Kong Family Values

DKC 1 and 2 have a surprisingly interesting narrative to me. (DKC 3 is included to a lesser extent; I'll get back to this later) In broad terms, DK and then the larger Kong family are the hero of the story and the Kremlings the villain, but the manner in which this is handled is odd, particularly for a video game narrative.

Donkey Kong isn't helping anyone else, he isn't saving the day. The Kremlings stole his banana hoard, and he's getting it back. No one else benefits from his actions. Part and parcel of this: the Kremlings aren't harming anyone else. Their villainy is personal, not general.

And unlike a lot of villainous forces out there, the Kremlings aren't really Othered. They're not a force external to polite society, here to tear asunder our way of life: they're bad neighbors who could stand to be better-behaved. They're the kids who play their music too loud and don't put in the needed effort at school. They're the irritating neighbor who asks to borrow your lawnmower and takes months to get around to actually returning it. Etc.

One of the most blatant examples of this is how Wrinkly's Kong College in DKC2 is handled; Wrinkly's dialogue and the Kong College background make it clear Kremlings actually go to Wrinkly's school, and it's just they're bad students who often skip class and perform poorly even when they bother to show up. This being while you're in the middling of running down K. Rool to rescue Donkey Kong, since he's been kidnapped!

The overall picture is interesting, because this is more a story about good family values vs hooliganism than a grand story of good and evil. The Kongs are productive and well-behaved citizens, but they're not particularly heroic; Donkey Kong is pretty consistently depicted across DK media as someone who'd really rather just kick back and relax, and it's just those dang Kremlings keep stealing his bananas, or kidnapping him, or whatever. He represents less a moral ideal to strive for and more an ordinary ideal; most people would like to have a sufficiently comfortable life that they can get away with just relaxing periodically. DK doesn't have a job per se to justify this attitude, but that's where being a gorilla and having a banana hoard comes into play: having a stockpile of food and a place to sleep is believable as being all he needs to feel secure.

And while the Kongs are going out and beating up the Kremlings to correct this injustice, which can be taken as shades of 'middle class people beating up lower class people' the overall framework of the games tends to treat the actual physically-beating-each-other-up portion of things very playfully. We're not meant to take this seriously as violence, but rather as a relatively visceral representation of conflict resolution.

It's particularly interesting to me how the cartoon series stays relatively true to this dynamic even while it makes K.Rool a bit more of a traditional villain and has Cranky trying to push DK into a bit more of a traditional hero role. Especially when contrasted with how DKC 3 was starting to lose the thread and DK64 just straight-up turned K.Rool into an over-the-top villain who is horrible to everyone and is trying to blow up an entire island.

Anyway, I think this is part of why the Donkey Kong Country games appealed, above and beyond their incredibly solid gameplay. (... and it's something I think the Returns games botch, but that's a whole other thing) It's a surprisingly down-to-earth thing given the aesthetic is so fantastical.


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