In Venue 372, Concrete Deputy Editor Jess Barrett wrote a piece about the decline of mobile gaming and argued that social media has taken over the odd gaps of time which mobile games used to fill. In the article, Jess mentions that she only has one game on her phone, as do I. I’ve never been much of a mobile gamer. I’ve turned to consoles at the times when I’ve wanted to game, and, when I was younger, waits at the bus stop were more likely to be filled with texting friends or reading – whether that was novels or questionable Wattpad stories, I’ll leave up to you.
‘So, what’s the game?’ I hear you ask, as though it isn’t emblazoned across the top of this article. It is, and could only be, ‘Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp’. Whether or not you’re familiar with the 2017 app, you’ve probably heard of the game, whose first incarnation was released by Nintendo for the DS in 2001. I’m better acquainted with 2005’s ‘Animal Crossing: Wild World’, which I’m pretty sure I bought in the late 2000s with some carefully saved Christmas money. In the DS game, your character is the only human in a small town inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. The towns are randomised, but all focus on nature, including beaches and plenty of greenery. There is no overall goal in the game, your character merely exists in the town, interacting with the quirky but endearing residents, and completing tasks such as fishing, catching bugs, and selling items to pay off your ever-increasing mortgage. Yes, capitalism exists even in this calming and serene virtual world.
‘Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp’ is similar to this concept. Your character, and your campsite, are located in the middle of a collection of islands, each of which has something slightly different to offer. The app is more task-focused than the original DS game, with users being rewarded for reaching a certain number of interactions, or collecting a certain number of items. In many ways, I prefer this system to the original game – the overall world feels a lot bigger and provides more opportunities to progress and level up. The only thing I’m not keen on is the reliance upon your friendships with different animals to further your overall level in the game. More features in the game can be unlocked as you level up, and I really value that the app favours this system rather than presenting paywalls for the user, as many mobile games do. However, to continue levelling up your friendships, you have to keep the animals’ content with the furniture and vibe that your campsite offers, and maintaining the interior decoration isn’t something I’m very interested in.
Sometimes I question why I’ve redownloaded this game in my third, and arguably busiest, year of university, but at times I feel that it has had a positive impact on my mental health. That seems like a big claim, and of course the change isn’t long term, but I find that at particularly anxious or stressful moments, the process of completing small, easy, and menial tasks to be incredibly relaxing. All of the ‘Animal Crossing’ games have calm soundtracks, and the focus on natural environments, and creating positive atmospheres can provide short term mental relief. I definitely need to be stopped from buying a Nintendo Switch just to get to explore the newest version of this game, which is set to be released to the console in March.