tomorrow's calling - studying the world of Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing's Impact

"what kind of world do you want?"

The world of Animal Crossing could be called a number of negative things: escapist, addictive, even subtly dangerous with its "disturbing messages" I've mentioned before. But there is more to it as well. I argue that Animal Crossing's inherent dystopian features are a necessary part of its impact on us as players. Far from being "game flaws," they are essential to teaching us about the real world our physical bodies inhabit.

What could I possibly mean by this? I mean that all the supposedly negative features of Animal Crossing's world function as a mirror for our real world's flaws and corruption. Speaking just as an American, there is a dangerous mindset among many, which has several prongs of troubling beliefs reflected in Animal Crossing:

  • reducing other people to mere prejudicial bullet points instead of treating them as complex human beings;
  • seeking out peace, prosperity, luxury, and security--to the exclusion of all else;
  • lacking compassion for others, either due to complacency or suffering within the self;
  • taking instead of giving, using loved ones rather than appreciating them;
  • collecting things and accomplishments as status symbols to impress others.

All of this over-categorization, self-focus, and materialism puts others into narrow boxes of identity, which leads to blocky, incomplete, and inaccurate stereotypes being formed about complex human beings. This, ultimately, leads to countless pointless arguments and dissent, as different groups' stereotypes and resulting prejudices bash against each other with no relief, understanding, or resolution. The following images represent just some of the ways we stuff each other and ourselves into identity boxes and treat them differently:

When these kinds of troubles are framed out in a fictional world like Animal Crossing, it can start to feel obnoxiously strange. But it's not quite as easy to see the same obnoxious things happening in the real world--how many of us benefit from these negative systems of thought and belief, or how many of us just blindly accept their encroachment into our lives as a foregone conclusion, something that cannot be changed.

This is where the double-sided brilliance of Animal Crossing's world shines through: while painting our current world in shadows, it also shows us a light of societal hope in the near distance. We can choose to express ourselves creatively, even with mindful collections, and put aside anything that doesn't bring us joy (hat tip to Marie Kondo here). We can choose to experience each day as it comes, and to move joyfully with the rhythms of seasons and nature itself. We can choose to be less focused on money and personal success, and more focused on serving our friends and communities. In short, Animal Crossing's world also gives us something to aim for as a society.

However, there is one final piece to understanding Animal Crossing as a series and as a fictional world, a piece of interactive art. Though I've seriously explored its meanings as both utopian and dystopian, the game series itself ultimately reminds us that it is JUST A GAME. The feeling of "well now what?" after finishing our in-game goals is what is SUPPOSED to happen--we are to come to the end of our experiences in the game world having learned that there is more to life than getting, having, and achieving. Animal Crossing (and by definition any simulation game) is not a replacement for real life, and it does a fantastic job of teaching us that through the best lesson plan in existence: hours of our own raw experience.