Pray for Pikmin: The Sad, Short Lives of Nintendo’s Hardest-Working Little Guys

Games Features Pikmin 4
Pray for Pikmin: The Sad, Short Lives of Nintendo’s Hardest-Working Little Guys

Pikmin 4 reminds us of what has always been true: Pikmin are born tear jerkers and perfect victims. These tiny little walking flowers grind their way through lives of service to otherworldly masters who dispose of them like so much trash, cheerfully marching to oblivion to scrounge up whatever litter catches their owner’s eyes or to sacrifice themselves to the deadly plant-beast mutants that beset their prison planet. When their mercifully brief lives come to a close, their visible souls drift skyward as they let out a death moan, a moment that always ends in tears no matter how many times you see it. Despite their tiny voices and strong personalities, Pikmin are a resource and not a community, the game forces upon us; we’re encouraged to treat them as expendable, especially the common ones that can be grown with pellets, and then immediately made to feel guilty about our poor leadership whenever one dies. It’s heartless and cruel, but so are we by prioritizing our own needs over their safety and security. It’s also, intentionally or not, a grim precis of what we all have to look forward to. The Pikmin’s life is sad, short, and defined by toil, and ultimately so are ours. Shit. At least they’re really cute. 

I am not really cute. I also have never died at work—or, if I have, the afterlife is remarkably like the one that came before it—despite wishing I had before. Who hasn’t had to work through gut-wrenching stress or soul-destroying boredom, that combination of fear, worry, and weariness that is the default mode so many of us live in? We hate our jobs but are frightened of what will happen if they end. We resent having to devote so much of our lives to people and places that view us as faceless, interchangeable parts that will inevitably have to be replaced, who reserve the right to upend our entire existence for any reason whatsoever. I’ve known the grind of the Pikmin, but never really felt the cheer or grace they maintain in the face of their ultimate irrelevance. The closest was when I sold frozen yogurt to suburban kids after swim meets; at least there I could actually see firsthand people enjoying the commodity whose production was a piece of my own death.

That familiarity is why we feel for these Pikmin when they expire at our command. But there’s also a sense of relief that it’s them and not us, along with the casual sadism of despoiling creatures so adorable and pure. We sympathize with the Pikmin, but we know we’re not their equal, and take malicious joy in the rare opportunity of being an all-powerful boss with life or death control over them. It’s fun to be a god, even if only through a screen.

Through it all Pikmin seem completely unbothered by their brutal lives, ready and willing to do literally anything we ask them to. That might make them seem brave or unworried, two things we should all aspire to be, and yet we shouldn’t aspire to be Pikmin. We might have bosses, but we don’t have masters, not the way Pikmin do. We shouldn’t throw it all away because the people we work for ask us to. We need to stand up for ourselves, support our fellow workers, and let the people in control know they don’t own us, and that they can’t toss us en masse onto the back of a weird bug-vegetable hybrid, and that we won’t carry that sponge or rubber duck or plastic cocktail sword back to their spaceship . 

The Pikmin need the same. They have no work-life balance. They are work, purely and completely, with no real life to speak of. They deserve better. They deserve not to be regularly, systematically crushed under the boot of their oppressors. Despite their cheerful devotion to work, Pikmin need something that’ll keep their best interests in sight, something that will protect them even if they don’t realize they need protecting—-just like the people who make videogames, who routinely work extreme overtime for months in a row, jeopardizing their own physical, mental, and emotional health, along with their relationships, to serve uncaring overlords who view them solely as numbers on a spreadsheet. Ultimately every Pikmin game has one single, overriding message, and it’s one we should all be able to relate to: Pikmin need a goddamned union.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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