Animal Crossing and games as wish fulfilment

19.30, Friday 24 Apr 2020

Like a bunch of people, I’m playing Animal Crossing a bunch. The release of Animal Crossing simultaneously with the lockdown is like this perfect storm of “world with global pandemic where you can’t go outside” meets “world with no global pandemic and you can go outside”, and this has created a number of Hot Takes.

I am OBSESSED with Animal Crossing btw and I’m not going to explain how it works here so for that you can read my post from 2006 about it instead.

Oh god okay, one hot take: The Atlantic did a thing on Animal Crossing which is pretty good reading actually but I don’t agree. Their take:

  • it’s not escapism, says The Atlantic: Animal Crossing isn’t a fantasy-world replacement from real life, absent all its burdens.
  • it’s a political hypothesis about how a different kind of world might work, in which pastoralism and capitalism coexist perfectly.

Dunno. Good article though.

Here’s little Genmon with a tetrapod. I’ve been building them on the beach. Tetrapods are those big concrete forms that slow down coastal erosion.

It’s funny (but sad) because of course there is no coastal erosion in Animal Crossing.


Go read this Twitter thread by Everest Pipkin who has been digging and sculpting and gardening their Animal Crossing island in order to introduce a river delta, and swampy bits, and rivulet waterfalls from a mountain – as if the island had geological history apart from Pipkin – and high mountain meadows and canyon narrows and MY GOD IT’S BEAUTIFUL, Animal Crossing doesn’t need to be about any more than this.

It’s pretty. It’s nice to spend time there.

For what it’s worth, I think of games a bit like dreams.

There’s a bit in Freud’s Introductory Lectures where he talks about children’s dreams as being wish fulfilment: doing while asleep what can’t be done awake.

And I’ve noticed over the years that I tend to gravitate towards games that let me succeed, in a microscopic contained way, at a task that I’m struggling with at work (or in life, but let’s not think about that too much as it’ll just get a bit revealoing and awkward). Not all games, but those popcorn-style satisfying smartphone games in particular. Like, a game will match up with my workaday focus of plate spinning, or aligning timings, or barrelling through a project by sheer force of will – it varies – and let me succeed at it.

Now, the question:

  • do I gravitate towards games that mirror what I do during the day because, in the true spirit of play, they are allowing me to practice and limber up those same muscles but without consequence?
  • Or is it so I can get the satisfaction of succeeding at something I am genuinely concerned I might fail at?


But it’s why I don’t see Animal Crossing as escapism. It’s not escaping from anything, it’s just what I’m doing what I want to be doing anyway but in a different context. And maybe one of the reasons the game is popular with so many people is that there are many different pathways players can take through it, and none of them is blessed as the way to win.

Previously to Animal Crossing, I have also

  • spent hours in Red Dead Redemption riding round and seeing the landscape of the American south-west change as I go. I listened to the soundtrack a whole bunch when our toddler was in her first few months: it was my go-to music for a while when I was rocking her to sleep.
  • spent hours in Riven riding the cable-cars, re-treading the trails through the canyons and the forests, and trying (and always failing) to catch a closer glimpse of those plesiosaurs sunbathing on the rock by the water.
  • spent hours in Grand Theft Auto 5 driving around the island, watching the sunsets, and listening to cheesy end-of-day 80s music on the in-car radio.

It’s a convoluted way to listen to cheesy 80s music, but, like I said, hours.

It’s only writing this that I realise how much of it is about music.

Anyway, that’s how I enjoy games.

So there’s a character in Animal Crossing called KK Slider who is a pop star but sings, like all AC characters, in the gabble-gabble in-game language. And somebody on Twitter earlier shared a YouTube of KK Slider doing Africa by Toto which kind of brings everything together, so I’ll wrap up there.

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