PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Bleak Moral Landscape of 'Pikmin 3'

Don’t let the cute characters fool you. Pikmin 3 is horrifying.

This column contains spoilers for Pikmin 3.

I’ve played all of the Pikmin games and have always been slightly uneasy about the message lurking underneath their playful facades. Maybe it’s revisiting the series almost 10 years later or maybe it's that the latest game more openly embraces its dark side, but Pikmin 3 has put its more disturbing aspects into focus.

The opening cutscene quickly introduces a set of flawed protagonists:

The people of Koppai haven’t been attacked by some external enemy. Instead, they’re responsible for the overpopulation and famine afflicting their planet. Facing the prospect of screwing and eating themselves to death, they look outward for an answer rather than focus on correcting the system that got them in trouble in the first place. It’s a rare thing to see in a video game and especially in a Nintendo game. The hazardous wildlife you struggle against are obstacles, but they’re not really evil. The Koppaites are both the heroes and villains of their own story.

As human as all of this behavior is, it is somewhat hypocritical to look down on them. It’s strongly implied that the mysterious planet they find, "PNF-404," is Earth, so it’s clear that humans either reached the end of their journey as a species or were forced to abandon their planet. Judging by our own responses to drought, disease, and climate change, we’re not much different than the Koppaites.

The Koppaites have a solution, but it’s an extreme one: look for answers outside their planet and find these answers, whatever the cost. There’s a single-mindedness to their mission that is both admirable and terrifying. Despite the unknown and the potential danger, the little explorers remain focused on their mission.

What’s disturbing is that this mindset is less about their willingness to makes personal sacrifices and more about their willingness to sacrifice others. The titular Pikmin are, of course, an indigenous life form that the Koppaites use to collect the material for their salvation. Little is known about the Pikmin or how they naturally fit into the ecosystem because they are immediately adopted and repurposed as an army.

Most of the research done on Pikmin is focused how they can be practically applied as tools. The data logs in the game are full of observations about their durability when exposed to hazards and their physical abilities. Their obedience is rewarded by continually tossing them into battles of attrition. Even the largest predators can be taken down if you’re willing to lose some Pikmin in the process.

The Koppaites seem to acknowledge the harshness that the Pikmin face on some level:

The underlying logic is chilling. Pikmin aren’t “soldiers.” The Koppaites are just treating them like soldiers. Despite the damage done to them, Charlie, the captain of the Koppaite expedition, decides that the ends justifies the means. The specific end being the survival of Koppai at the expense of other life forms.

Depending on how many supplies you collect, the Koppaites have won a short term victory without accomplishing a long term success. The most dedicated explorers seemingly ensure victory, but only if they achieve the most challenging of three endings, which requires collecting every piece of food on the planet:

Judging by these stats, the end of Pikmin 3 will prove to be ambiguous for most players:

Since most players fall well short of perfection, they must take solace in the fact that the Koppaites have learned “teamwork” and “planning,” which will supposedly help them address their self imposed food shortages.

But what exactly does “teamwork” and “planning” mean in this case? Based on the in-game dynamics, it means impressing a species into a makeshift army and then outsourcing dangerous and/or menial work to them, and after achieving your goal, leaving them without considering the consequences of your interference. We’re meant to assume that the Koppaites will somehow take lessons from the Pikmin, learn the error of their ways, and become sustainable farmers, but it seems just as likely that they could learn another lesson. There is a food supply on another planet and a disposable labor resource to mine it. Why change?

Pikmin 3does not offer a mechanical reason for choosing a more altruistic path. It records the Pikmin you help breed and the Pikmin who die in your service, but there are no consequences outside of cold arithmetic. If you have too few Pikmin, you’ll need to make more in order to succeed, but you’re never explicitly judged on your stewardship or your ratio of living to dead Pikmin. All that matters is the fruit that the Koppaites need to survive. More fruit is looked at as more success, regardless of the cost paid in Pikmin.

69% of the Pikmin that I plucked from the ground perished, yet I’m on the more successful side of the bell curve.

The Pikmin perform adorable gestures and produce equally adorable noises, but the game’s mechanics portray them as the raw material needed to fuel a society who pushed itself to the brink of collapse. Pikmin 3 is a game about finding an alien world, creating a disposable slave underclass out of an entire species, and then abandoning those slaves once certain requirements are meant. It’s a clinically detatched story of colonization and short-sightedness, which makes it scary.

It’s also extremely fun to play, which may be even scarier if you think about it for too long.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.