventure. Together we found all 30 spaceship parts and were able to repair Olimar’s spaceship.

When facing the final boss, Emperor Bulblax, who immediately crushed or slurped away heaps of Pikmin, a burning question burst out of her: Why did the Pikmin voluntarily put themselves in danger? She placed the responsibility for the death of so many Pikmin not on me or Olimar, but on the Pikmin themselves. Olimar had not forced them to do anything (even though he totally has control over them, but I withheld that objection). I could watch her thoughts forming as she talked: if the Pikmin accepted that some of them would die, then they must gain something from helping Olimar. Maybe they saw a chance to make their home safer with Olimar’s help. The concept of collective and individuals seized her. Without being able to detach herself from the sad fate of individual Pikmin, she was struck by the realization that they were taking a tremendous risk for the good of the group. Could she do the same thing? How could anyone? All of a sudden, the Pikmin seemed unbelievably brave.

Then she spoke of the bee drones we had been given last year by an acquaintance to feed to our chickens. We got wooden frames full of combs from which drones hatched. They were not needed by the colony and had no task and no future. The individual is irrelevant. If real animals die for the community, then maybe it’s OK for Pikmin to die too!?

After a few attempts, I was successful and the emperor dropped the last part of the spaceship. We talked a bit more about insects and the adventure we had experienced, while the Pikmin carried the last part back to the landing site. Then the spaceship was complete. My daughter was getting noticeably uneasy. Couldn’t Olimar stay a little longer? And enjoy the peace that had finally been established? No, his supply of breathable air would run out in a few days. Couldn’t the Pikmin come with Olimar? No, they wouldn’t leave their home despite the dangerous beetles. Besides, I suspected that their onions weren’t cut out for interstellar transit.

The Pikmin lined up and performed a farewell dance. Olimar’s rocket took off. I put the controller aside and put my arms around my daughter, who was crying bitterly. Parting is harder than death.

Pikmin, which was released for the GameCube in 2001, got a sequel, that is waiting for my daughter and me on the shelf. In it, Olimar returns to the Pikmin to track down valuable items for his employer. It was no consolation – if Olimar flew back home without the Pikmin at the end of that game, too my daughter would join my son’s boycott.

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