Fans of mobile game systems like the Nintendo 3DS have long been waiting to see similar experiences emerge on mobile phones, and Nintendo’s recent forays into the mobile app world continue to raise hopes even as the leap from expensive console game to “free to play” models usually falls flat. However, there’s one title just released that I’ve been waiting for years to see make the leap: Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing, for the uninitiated, is a somewhat disturbing simulation that invites the player to become mayor of a town, continually going into debt in the search of larger and larger houses while serving as errand-runner and occasional mediator for a town of animal residents. Ian Bogost observed that previous titles in this serious have an unresolved tension between the grind for material goods and the appreciation of a virtual natural world:
“On the one hand, a rhetoric of affluenza encourages the player toward excess, toward more goods and a larger house in which to store them. In this context, the menial everyday tasks of gardening, fishing, and doing errands for the animals become an occupation, the necessary but undesirable frenzy of work necessary to sustain that lifestyle. On the other hand, a rhetoric of pastoralism encourages the player to tend the land, appreciate the rolling hills and bubbling waterfalls, and to socialize with others before returning to a modest homestead to retire.”
This tension continues in Animal Crossing’s mobile iteration, Pocket Camp, which is if anything a playable simulation of glamping. As a campsite manager, your goal in the game is to fill a luxury campsite with increasingly elaborate furniture in response to the demands of a group of animals with discerning taste. It’s perhaps made even more bizarre by the fact that this is a naturalist simulation carried with you: a curated alternative to the actual outdoors, in one’s pocket. In the place of the old economics of house acquisition, there’s the lure of bigger and better campers, as well as glamping-necessities such as drum sets, sports cars, and spaceships (yes, really.) The gameplay of gathering things, getting materials, and building bigger and better campsites does get repetitive fast, as reviewers have pointed out.
Given that, why am I recommending Pocket Camp as a seasonal distraction–and, indeed, why am I level 33? One obvious answer is that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is surprisingly adorable, despite having very…