Sep 5, 2013

[Consumption vs Naturalism in Animal Crossing]

via Gamasutra
"Animal Crossing deploys a procedural rhetoric about the repetition of mundane work as a consequence of contemporary material property ideals. When my (then) five-year-old began playing the game seriously, he quickly recognized the dilemma he faced. On the one hand, he wanted to spend the money he had earned from collecting fruit and bugs on new furniture, carpets, and shirts. On the other hand, he wanted to pay off his house so he could get a bigger one like mine. Then, once he did amass enough savings to pay off his mortgage, the local shopkeeper and real estate tycoon Tom Nook offered to expand his house. While it is possible to refrain from upgrading, Nook, an unassuming raccoon, continues to offer renovations as frequently as the player visits his store. My son began to realize the trap he was in: the more material possessions he took on, the more space he needed, and the more debt he had to take on to provide that space. And the additional space just fueled more material acquisitions, continuing the cycle."
  One thing that I have never seen anyone else notice or remark on about Animal Crossing, is the fact that all the housing items in the game are represented by a leaf icon whenever dropped  on the ground outside a building. The significance of that may be lost on most Westerners who aren't familiar with the Japanese mythology that surrounds the animal that Tom Nook is -- which is to say he's actually a tanuki, and not a raccoon.

  Tanuki are known for casting enchantments on things like leaves to make them look like treasure, and tricking stupid humans with it. When the tanuki magic wears off, the objects are revealed to actually be worthless. In other words, signs may be pointing to Tom Nook's entire business being more of a scam than Crazy Redd's black market. =P

  The fact that this tanuki trickery seems to be alluded to in Animal Crossing is very interesting, and even more so in the context of the above article, in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

It is definitely a game of grinding consumer culture. It was still fun, but for me became dull after I had fully expanded my house and there was nothing to do put try to collect sets of items. The villagers' constant coming and going also put me off in the end.

Nice note on the tanuki and leaves, I didn't know the leaf myth. It's like a comment on consumerism!

Pai said...

Yeah, I'm not sure if the use of leaves are intentionally a hint that most of the stuff Nook is selling is really smoke and mirrors, or if I'm just reading too much into it.

Syl said...

That's a very interesting side note about Tom Nook. I don't doubt your theory about the leaf icons in that context for a second; it wouldn't be the first time a Nintendo game makes subtle tongue-in-cheek references like that.

I have to say, ACNL is especially big on the collector's dilemma. I like the game a lot, but the money grind to pay off your loans feels worse than before. farming bugs on the tropical island for endless hours being the only reliable source of income, it gets dull soon. a shame really.

that said, I don't see how AC is any more about consumerism than any Sims or Farmville type of social game. the really outstanding accomplishment of the AC series has always been the emergent AI, in combination with the internal real time clock. there's an illusion of real time created in this offline game that is unmatched. the past, present and future all matter - there's a sense of impact and randomness that is completely out of genre.