I’ve recently downloaded Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for my phone. I downloaded it for soothing reasons, for curiosity reasons and for nostalgic reasons. I used to play the first instalment of Animal Crossing when I was a teen, on my Nintendo DS you see, and I was fond of it then.
If you don’t know what it is, it’s a game where you create a character, and then you’re plopped into a beautiful little world where you build your own campsite with furniture you craft and invite over animal guests to enjoy it.
You befriend various sweet and characterful, but repetitive, creatures and decide who you want to give the honour of hosting.
You do favours for these animals, which include collecting fish, bugs and fruit and in return, they give you more crafting materials and money to buy more furniture. It’s sweet, but when I write it like this, I realise, it’s circular.
You also get the option to create and express through the medium of clothes and hairstyles sported by your character, and through the choice of objects and the layout of these objects in your campsite. You also get to enjoy being engulfed in a soothing cartoony environment with pleasing music and art which turns your phone screen into the form of adorableness.
You know how the Victorians liked to collect and catalogue things, they liked encyclopedias and gathering stuff that actually belonged to other people, and storing knowledge and artefacts from the empire in museums.
That’s kinda what Animal Crossing is like, except there’s a lot of pastel colours and cutesy characters instead of the macabre, dusty, blacks, greys, browns and maroons of the Victorians of the common imagination. (In the first conception of the game on the DS, you actually do collect things for the town museum.)
My little character (she’s called Lavender) could easily be a Dickensian urchin picking countless gentleman’s pockets for silk handkerchiefs instead of the fishing, bug-hunting, fruit picking spritely round-faced favour-doer that she is. That is, she could be if she swapped her mint green hair and perpetual smile for a ragged cap and TB, and if we swapped the animals for Fagin.
It’s funny isn’t it – how a lot of games seem limited in the way their narratives and goals and quests function. In games, I do often find myself becoming a collector figure. It’s almost like it’s hard to portray progress without gathering different objects and earning improved relationships and items.
The quest to collect seems to make games enduring because there always seems to be more to collect, to the point where your character becomes a compulsive hoarder of things that they keep in their vast inventory that somehow is able to be carried anywhere despite containing things that would probably exceed the character’s body weight.
I’m also a fan of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, and although on a totally different console/ device and seemingly of a completely different genre, the collecting still exists.
So much of gameplay consists of trading with, buying and selling from and to non playable characters and harvesting from the post-apocalyptic wastelands, archaic dungeons, mountains, forests, caves and beaches of the game maps.
The player takes on the role of the hero in both types of game, but the word hero could be interchanged with “helper”. How often in a game is one approached by a character only to be asked to do them a favour, whether that be to bring them three horse mackerels or apples or to defeat the trolls in Greyskull dungeon or whatever? The answer is – very often.
My little person is driven by caps, or bells, or gold coins, or weapon mods or more stimpaks if you sneak in here or kill this, or more missions or free mercenary work, but it still feels the same.
It just got me thinking about a number of things:
- the limited ways of measuring progress I see in the games I play
- the deep reach of materialism and consumerism in notions of success and purpose
- the notion that games often have to be popular in order to be profitable in the mainstream so perhaps they rely on tried and tested ways of being such for business reasons
- the need for progress/ success in video games – could you have a game without rules or more widely without a real purpose? How playable would it be? How quickly would I get bored? Do I make my own rules in sandbox games? How free is my thinking?
- Could people play a game just for the sake of it? Would they?
- If people played just for the art or the narrative, is that also about collecting? Collecting views, visions, experiences?
- Can we divorce productivity and list-checking from gaming- something that is supposedly a leisure activity predominantly?
- Do I do this with other media? Do people collect TV shows, stories, films in their minds?
It also made me think about gamification and how that’s often used in workplaces to make “productivity more fun” with league tables in call centres and the like. It’s all interlocking and overlapping and I’m getting tired.
The objectification of living things in this game also struck me – I mean I know it’s what usually happens in our current world but, I couldn’t help but see how it both conforms to and feeds the cultural norm of viewing animals as things which can be bought, sold or traded with little moral consideration.
That was a 3am ramble and more messy and tangential than I would usually produce, but take this away- the figure of the collector in games – why is it so widespread? What is the alternative?
Byeee – may your posts collect lots of likes and you feel the strange buzz of recognition from numbers going up and from being thoroughly productive.
P.S. that was a joke 😉
P.S.S. I didn’t mug that frog for her shirt she gave it me once we reached a friendship of level 7 😎🐸
Unfortunately, you don’t get a reward for reading to the end of this, although if you are here, you deserve one. X