Nintendo released Animal Crossing Pocket Camp for free on mobile. Having never played any of the Animal Crossing series, I’ve been intrigued based on the good reviews they’ve received. I’ve always heard good things about the series and this would be a cost effective (free) way for me to jump in. What I soon found out was that I was leading a double life.
What Do You Want to Look Like
When I first started Pocket Camp, the game sucked me in with its character customization. It’s not a overwhelming character customization like you’d find in the latest WWE games, Fallout 4, or even the Saints Row series. It was simple. What stood out to me was how happy everyone was. My character was happy, the animal campers were happy, every action you perform results in a happiness animation. Drawn to them like cute cat videos, this was addictive. I was craving to see my character show joy through simple actions like picking an apple. Even the joy I was creating for the other animals around the city. Giving them gifts, talking to them, all raised my happy level. I wanted to make everyone in that digital city, along with myself as happy as I could make them.
Happiness Matters AKA Why Aren’t You Happy?
Happiness plays a huge role in this game. Your main objective is to invite as many animals in the city to your camp. In order to do so, you need to befriend the animals around town and raise their happiness level. Sounds easy enough except these animals are not satisfied with meaningful conversation, they want gifts. Easy enough, right? I’ll go shake some trees down for fruit, go fishing, and collect bugs. Well not quite, once you invite them to your camp, they say it’s not up to their standards. You have to buy all of this high end furniture in order for them to like you more e before they’ll grace your camp with their presence. Isn’t this what we were told to avoid in Elementary school? Friends should like you for who you are, not from the toys you have or the gifts you give them. Then all of a sudden kid friendly Nintendo comes along and says “No, buy these matching striped couches and an overpriced house plant so that red dog over there will like you more.” Throughout playing I tended to favor the lower level animals who wanted to be my friend based on who my NPC was, not on what my camp had to offer. Those other animals were too picky, too needy, and I didn’t want that drama in my life.
After discovering this about the world around me I felt like I’ve been tricked. Pocket Camp started out by promoting happiness, but soon I saw the seedy underbelly where it rewards you for bending over backwards for these animals. What drew the line for me is when you get into debt for some of the latest and greatest items.
Surprise Debt & Other Adulting Aspects
It all started when I went to the mechanic and talked to three crows. They seemed nice enough, talked to me for a bit about their business. Then they said they could make my van bigger. I said sure because I wanted my NPC to live in comfort but first I wanted to look at the price. BUT they didn’t give me a price, it just said I owed them 10,000 Bells. Now I’m in debt and with an interest rate I know nothing about. I’m literally getting anxiety about owing fake money to fake birds. This can’t be healthy, can it? I think this game is hitting too close to home.
I soon realized that I was working on bettering my digital life when there were other things that needed to be done in my own house. Projects and home repair I’ve been putting off for months. Looking to improve your life digitally like in Animal Crossing or the Sims comes at a price. They’re addictive but I never got anything out of them. Spending all this time to improve a virtual world when I could spend that time improving my own life. The answer is instant gratification.
Delayed Gratification is a Lost Art
This is going to make me sound like an old man, but back in my day growing up there wasn’t that much instant gratification. If you really liked a TV show you had every week at a certain time of day to watch it. Had to go to a relative’s house for dinner that day, well too bad because you missed the episode and had to wait for a rerun. Now you can just turn on Netflix and binge watch an entire show in days. Don’t even need to stop for commercial breaks or even time your bathroom breaks. Now this doesn’t mean I want to go back to the old system, far from it. I love binge watching Netflix. This just means that in games about improving your life, it’s conditioning you that a new couch or a bigger car is just a click away and in some real life cases, a credit card away.
The other item that turned me off was all of the different improvements I can make to my camp by organizing or buying custom furniture. Looking around my own house, it’s a mess. Walls need to be painted, furniture needs to be repaired, the garage needs to be organized, and all the other laundry list of home improvements I’m going to do myself. Why do I need to fix up my virtual life when my real life is in disarray. My time could be better spent fixing up my own house so I can generate my own happiness. Maybe that’s what Animal Crossing is trying to teach me? Is this game just a tool to teach others how to be an adult? Maybe I need to generate my own happiness so I can attract real friends. Improve my life on my own by making my own stuff instead of buying mass marketed products. Maybe Nintendo isn’t malicious after all. They were just trying to help me become a better person. Has the student become the teacher?
Needless to say I paid off the van upgrade in one play session to get rid of my self-induced anxiety and put the game down. The self-inflicted stress needed to stop. Picking up the game a couple weeks later, I tried to get back into the game but I saw through all of it. Everything I was doing in the game was justifying my own NPC’s consumerism and I didn’t want my gaming experience to be driven around that. Maybe one day I’ll try an actual Animal Crossing game but based on my mobile experience it won’t be for awhile.
Have you ever had an experience where video games felt like work? I want to hear your stories. Please leave a comment below.
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