Extemporanea (extemporanea) wrote,

from feudal serf to spender

By way of rewarding self for the horrors of this year's remote reg and orientation experiences, I ordered myself Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and have been playing it in the evenings as far as possible given the various outcomes of the daily war between myself and Pandora for occupancy of my gaming chair. Apparently I can only occasionally seduce her away by deploying the heated blanket on the sofa. We have arrived at a semi-compromise, below:

I am enjoying ACNH, although not deliriously or obsessively, and have, shall we say, Notes.

Pottering happily about a landscape harvesting, planting, building or collecting things and meeting small, domestic goals is very much my jam when I'm tired and stressed, see obsessive re-play of Stardew Valley, incursions into things like Littlewood and My Time At Portia, and my fondness for the buildy bits of Skyrim, Fallout IV or Yonder. ACNH is more of same, although through the console lens rather than the PC, and is thus Different - less textured, less character-driven, and its cutesy aesthetic is occasionally grating. (Yonder and even Portia did it much better, IMNSHO, in the sense of being more Zelda-like, less childish).

I am enjoying, in a qualified sort of fashion, the pottering about, although its grindiness becomes repetitive a little too quickly. The writing, while in the facile sort of class appropriate to the genre, is occasionally amusing and wry. I do become a bit weirded out by the visuals, the fixed perspective is frequently frustrating and the horizon effects are frankly trippy, in the sense that ACNH denizens apparently live on a cylindrical world with a radius approximately the width of a football field. The way things move over the horizon is odd. But overall it's rather pretty and occasionally, when the art team have been let loose on a night sky or sunrise, beautiful. (Also: desperately enamoured of the museum.)

I also think I am losing potential texture and depth because I don't do co-operative play with Real People, that's not what I game for, so huge tracts of the game which are designed for island visits and social interaction with other players, are simply closed to me. (And the inbuilt assumptions around interaction infuse the gameplay rather unacceptably. Cannot, because of lack of above, complete fruit and flower collections! Maddened!) And the characterisation of the NPCs is superficial enough that it doesn't in any way substitute for the Real People interactions, and really makes me miss Stardew Valley.

Which all sounds unduly negative, but I have been playing several hours a day for the last couple of weeks, and am deriving quiet enjoyment from it, so there is clearly a lot here to enjoy despite the minor deficiencies. (I am also developing a marked habit of playing for an hour in bed in the mornings when I wake up, with tea and cats, because Switch, and it's definitely not a bad way to start the day).

What I am not enjoying at all, because I don't think they're satirising them strongly enough, is the unabashed capitalist underpinning of it all. I live in a late-capitalist hellscape, I do not need such to be faithfully and only semi-critically replicated in my gaming, thank you. ACNH is very much about Things, it's a densely populated landscape full of highly specific bits of furniture and clothing and decorations and appliances and useless modern tchotchkes, which you collect in large amounts. Even worse, its achievement and quest mechanisms are expressed in a miles/rewards/tokens system which forcibly reminds me of the one I rejected, with extreme prejudice, from my medical aid - little mini-quests all carefully calibrated to force you to grind, and sell, and buy, and grease the wheels of the whole system.

And Animal Crossing works on a system which makes you borrow money to build things; hell, you arrive on your idyllic island and the managing company immediately turns around and stiffs you with a large bill you spend the first part of the game paying off. It turns out that owing money, which gives me hives in the real world, also gives me virtual hives in gaming. I hate owing money, and you can't do anything - build, move things around - without paying large sums for it. (I am simultaneously replaying Littlewood because ACNH has given me an overwhelming desire for a fully, freely landscapable map at whim, as often as I like, without penalty).

Although it's inevitable for the glossy large-scale popular product of a massive and powerful corporation whose design techniques are clearly aimed more at marketing than at narrative fulfilment, I really, really hate that this game quite unabashedly normalises capitalist assumptions and structures and, ultimately, entrapments. The cute island getaway setting is not an escape from capitalism, it's merely another set of images in which to replicate capitalist pressures and trappings, buy and sell and borrow and consume. (And don't get me started on turnips. I think the empty notional money manipulation of the real-world stock market is vicious and immoral and disgusting, and it's not suddenly cute and acceptable because your abstract coup markers are now knobbly vegetables).

Part of the whole setup is clearly semi-satirical, in that the company characters who run the islands are caricatures - raccoons with their little grasping hands, and Isabelle as a sort of overly and superficially smiley corporate doll. But it's a nod and wink sort of jokiness which renders these corporate figures both innocuous and intrinsic - that's just, the game says, how things are. They're a bit dodge, but you can't resist them or overturn them or choose not to interact with them. They underpin everything. Capitalism, the game says, is the only game in town. And it's cute! don't worry about it! just play it! we all do! it's all there is!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is both training wheels and pabulum for the capitalist serf, and while it's a reasonably entertaining sort of gameplay amble, about the best thing I can say about it, re-reading the above, is that it's apparently energised me into rampantly politicised Marxism in two weeks, which is not bad going, given my levels of exhaustion and usual state of jaded political lassitude. Huh.

(My subject line is Preachers, "Motorcycle Emptiness", because apparently the only possible response to corporate capitalist cute is Welsh anti-capitalist semi-punk). This entry has been crossposted from my Dreamwidth blog at https://freckles-and-doubt.dreamwidth.org/. The comment action is all over there, and supports OpenID.
Tags: geo-political ramifications, mad gaming, orang-utan civilisation, random analysis

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