Monday, May 18, 2020

Don't Get Weird On Me, Babe: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

I don't know about Animal Crossing in general but Pocket Camp is weird. It emblematizes cultural drift. Could something like this have existed in the mid or late twentieth century? I doubt it.

In great part, ACPC relies on and resides in the hinterland between maturity and childhood. It looks absolutely like a game designed for children. Quite small children. It doesn't read like one.

We're in a nervous neighborhood, as evidenced by the appearance of the anxious query "is Animal Crossing for adults?", tenth in Google's suggestions on how a sentence beginning "Is Animal Crossing..."might end. That's the generic Animal Crossing, though. If you rephrase the question to refer specifically to Pocket Camp the suggestion vanishes. Seems it's a question no-one's asking.

Pocket Camp is the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. Ars Technica's glowing review of New Horizons complains that "the series' identity has been sullied in recent years by the smartphone-only spinoff Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp", suggesting those of us who have only seen the mobile version might even "assume the Animal Crossing series is a cheap Farmville clone".

Of course, to do that I'd first have to have played Farmville, or at least have a much clearer idea of what it is. Did it have narcissists, fantasists and super-annuated extras from Easy Rider as mainstays of its cast? Did it exist to blur the boundaries of the real and irreal?

I like to play Pocket Camp right before I go to sleep, which often means midnight or later. Some of the animals in the campsite comment on the lateness of the hour. They allude to night-time activities that they and I might prefer to keep hidden. They express mild concern over why I might be up so late.

Yet there they always are. Juggling, reading, chatting. Night never falls on our shared world. It's always bright as noon. Their surprise at my nocturnal presence might equally be my own at their eternal wakefulness.

The private lives of these animals are a mystery. I'm not always sure even of their species. It is, I'm thinking, something about which one shouldn't ask.

There are many questions better left unspoken. To ask why a penguin, if that's what Tex is, should be both a football letterman and an enthusiast for the revival of dead languages would take Pocket Camp into areas I feel ill-qualified to enter. It's necessary to accept these situations.

Some of my animal friends maintain a certain consistency. Rosie is determined she's a star. Apollo knows he's old. Tex's speech in favor of bringing back Latin, however, turned up a few days later in the mouth of someone else, word for word.

What does that mean? I think of Californium, sometimes. Are we inside the children's novel Philip K Dick never wrote?

There's a queasy lurch to some of the conversations. Animal Crossing is a safe place, we all know that, but is it? Is it really? Do you want to imagine Rosie in a leather jumpsuit? Like Suzy Quatro, perhaps? Or Joan Jett? Or Kathy Rain? And should you, if you do?

She didn't really say it, did she? Someone put those words in her mouth. Is there a leather jumpsuit in the game? Is this a marketing suggestion? Or is it someone having fun? And at whose expense?

Apollo was the first animal to join my crew. He all but invited himself. I wasn't sure at first but now he's a fixture. I wouldn't know the place without his passive-aggressive bark and self-deprecating sense of humor.

He has a lot of lines. Last night I upgraded my cool tent to level three and he launched into a multi-screen soliloquy on the joy of the open road. It was worthy of Lana's intro to Ride, or at least a bar band cover of  Steppenwolf.

Was it the way we were dressed? Or the cool factor of the level three tent? Or was Apollo just having a mid-life crisis, like all his others?

He's an eagle with barely-suppressed anger issues, an odd combination of self-doubt and arrogance. Rosie's a narcissist, possibly delusional. Goldie, as we have already established, is agarophobic. Eugene seems to think he's The Fonz. Tia believes inanimate objects can be friends, although not with her. Freya is perhaps the most normal of campers, although even she seems dangerously brittle some days...

I'm thinking of Phil Dick again. Clans of the Alphane Moon, specifically.

Last night I dinged level 22. There are eight animals camping with me, the most the campsite can hold.

I checked today. The game currently has at least one hundred and fifty levels and there are one hundred and ninety-one animals.

I think I need to sit quietly and think this through. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is weird. And it's not about to stop.


  1. Ah, but PKD DID write a childrens novel - Nick and the Glimmung, which would make a cool game platform.
    Clans...would make a great party game. Someone should kickstart it.
    PKD did riff on tiny worlds in Three Stigmata - Perky Pat layouts sound like AC terraforming.

    1. Oh, I should have remembered Nick and the Glimmung. I work with another big PKD fan and he's mentioned it several times. I have yet to get hold of a copy. When I eventually go back to work I'll order myself a copy.


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