We have a few Animal Crossing fans on the Waypoint Radio crew, so of course we had to immediately talk about this week's Animal Crossing Direct. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has you setting up shop on a deserted island where you can collect resources to build furniture, clothing, a home, and eventually an entire town. This is all made available by the series' longtime landlord, Tom Nook. This time around, instead of saddling you with a loan for a small home without your consent, he sets you up with a tent, with a loan in the form of his own company currency. After completing certain tasks (such as collecting wood, catching fish) you are rewarded with "Nook Miles," which you use to pay back the initial loan and eventually purchase other goods and services from him.
Glad to hear Austin talk about the way New Horizons (and New Leaf) have shifted the series away from ‘move to a new town and make a life for yourself with your neighbours’ to a bit of ‘you are mayor, you are the architect of this world’ levels of power. I also felt a bit of that, though I also love decorating enough to appreciate the quality of life stuff a lot, too. I like both versions, but I hope something comes along (recs welcome ) for a pure community experience.
But I am, to be clear, very excited to build a waterfall in Lily’s backyard. She deserves the best.
Yes, the political reading of New Horizons is worse than in any game prior. At the same time, this allows for much more interesting gameplay and longevity.
Tom Nook’s case though, is open-and-shut. He goes from petit-bourgeois small business capitalist and landlord to straight up implied mega-conglomerate Nook Inc. owning Jeff Bezos-style capitalist, that buys (or simply takes?) land, because he smells “untapped markets” (like it was succinctly put in the podcast) in which he sells presumably city-dwellers, the modern dream of building a community from scratch in some tropical paradise.
This community though, will of course not be completely free to develop how it wants, but will be neatly trapped inside the framework of social-relations he sets up in advance (still money, still markets even with his own currency and services). The colonial undertones are just the cherry on top.
He deserves nothing but our scorn! cough and the guillotine cough
Maybe this project is also a way for him to finally fulfill his dream of creating his own quasi-company town. That’s just me spitballing though.
Back to the real world:
It’s obvious that Nintendo doesn’t really put much thought into Animal Crossing’s world. It’s supposed to be a fun escape, that puts you straight into your comfort zone, which means: We, as good, modern, bourgeois subjects, get to experience the idyllic village/town life of our dreams, away from the turmoil and ugliness of the big city. And of course without all the bad aspects of capitalism, even though we still live, evidently, in capitalism. Nothing of that has changed with New Horizons, but it got even more expanded and refined, by having (at least initially) a ‘back to the land’ aspect to it, making the escape and wish fulfillment so much more powerful.
It really is no wonder that Animal Crossing is so popular.
If you will excuse me now, I have to get back to fighting with myself over if I should pre-order this game or not.
Glad to hear Austin talk about the way New Horizons (and New Leaf) have shifted the series away from ‘move to a new town and make a life for yourself with your neighbours’ to a bit of ‘you are mayor, you are the architect of this world’ levels of power.
Yes, this is something I’m also very interested in. The game tries everything to make the world feel more expansive and alive, but at the same time, giving the player so much direct control over the world (assuming the NPCs will never ever change even just the place of a rock in the world, let alone change the landscape, build gardens, walkways etc.) could backfire making the player feel like everything (even more so than usually) revolves around them, thus making the world in turn, feel small and artificial. We will see, I guess,
I love them touching on the fantasy of “lets all move to montana, fuck this shit.” I’ve always heard it called the Queer Commune, and the joke is that for every group of queer friends, the longer they spend time together, the more likely it is for them to go “yo wouldn’t it be great if we just got a house together and helped each other and stuff.”
It’s not really Tom Nook’s fault, if I were to place blame onto a fictional tanuki, but the predatory economy of Pocket Camp nearly soured me on New Horizons entirely, so I may never forgive him (or, truly, Nintendo) for it. The subscription they introduced late last year introduced made me cry, because they gave you a free month where you could have your favourite villager as a follower who helped you with your dailies and it was so sweet and fun.
But I really couldn’t justify paying $3/month for it, so I ended up uninstalling it after playing every day for two years. It was never a great game, but I love the villagers so much that it was nice to have.
This is generally the view I’m taking with New Horizons if I’m being honest. There are games I like to really dig into when it comes to politics and worldbuilding, but New Horizons is genuinely just going to be an island-wide version of HHA for me, which is to say a fun little island I can decorate with all my friends. The fantasy of having a place where you can get away from a society that ultimately wants to hurt you is Very Real when you’re a marginalized person, and almost everyone I plan to play with is getting into this game with that in mind.
Tom Nook only resembles the outward exterior of a predatory real estate type, but they don’t share any of the same exploitative machinations. Compare that to something like Monster Hunter, where it both resembles and shares the machinations of a poisonous frontiersman fantasy.
(You could argue that AC is peddling a false idea of real estate types, but that’s getting into the weeds)
In any case, I’m really feeling the excitement for this. There just aren’t other games that are as goals/structure-agnostic as Animal Crossing, which simulate the fantasy of being able to live in a world with no macro-level worries or concerns. The gulf between AC and other games, which have collectively incorporated a greater deal of macro-level goals in their design, only becomes larger over time.