I am a 30-year-old who plays Animal Crossing. I have played every incarnation of the game so far, ever since my husband (then-boyfriend) insisted I give the GameCube version a shot a long, long while ago. The version I currently play the most is the Wii’s Animal Crossing: City Folk, mostly because the Wii is currently one of my favorite consoles, but also because I feel a terrible, haunting, vaguely nightmarish guilt whenever I think of the old, abandoned Animal Crossing towns I’ve left behind on GameCube memory cards and inside of my old DS game. Even now, I shudder to write about this shame.
I started playing Animal Crossing sometime in the mid-00s, when I was living with a punk band in the city of Bellingham, WA. Up to that point in my life, I had shunned flowery, girlish, cutesy things due to a lifelong terror of being excluded from boys’ clubs. Some of my earliest memories are of refusing to wear floral prints and skirts, of throwing little six-year-old fits at the colours pink and purple, of telling everybody in my first grade that I wanted to grow up to be a man who marries a man, but who looks and dresses like Jessica Rabbit or the Little Mermaid or something. But, you know, still a man. I was the only girl in baseball camp. I was the only girl in my middle school geography club. I was very, very good at catching wild snakes in my yard. I’d wanted to outpace the unappealing/frightening/limiting/unsuitable aspects of having a female gender identity in 1980s/1990s America, and because I was a child my instinct was to embrace a “girl stuff is yucky, boy stuff is better” ethic. Never mind that my dad was the “cool” parent at the time (always wearing suits with dark sunglasses in the daytime, listening to the Blues Brothers soundtrack loudly in his car between executive-level real estate deals), and my mom was the “uncool” parent (trying to turn her daughters into equestrian little Bebe Neuwirths circa-Cheers) in their social dynamic.
Anyhoo. By my early-mid-20s, I had established a gender identity that suited me well. I wore men’s button-up shirts, a leather jacket a la Shaft and Tyler Durden, and I had also stared to wear unflattering, hookery, secretary skirts from time to time. My hair was usually clipped up into a stringy rat’s nest that said “the 90s had not yet ended for me,” and I wore poorly executed, racoonish, dark eye makeup. And for a couple of years, I found myself living with (imposing upon?) a punk band.
This was a turning point for me, in terms of gender and fashion. I was suddenly the only girl in a living environment so masculine that it felt like living in an episode of Jackass (I mean this both as a compliment and as a complaint). There was always pizza on the furniture. Holes were regularly punched and poked into walls. Comic books and Fangoria magazines stuck out of the cracks between sofa cushions. And I felt contented.
So contented that I actually started to feel drawn to the most bafflingly girlish themes I could get my mitts on. I was the only girl in the building most of the time, and it was a fun thing to play up in the ugliest, silliest, most male-aversive ways that I’d never really bothered to sample before. I started wearing simply awful, fuzzy pink loungewear and slippers. I started to try out face masks and fingernail-shaping doohickies (nail files?) and all sorts of stuff. I swear, this felt really hilarious, creative and perverse at the time. To be frank, it felt, and continues to feel, like drag, and as we all know, drag feels AWESOME. It was during this time that I also started to play Animal Crossing.
Fast forward six years and we find me 30 years old, married, out of college, more-frequently-showered, but still using Animal Crossing as part of my girly self-care routines (girlishness still feels like drag to me, but it’s a common, comfortable drag that I like to practice regularly). To me, Animal Crossing is a video game to play while getting super-extra hydrated, while wearing mashed-up fruit/clay things on my face, while choking down wheatgrass, while letting my toenails dry, while wearing a fuzzy-wuzzy bathrobe, while managing things like pores and cuticles, while eating pink frosting with sprinkles. ALL of it.
The game series itself is cute. Every entry is charming. The plot of the game is meditative, as polite as one could hope for, and open-ended. Essentially, one winds up with some kid-friendly, dreamlike versions of adult responsibilities, and then one juggles them. Buy a house and pay off its mortgage. Make friends with the neighbors, help them with errands, and continue to stay in touch. Find ways to earn money. Experiment a bit with interior design and personal fashion, while exterior forces judge your choices and give you feedback. Collect museum samples. Participate in community events. Travel a little. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. All characters in the game, apart from the players, are cute little talking animals, like something out of a child’s dream — even the shopkeeper to whom the players owe their adorable little mortgage payments resembles a stuffed toy.
I like to think that the game helps to classically condition me to find debt payments as cute as little talking kittens. Maybe it does? Like many familiar games that I have played off and on for years, the Animal Crossing series feels akin to a pleasant, relaxing REM sleep for me. It helps lower my anxiety levels when I feel at risk of succumbing to stress. It helps me manage physical pain. It helps to make me drowsy when I want to be drowsy. I have a couple of adult friends who also play the game, and occasionally we’ll mail letters back and forth.
I personally recommend this game to anybody who wants to revel in polite, responsible, distracting, cupcakey, tiny-talking-animal cuteness for a few hours. I award this game **** out of a possible five asterisks, because I haven’t managed to catch a great white shark yet in the “fishing for museum specimens” part of the game, and sharks are important to me.
Note from the author: “My mom is cool now.”