Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Abstract: DIGRA 2009

DIGRA 2009 Kingdom Hearts

Of Kingdom Hearts, Territoriality and Flow

This paper explores the relationship between companies Square-Enix and Disney as played out within the games of the Kingdom Hearts (キングダムハーツ) franchise. We contrast the relationship between these two transnational companies within the franchise's aesthetics and theoretical logics over the course of the various games. We are particularly interested in the games' own thematization and problematization of concepts of globalization, transnationalism and cultural flow. The games narratively and interactively foreground the collapse of membranes that separate worlds, producing legitimate and illegitimate modes of territoriality and intermixture.

Kingdom Hearts is a content franchise centered around a series of videogames, but also includes work in manga, novels and other media. The franchise is a collaboration between Square-Enix (a Tokyo-based videogame publisher) and Disney Interactive Studios (a California-based videogame publisher and wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company). When the player character's laconic archipelago is overrun by swarms of creatures called Heartless (ハートレス) he must flee to the "in-between" space, Traverse Town (トラバースタウン). As a refugee, the player embarks on a series of quests to identify the origin of the invasion that threatens to tear down the barriers protecting the various worlds, each representing a Disney franchise (Atlantica houses The Little Mermaid, Never Land is the world of Peter Pan, Tarzan lives in Deep Jungle, et cetera). Over the course of the games, more is revealed about the forces that are tearing down the barriers between worlds; the pressing goal of the player is to stop the invasion and protect the borders.

While the narrative of the first Kingdom Hearts game is about the retention and re-solidification of territorial boundaries (between worlds/narratives/companies/countries), in the process it creates a tertiary territory: the Kingdom Hearts franchise itself. The franchise thus acts as a place of mixture and transnationalism within a narrative and discourse of non-porous boundaries between territorial entities.

This territoriality is seen within the game in three different categories of place: the Disney franchise-worlds that the player preserves from disintegration by removing the invasive shadows; the interstitial Traverse Town which is home to refugee characters, and The World That Never Was (存在しなかった世界), a home to liminal Nobodies (ノーバディ), "non"-subjects that possess body and soul, but no heart. The ludic and fantastic metaphysics of subjects, heartless and nobodies which drive the narrative of the game are complex and richly allegorical; we will elaborate them in the full paper.

We play and refer to various English and Japanese editions of the games Kingdom Hearts (Playstation 2), Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Game Boy Advance), Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (Playstation 2), and Kingdom Hearts II (Playstation 2); issues of translation, localization and global distribution also intersect with our interpretation and analysis. Two new titles, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 (Nintendo DS) and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (Sony PSP) are planned for release over the next few months, and will be incorporated into the final article.

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