What Kind of World Do You Want? Animal Crossing's Impact
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. We reduce other people to mere bullet points to serve our own preconceived notions and prejudices about them, instead of treating them like complex human beings. We seek out peace, prosperity, luxury, and security for ourselves to the exclusion of all else, and then become so complacent and indolent in our self-created prison that our compassion for other humans' suffering is neutered. We become takers instead of givers, frequently merely using our friends and family rather than appreciating their efforts for us. We collect so many things as status symbols to impress others, things that are literally just overpriced junk no one will care about after we are gone.
It's easy to see these troubles when they are framed out in a fictional world like Animal Crossing, but it's not so easy to realize that in the real world, many of us benefit from these negative systems, or 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.