Animal Crossing seems to be a buzzword these days. With New Leaf catching fire with players in the US and the EU, it seems like everyone’s talking about it right now. Whether it’s trading fruit, complaining about the abundance of sea bass in the ocean, or collecting iconic Nintendo items for your prized home display case, even if you don’t own the game you’ve probably been inundated by talk about it. Screenshots are plastered everywhere of idyllic towns full of squeaky animals, there’s lavishly colourful box art painting a picture of perfection within society, and everyone will mumble about how cutesy and kooky the game is with vacant, glazed-over eyes. It seems almost disarmingly adorable, and if you’re over the age of 18, you feel slightly self-conscious taking the game off the shelf and subtly dropping it into your shopping basket. However, there is another side to Animal Crossing. The dark side, the one we don’t talk about.
Let’s start off with something creepy and discuss gyroids. Yup, those weirdly energetic totem poles you dig up after it rains, known for their love of jiggling to a beat and emission of odd noises. These items bear a very strong resemblance (if not modeled straight after) Japanese gravestone markers, otherwise known as ‘haniwa‘. To put it short, these sculptures were clay statues placed on top of funeral mounds or around it as a boundary, rumoured to contain the soul of the person buried underneath. In the case that the haniwa was clad in armour or armed with a weapon, there was some belief that it would protect the soul from strife.
While it is not explicitly stated in the English games that gyroids are haniwa or related to graves in any way, the auction house gyroid, Lloid, was named ‘haniwa-kun’ in the Japanese version of Animal Crossing: City Folk. Assuming that we’re safe to make the connection between haniwa and gyroids, everything gets a little spookier. You’re effectively digging up perished souls after it rains, giving your village a strange Indian burial ground quality. You’re exhuming markers placed around dead people to protect them–that’s what your carefully structured, impeccably pretty Animal Crossing town is lying on. The only thing that’s worse is that the gyroid NPCs in game start to dance faster when you get closer to them–are they getting more excited about housing your soul once you cork it? Can they sense the death and decay exuding from your very being? Either way, might be best to sell the buggers before you end up inside one.
How about a dark metaphor for our own society? If you’re playing New Leaf yourself right now, or played the Gamecube version, you may understand the financial advantage that the island is to you if you use it properly. In what some consider to be a broken feature, you can toddle off to the island in New Leaf around 7:00pm and catch bugs until your heart’s content, raking in thousands and thousands of Bells (the currency for Animal Crossing). It’s then spent on making you look nicer (being a slave to the aesthetic), buying stuff (consumerism) or paying off your debts (the cold reality of life). You can take pretty much anything on the island, as well as chop down the trees with a free axe provided to you by the rental gyroid (grave dude). If you’re traveling back to your city with full pockets, you’ve effectively ravaged the ecosystem on this tropical island, having fished for all the rare species and hunted all the expensive bugs. What does that say about our mayor? Is the island’s natural bounties merely things to be plundered to facilitate expansion and personal gain?
Animal Crossing can be somewhat comparative to Katamari Damacy in the fact that they’re both cutesy games, but they can both be associated with metaphors for societal issues. Katamari Damacy received attention when the producer, Keita Takahashi, had originally created the game to represent man’s desire for consumption. In a game where you go around rolling everything you feasibly can in sight, it’s not hard to see this theme in every aspect of the game once you realize it. With Animal Crossing, you can draw a similar parallel, although it hasn’t been stated explicitly by the designers–and probably never will.
And then we have the issue of potential cannibalism. For most part, the series has been very careful and made sure that there’s no ‘meat’ in the games–only fish and bugs are creatures that can be collected and sold. However, there are two villager types that are also collectible ‘items’ in games: the Octopus-type villagers and the Frog-type villagers. Being able to catch both of those items in game and sell them surely raises some alarm bells–in theory, it’s no different to selling a lamb in front of Eunice, the sheep villager. It has to make you wonder, when this was trodden around so carefully with ‘meat’ animals, why the same rule doesn’t apply to the ‘fish’.
Either way, fishing up an octopus in front of Octavian should make you feel a little guilty.
This all doesn’t mean that Animal Crossing is a bad game for these creepy facts–in fact, a famous Let’s Play that focuses on the ‘darker’ side of Animal Crossing is often the first thing that pops into mind for those who have heard of the series. If you haven’t read this yet and you’re keen on AC, definitely check it out as it’s both terrifying and a bit of a giggle. You can read our review here.
This is just another perspective on this adorable, animal-filled game, and just makes you think a little about why that grave-stone is boogieing his heart out when you draw closer to him.