There is no question that we live in stressful times. Slate declared 2017 the year of the push alert. Any human on the internet can attest to how the never-ending news is physically exhausting.
Let’s do an exercise: Think about your digital life and media consumption habits. How many social media platforms are you on? Do you get email newsletters? Do you watch TV? Do you have mobile notifications turned on? Do you have a friend or relative who works in the news?
OK. Hold on to that feeling. Now, pull a Spinal Tap and turn those feelings to 11. What you’re feeling right now is what it feels like to work in digital journalism some days. That feeling is why I took 10, yes count them 10, days off from being in the newsroom.
The plan was simple: read books, embroider, make Thanksgiving pies with my family.
Then the news broke — Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was available in the U.S. app store. I waved goodbye to the remaining data on my already jam-packed phone and hello to Tom Nook and the whimsical (but wildly expensive) bell-based economy of one of my all-time favorite video games.
The download finished and that weird and familiar be-be-be of Animalese filled my headphones. I felt my body heave this physical sigh of relief I haven’t felt in months. I was immediately transported to the carefree, simpler times of my childhood playing Animal Crossing on the GameCube in my parents’ living room.
The premise of Pocket Camp is simple. You are a new campground manager. You need to make friends with the local animals, be helpful and gain their trust so they visit your campsite. Just like in the original game, you shake trees to collect fruit, go fishing in the ocean and stream and catch bugs in a butterfly net.
Like other Animal Crossing games, Pocket Camp uses the real-time clock. It naturally limits game plan to a reasonable amount of time. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting a nice dose of nostalgia seeing the triangle-spotted ground change colors depending on what time it is and frankly running out of things to do in 20-30 minutes.
The primary objective in Pocket Camp is doing favors for the traveling animals. The animals move around every three hours, so there is no need to be playing constantly or for very long. Doing favors makes you arguably the most generous person in the campground.
Sure, sometimes the animals can be a tad demanding or rude, but they do always return the favor with a token of appreciation in the form of building materials or bells. Speaking of which, they are pretty particular about what furniture or decorations you should have on hand at your camp before they will visit.
I’m chalking the animals’ various requests about what you supply at the campsite as a rigid form of self-care. They know what they like and need and are not afraid to ask for it. I find the honesty refreshing, despite the requests being a tad onerous.
I hope that Nintendo adds to the gameplay. Expanding the regions of the game would make it more robust. Diversifying the species of fish and bugs would also be nice. I do miss the challenge of collecting all of the fossils, bugs and fish from the original Animal Crossing. Nintendo released a special holiday event, which was a nice surprise. I look forward to seeing how special events like that one can keep the game fresh.
Still, I don’t know that I can ask that much of a free mobile phone version of Animal Crossing. Yes, I know I could get a number of other Nintendo platforms to play other iterations of the game, but I’d likely never do my real work again. In that regard, Pocket Camp is just the right amount of a game for a person like me.
Ultimately, though, Animal Crossing’s focus on generosity and relationship building is is what 2017 needs. Some may feel the need to craft everything for their campsite or be frustrated with Tom Nook’s prices. Instead, I’m focusing on building relationships. I’m choosing to find the simple joy in how I can facilitate happiness to my fellow campers.
The rest of life can feel like a rat race. The least we can do now is translate these lessons in generosity, kindness and having a spirit of giving to our real world. Maybe that way we can make 2018 a little better place for our neighbors.