With a six year age difference, I never understood my younger brother’s obsession with video games. He was seven when our parents got him the Nintendo GameCube. It was 2001. As an increasingly angsty thirteen-year-old obsessed with American Eagle and NSYNC, I had little interest in his games of choice: The Legend of Zelda, Luigi’s Mansion, Sonic the Hedgehog. Literally, who cares? Is Zelda a boy or a girl? Why does Luigi’s body look like that? What IS Sonic, and are women supposed to find him attractive?
My interest wasn’t piqued until my brother cracked open Animal Crossing the following year. As he powered up the mysterious game, a small white dog appeared on screen. He was playing the guitar. The lights were dim. It was…sensual. I was sitting on the couch, pretending to mind my own business, skimming through the latest issue of J-14 Magazine. But I secretly watched my brother play.
My Introduction to Animal Crossing
K.K., the adorable talking terrier, walked my brother through the startup process: create a character, name it, dress it up, build a house, furnish the house, collect random things, do nothing. It wasn’t long before my brother discovered the key to winning this adorable game: you can’t.
Animal Crossing was the first game my brother played that required zero effort or skill. There were no enemies to overcome or levels to beat. You walked around collecting fruits and trading them for furniture and outfits. You filled your tiny house with tiny furniture, so your tiny character could build its tiny life. It was so pointless my brother didn’t bother hitting “save” before powering down.
“Wow, this game is crap,” he said. It was the first time I’d ever heard him use the C-word.
To me, Animal Crossing was a more adorable version of The Sims. I discovered The Sims the previous year, after my cousin showed me how to create human simulations of our middle school crushes. We forced them to order pizzas, flirt with neighbors, and slowly drown in the pool. Take that, Brad.
My First Character: WeWoo
I sat down at the GameCube and powered up Animal Crossing. I created my character, affectionately named WeWoo (because I couldn’t figure out how to type using the controller).
WeWoo had a triangular nose and little rosy cheeks. She had bushy red clown hair and was uncoordinated. She looked like the child of Pennywise the Clown and a scarecrow. I loved her.
I got lost in the game, introducing WeWoo to neighbors: an angry mustached bunny, a horny old elephant grandma, a mouse with no legs. I expanded her house and her wardrobe. She was the richest bitch in Tiny Town, and it was all because of me. She performed favor after favor (trading fruits for shirts and fish for bells). She collected couches of every color and size, none of which she could sit on or use in any way. I didn’t care. WeWoo ruled.
I had my fun with Animal Crossing that year. Eventually, our dog peed on the GameCube, so it short circuited and had to be tossed out. My brother replaced it with an Xbox, and the rest is history.
Flash-Forward to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
You can imagine my excitement when Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released almost sixteen years later. It took most of the storage space on my phone to complete the download, but I couldn’t wait to resurrect WeWoo and get to trading those fruits for tables and clothes.
Imagine my surprise when I realized the mobile application was nothing like the GameCube game. You could only visit four areas, one animal at a time. You traded fruits and fish for supplies, which you could then use to build furniture to decorate your little campsite. There was nothing to do besides collect things and trade them for building materials. There were no competitions, no fun cockroaches to stomp out of your tiny house, and no exciting trips to the dump. All my favorite features were missing. It was devastating.
I found myself looking forward to receiving the constant warning that my Wi-Fi signal wasn’t strong enough to play. The suspense felt in the moments before the load screen queued up was the only exciting part about the game.
Reaching New Heights: Level 99 and Beyond
How exactly did I end up reaching level 99? I’m not entirely sure. There were definitely times when I was sitting at home preparing to make dinner, when I’d look down to discover I’d been mindlessly playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for twenty minutes.
I’d invited new animals to my campsite and harvested dozens of flowers that served no purpose. My character was wearing overalls, flip flops, and aviators. I don’t even remember changing her outfit. This game was so boring it didn’t even require consciousness to play.
Every night I would lie in bed, playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp until I inevitably passed out from boredom. As someone who’s suffered from insomnia for most of her life, I can’t tell you how incredible it is to feel yourself lulled to sleep. This game cured me. It was compelling enough to distract me from the mundane but mindless enough to play as I was drifting off.
I heard about the players who designed their campsites to look like internment camps and small bunny prisons. I hopped on that bandwagon right away—how could I not? But in time, I felt an attachment to my tiny digital animal friends and wanted them to feel comfortable when visiting my campsite. Does this reflect my blossoming maternal instinct as I near the ripe age of 30? Probably not.
Over time, I leveled up. I picked a lot of apples and handed them out to various cows and monkeys who most definitely didn’t eat them.
I hid the game in a folder on my phone titled “Important” so none of my friends or coworkers would know my secret. To this day, I can’t explain the compulsion.
Minding my own business, slaving away at the office, I would suddenly feel an urgent need to play. It quieted my mind, kept my hands from fiddling on Instagram or Facebook, and ultimately calmed me down enough to get back to my daily routine.
It’s almost been a year since the game’s release. There’s a chance I’m the only person in the U.S. still playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, but I can’t stop now.
Since writing this article, I successfully hit level 100. I don’t want to spoil the surprise as to what happens once you pass this milestone, but I’ll give you a hint: literally nothing.