She broke through Earth’s atmosphere twice. The first time, on February 19th, 2009, she was little more than wonder and anticipation, her journey just begun and a galaxy of possibility spread out before her. The second time, only a few weeks ago, she was full of excitement and stories, her quest at its long-awaited end. She had finally done it. Girl had united our whole solar system in her embrace.
Her adventure unfolded over the last seven years in Noby Noby Boy, a relaxing curio of a game created by Keita Takahashi. Like the designer’s previous effort, Katamari Damacy, Noby Noby Boy is whimsically absurd. It had players stretching the wormlike Boy like a taffy pull, wrapping him around trees and buildings and generally goofing off. There is no way to win or lose and no explicit goals, but there is a dedicated “fart” button. This is not heavy stuff.
Above each and every Boy, though, there is Girl, with her tail anchored to the Earth and her face far out in the stars. For every meter players stretched their Boys, she stretched in kind. We were never stretching only for ourselves, we were stretching—together—for her. She reached Earth’s moon within days, and Mars not long after. Still, the universe is immense, and there were years where nothing much happened, as the gap between planets widened and the number of Noby Noby Boy players steadily dropped off. It was with astonishment and joy, then, when Girl returned home on December 14th, 2015—nearly seven years after her quest began—and loosed a note as a time capsule of our adventure together.
“I wonder if stretching could bring people closer to each other,” the note reads. This was apparently the first inkling of Noby Noby Boy and is ultimately the grand idea behind it. By reaching out as far as we could—farther than seemed possible, farther than the expanses of reason and doubt—we could learn more about ourselves. And by doing it together, collaborating on this singular idea of a unified family of planets, we could learn how we are all alike.
To call the message bittersweet would be something of an understatement. The fairy—standing in for Takahashi—compares the world within the game to the world on the outside: the world where we, the players, live. The game world is uncomplicated and predictable because it was designed that way, a mere string of zeroes and ones cobbled together into bright colors and simple shapes. There is no sadness, no shame, no violence or ill will of any kind. There is also no surprise, no great wilderness to explore, no emotional connections to be made with the world’s inhabitants, no longing, and no desire. The fairy posits that there is much to envy on either side of the screen. While we escape into the simple pleasures of Noby Noby Boy and find it relaxing and pleasant, the characters inside our televisions look out into our lives, finding them exciting and romantic.
Maybe it would be nice to live in a world like Noby Noby Boy’s, to not have to make choices about what to have for dinner or where to send your kids to school. It would be so much simpler to have everything set out before you every day, to have all your decisions made for you in advance, to just go about your programming. That’s what Girl did. She charged forward because that was all she knew how to do, and for more than six years we all kept moving forward—sometimes with her, more often without.
The fact is, Noby Noby Boy was not a hit. It was largely ignored and shrugged aside as niche for all the same reasons it will likely be remembered in years to come. Players could post footage of their game directly to YouTube. It had companion apps on iPhone and Facebook. It randomly generated new stages every time it was played, and it cost only five dollars. All these features seemed weird, unnecessary, and downright gimmicky at the time, but they’ve become commonplace for games during the time Girl has been away.
The fairy thought we would admire how easy things were in Noby Noby Boy, but that wasn’t exactly what happened. For nearly seven years, we looked into the world beyond the screen and admired not the simplicity of its inhabitants, but the complexity of its network, of its bonds, of its heart. We recognized these parts of Noby Noby Boy, these elements that we found lacking in our world, and we made them our own. Welcome home, Girl. I hope you like what we’ve done with the place.