For the sake of specificity, this blog is on Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS, but they’re all essentially the same. In the game, you live out the life of a user-created person in a small village filled with humanoid animals, and interact with the world in various ways like fishing, collecting fruit and digging up fossils. Essentially, the game is a version of the pastoral myth, where life is forever happy and simple, without any major problems found in urban areas (e.g., crime, poverty, homelessness, murder, etc.).
The game begins with your character in a taxi heading towards a small town. Here, you choose your name, gender and town’s name. It never really says where you’re from, but while playing the game, some villagers make fun of your name for being an outsider name – but it’s not really important to the game. Essentially, the urban world is never present in Animal Crossing, and no real opinion is given about it. There are some implications, though, from how the rural/pastoral/village life is presented – mainly, that a simpler and smaller town is better than a city setting.
In the town, you meet your few neighbors (about 10, in total), do small tasks (deliver packages, sell fruit and items, talk to people, etc.), and build up your house/personalize it. It’s all very mundane, yet oddly compelling.
The game forces you to start in debt, so you do chores to earn money and pay off your house, but even being in debt/being poor is not really a problem. You aren’t punished or even scolded, just gently reminded that you owe money when you talk to the shopkeeper. There is no fear of starving or homelessness or repossession of your property – just the suggestion of paying people back. This suggests a gentler world in the countryside, where neighbors and businessmen are more understanding, forgiving and personal. You have to talk to them daily, so you actually get to know each other; the relationship is one of trust. Whereas in the city, the usual stereotype is a cutthroat world, where if you don’t play by the rules, you get in serious trouble (although it never says this in the game, we tend to, as a society, think this way).
You also aren’t allowed to do bad deeds in the game, like stealing or killing – although, you can cut down trees, which can be kind of a jerk move if it’s someone else’s fruit tree, but you are never punished. The absence of these very negative aspects of society could possibly be explained by realizing the game is rated “E for everyone,” and marketed towards a family-friendly demographic. Or, it could be taken as the implication that bad things just don’t happen in the simplicity of rural environments as much. Everyone is friends and works together in a nice little utopian fantasy.
The town also has a museum, a bank, a mail system, and a well-stocked shop full of exciting items and decorations (like TVs, musical instruments, statues, furniture, etc.). In this way, the game suggests that you can have a small community of cooperation and also live with the benefits of a developed, modern society. There is culture, and taste, and peace. Every humanoid animal resident is also unique and has a different personality, which suggests a non-homogenized culture, and you are able to express individuality through fashion and home decoration. This all sounds very fantastical and unrealistic (you’re playing with talking animals, after all), and it is for the most part, but the main idea here is that a society can be small, cultural and also pleasant. It may not have every amenity of an urban city, but you don’t need so many things in your life – the simplicity of living is entertaining enough, the game says.
However, this whole utopian fantasy couldn’t occur without keeping a strict border around the town. The only entrance to your perfect village is a giant gateway with guards constantly on duty to keep people out. Nobody is let in without permission. This seems to say utopias have to be exclusive, and they have to be guarded. The outside world is full of problems, and to live a happy life you shouldn’t deal with the problems, but instead force out the problems. It’s a not the best moral or philosophy, but keeps the pastoral myth alive.