We are all seeking an escape. It’s that desperate need for the world to slow down, for the people to take a minute, for Republicans to develop an ounce of compassion, Democrats to grow any sort of backbone, and all us schmucks with zero power to just...take a goddamn breath. Animal Crossing, a game where you join a bunch of anthropomorphic animals on an island, is literally a virtual escape from the world. When you show up ready to board the plane that’s what the two little raccoons even tell you. Animal Crossing is meant to be the balm to our anxiety riddled little lives. Only it sucks beyond measure.
I am not unfamiliar with Animal Crossing. I definitely ignored my friends for hours while they played it and I smoked vodka-spiked hookah back in like 2005 (don’t do that). I gamely checked it out on the Nintendo DS and gave up when I missed like two days of gameplay and all my in-game friends abandoned me (don’t do that either). I even spent some time with the mobile version of it a few years ago. Most things are pretty consistent from incarnation to incarnation.
You are a human in a world of cartoon animals that speak in a digital rhythm that Nintendo translates into human-speak in text bubbles below them. You collect fruit and bugs and rocks. You build stuff. You go into massive debt to a bunch of raccoons and work all day and night to pay off that debt.
Which is really my problem with this game. Right now the real world we’d all like a vacation from is run by capitalists with no concept of beneficial socialism. Powerful men and women think a single $1,200 check will make up for months and months of lost income. These people will gladly give trillions to billion-dollar corporations but let hospitals languish. People starve and children go uneducated.
The world is already run by the raccoons so why on Earth would I want to deal with them in a game?
Animal Crossing isn’t the only real-life sim that puts you into a grind similar to the one you probably experience in the actual world day-to-day. Games like The Sims and Stardew Valley can absolutely feel like work. You get up. You work your butt off. You welcome the sweet release of sleep at the end of the day.
But those games are a lot less aggressively simulacrums of the capitalism you’re forced to reckon with daily. By forcing you into a long term and unwilling relationship with a landlord/loanshark raccoon, Animal Crossing is a closer reminder of the world we’re living in. At a moment when so many folks are clamoring for a rent freeze, the last thing I want to do is head into a simulation where that’s not even close to a possibility.
My many friends and co-workers would claim that I should just play Animal Crossing more (Gizmodo Editor in Chief Kelly Bourdet told me not to write this blog until I’d played for at least a week). They would say I should embrace the best-loved feature of the game—seamlessly traveling to your real-life friends’ island to hang out or wreck their own digital limbos.
But I didn’t want real-life people in my real-life house before a highly contagious pandemic made standing close or touching hands a veritable Victorian scandal. Why would I want you on the overgrown island that I am but a serf inhabiting?
So, even though I’ve only played 5 minutes of the game and done little more than erect a tent on a patch of land I do not own, I can safely say Animal Crossing sucks and Stardew Valley rulez.