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The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Posted: July 13th, 2006, by Alex McChesney

I’ve had a Nintendo DS for a few weeks now, and the first game I got for it was Animal Crossing. If you’re not familiar it, it’s a fun little free-form game in which you move into a rural village populated by anthropomorphic animals. There’s no set goal as such. You can wander around the village, chat to your neighbours, fish, catch bugs, buy clothes and furniture for your little house or save to have it expanded, do some gardening, etc, without fear of any real “failure” condition. All in all it’s quite a relaxing escape from the real world. Interestingly, it also runs in real time. If it’s 12 noon on Sunday 16th of July when you’re playing it, it’s 12 noon on Sunday 16th of July in the game. The sun will be up, and any particular events that are taking place that day, eg a birthday party for one of your neighbours, will occur in the game.

Anyway, despite, or maybe because of, the lack of any strict set of achievements required of you by the game, it has been the most common resident of my DS’s card slot ever since it arrived. Over time, however, I have become increasingly aware of a dark heart beating beneath my town’s saccharine-sweet exterior.

Take Phyllis, for example. She’s the pelican that does the night-shift in the post office. Unlike her sister who works there during the day, she is consistently rude to me, and the one time I saw her in the museum coffee shop and tried to strike up a conversation, so told me in no uncertain terms to bugger off. (Of course, nobody says bad words in Animal Crossing, but you can’t disguise the intent.) At first I thought she was just being a bitch, but then Sally Squirrel told me she saw her crying the other day. Clearly something is up. Is she going through a painful divorce? Dealing with the death of a child? I don’t know, and she ain’t saying.

Then there’s Rodeo. This amiable bull-like character moved into the village a few days after I did, but I haven’t seen him wandering about town much recently. I try to drop in on him when I can, however. He always seems to be suffering from mysterious flu-like symptoms which are magically alleviated by the special “medicine” he sends me to buy from Tom Nook’s shop.

And what of Nook himself? In the English-language versions of Animal Crossing he’s described as a raccoon, but his name is actually a pun on his real species, the Japanese Tanuki. Tanukis are often depicted in Japanese culture as having comically large scrotums. They are the Buster Gonads of the animal kingdom, if you like, and this fits Tom Nook’s character quite well. While, of course, we never see his genitalia, you can’t help but have a sort of grudging respect for someone who will land a massive, involuntary mortgage on a new resident in exchange for a comically tiny house, as Nook does as soon as you arrive in town. He clearly has the biggest balls of all the residents, metaphorically if not literally. In fact, beyond stumbling across some cash hidden in a tree or under a rock, Nook also provides the only source of income in the game, by purchasing items from you that you may have found or been given. In a sense, every inhabitant of the town lives in servitude to Tom Nook, bringing him offerings so that they might scrape together enough cash to get by.

The sickness isn’t just confined to my village, either. I passed on my AC addiction to my wife, who, after playing around with mine for a while, purchased her own DS and copy of the game. Using the DS’s built-in wireless connection, you can “visit” other people’s villages and chat to the animals within. On one such trip to her town, I encountered a sheep called (of course) Baabera. Clearly a sad, lonely character*, she offered me a biscuit only to then say “oh, my boyfriend must have came in and eaten them all while I wasn’t looking”. On return to my own village I discovered that she had sent me a somewhat disturbing letter along the lines of “It was nice to meet you yesterday. I would invite you round again, but my boyfriend wouldn’t like it.” Naturally, nobody has seen this “boyfriend” of whom she speaks, and it is fairly obvious that she has invented an imaginary partner for herself. But has she done so because of lack of company, or is it more about keeping the world at arm’s-length by endowing him with a violently possessive nature? Who knows what past trauma drove her to this state, or how deeply her psychosis runs? I, for one, am staying well clear.

Anyway, I have to go now. Apparently Pee-Wee the Gorilla just found the body of Sally Squirrel washed up on the beach wrapped in plastic…

* This from a thirty-year old man writing about videogame animals like they are real people.

Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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