If you and I were to sit down and have a couple drinks together we’d talk about all sorts of things. At a certain point we’d unavoidably arrive at the problems that plague the world as we know it: pollution, inequality, corruption, ineffectual governments… yeah, it’s a long list but we’d cover at least one of ‘em. In nearly any thought provoking conversation, this is the dead end we will all arrive at. Then, unable to come up with a clear solution, we’d both collectively shrug, pay our tab, and go our separate ways.
Since we’ll probably never get the chance to have those drinks together (of that I’m truly sorry), I’ll just tell you my stance: the root of nearly all of these problems is capitalism. If everything costs money, then certain vital things just won’t be available to certain people: food, medicine, education, shelter. And since having too much money is a ludicrous impossibility, capitalism creates a sickening degree of greed and excess. Why care about people when you can keep it simple? Spend your life caring about money.
Jeez, what a downer I am? Let me get to my point. I’ve been playing a ton of Animal Crossing lately. On a number of levels I consider the game’s simulated world to be an ideal one. Life is simple, you can pay your way by picking up seashells or catching fish, and there is no suffering as a result of Bells (the game’s currency of choice)… Or so I thought.
Let me start with a story of my run-in with a certain NPC in the game named Redd. About once a week Redd (he’s a fox by the way) will set up shop in your town and sell pieces of art. Art is needed to complete your town’s museum, one of the few clearly defined goals in the Animal Crossing universe.
I remembered Redd from the GameCube version of the game so I meandered in and nabbed the first piece of art I liked. You know that old saying: I don’t know art, but I know what I like. The next day my art arrived and I brought it to the museum where I was informed I had purchased a forgery. After purchasing two more forgeries I did something I had hoped to avoid: consult the web.
It turns out that ever since the first Animal Crossing game, Redd began selling fakes. Players needed to examine each piece for clear signs of a forgery. I’ll give you an example. My first forgery that I purchased was of The Girl with a Pearl Earring. STOP! Don’t Google it, this is a test. You’ve probably seen this piece before. If so; can you tell me what color her hat is? I bet you can’t. And that’s how I ended up with a forgery. I bought one with a red hat, and the real hat is blue. If you did know, well… congratulations now you have no reason to regret that art history degree. Anyway, if you’re curious here’s a page explaining it all.
After throwing my money away I was pissed at Redd, this non-existent NPC. Not only did he slow my museum’s progress, but he’s essentially taking advantage of people — or in this case animals — who don’t understand art. Redd was put into the game to show that there are people in the world who will do anything — even the wrong thing — just for money. In Redd’s case he’s made a business off of the uneducated consumer — he is the game’s snake oil salesman.
Let’s move on to the game’s infamously stingy tanuki…err raccoon dog… err raccoon… Tom Nook. In each iteration of Animal Crossing this clever devil will kindly set your character up with a house in their new town. What Nook doesn’t mention is that your new house ain’t free. The next day, you’ll have a roof over your head but also be deeply indebted to Nook, and paying off your debt becomes another main goal in the game.
Nook’s underhanded tactics cause many players to hate on him, but I was surprised to learn that the shrewd raccoon actually has a pretty sad backstory. Let me break it down for ya:
Many years ago Tom Nook left for the city to seek his fortune. Oh, the city. Animal Crossing makes it clear to the player that the city is where the greedy go. Because the greedy ones are the ones who leave their relaxing village lifestyle just for more of what they already have enough of, be it money or opportunity.
Back to Nook. The young raccoon was known for working hard, but there was only so much money to be made in the village where he grew up. And so, despite a close friend pleading with him to stay, Nook left to pursue a new life.
Things didn’t go well, and Nook was forced to limp back to his life in the village a changed man…err raccoon. Here’s the story again in his own words:
“…Well, actually, I was just thinking about the good old days, hm?
I know it seems that the world is my oyster, what with my fine shop…
But in my childhood, I lived the kind of life you couldn’t even imagine!
Yes, yes, but this was all some time ago, but this was all some time ago, before I moved to this town, hm?
Of course, I was born in our lovely [TOWN NAME], but I moved away for a time…
Yes, yes, the city years, I like to call them. I was a raccoon of action, hm?
The big city certainly had its charms…but it had its pitfalls, as well.
Indeed, I had to endure certain hardships that I’ve never spoken of, hm?
…Hard to believe, yes?
You’re probably asking yourself, what the heck is Nook talking about, hm?
For now,[PLAYER NAME] , maybe it’s best that we forget we ever talked about this.”
So there you have it. That NPC you’ve demonized all these years for slapping a steaming pile of debt in your lap? He’s the result of a life all too focused on money, because… you can never have too much, amirite?
Wow this thing’s getting kinda long and preachy, eh? Let me end on a positive note. As positive as it gets, at least.
There is one critter whose life is pretty much the opposite of old Tom Nook: Sable Able — the eldest of the Able Sisters.
Sable’s parents ran a clothing/tailor shop in town, but a fatal sewing accident (can’t make this stuff up) claimed both their lives leaving poor Sable to raise her sister Mable singlehandedly. Her other sister, Label, left for the city to pursue a career in fashion. We’ll come back to her later.
And so Sable learned to make clothes to keep her family’s business open while raising her younger sister. In New Leaf, if the player continuously talks with Sable, she’ll slowly open up revealing these facts as well as a life now wholly devoted to her craft. She works hard, cares for her family, and is happy with what she has. Isn’t it admirable to carve your own place in the world with a skill you hone? I’d sure take it over making a buck through manipulation (Redd I’m lookin’ at you) or by leaving your loved ones behind (Nook).
While we’re on the subject: remember how I mentioned that a close friend asked Tom Nook to stay in the village? To not leave his life behind and go to the city? Well, that friend was none other than Sable. Whoa.
Label did pretty well for herself in the big city. After being taken under the wing of a fashionista giraffe (again, can’t make this stuff up) she was renamed Labelle. In Animal Crossing: City Folk you can even visit Labelle at her shop and help patch things up between the family. By Animal Crossing: New Leaf the trio are reunited running one helluva family business together in the same village where they were born.
It’s fascinating to me that as the Animal Crossing series grows, these critters’ life stories become more visible to us. And each of the three characters I’ve introduced to you have motives or backstories that sound like they’d fit right in with our modern world where cash is king. So why would Nintendo slap these archetypes in cute, unassuming Animal Crossing? Well, I think the messages of being happy with what you have isn’t something someone can simply tell you. The best way to absorb that lesson is to see firsthand how greed affects the people around you.