Animal Crossing (Nintendo, 2001) offers players an interesting premise: a world with no violence, no harm, and a gameplay based on making your character and the town’s inhabitants happy through favours, giving gifts, and positive changes to the game landscape; this results in a peaceful gameplay, wholly based on pleasurable activities. Why is this world so compelling to so many players? Philosophy might offer an answer to that.

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Figure 1: Happy citizens, happy game

According to Bentham and his utilitarian theory, actions should be evaluated by their consequence, in particular through “the overall happiness created for everyone affected by the action” (IEP, no date). Animal Crossing bases much of its gameplay on this very principle: one of the player’s tasks is to constantly change the town’s flora by planting flowers, weeding, and adding trees and objects; this eventually results in growing citizen satisfaction about living there (figure 1), thus making player actions valuable.

 

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Figure 2: Powerful Coffee!

Other actions in the game are all geared towards pleasure and happiness: catching a fish yields positive messages and makes inhabitants near-by smile; shaking trees yields gifts (and the occasional bee); even the simple act of drinking coffee becomes an expression of joy (figure 2). Indeed, consistently with Bertham, a good society “is thus a matter of experiencing pleasure and lack of pain” (IEP, no date).

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Figure 3: Friendship is key

Friendship with inhabitants also takes centre stage in the game (figure 3), with a large part of the game centred around doing favours to neighbours, swapping objects, and attending birthday parties. This is another application of Mill’s prized forms of happiness, represented by “genuine engagement with the world” (MacLeod, 2018), in this case human connection with digital denizens.

 

Could Animal Crossing be a game representation of the ideal society spoken of by Mill and Bentham, the “kind of philosophic gameworld of a single truth”? And is this why it captures players hearts and attention so much? The answer might be in the next letter from your neighbour!


References

IEP (Internet Encyclopeadia of Philosophy) (no date), Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832). Available at: https://www.iep.utm.edu/bentham/ (Accessed: 10 March 2018)

MacLeod, C. (2018) John Stuart Mill: Higher Happiness. Available at: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/john-stuart-mill-higher-happiness/ (Accessed: 10 March 2018).

Nintendo (2001) Animal Crossing. Nintendo.

Images

Main: Animal Crossing (2018). Available at: https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Characters-Hub/Animal-Crossing-Hub/Animal-Crossing-Hub-1057128.html (Accessed: 10 March 2018)

Animal Crossing | Coffee (no date). Available at: http://animalcrossing.wikia.com/wiki/File:Coffee_Dialogue_1.jpg (Accessed: 10 March 2018)

Animal Crossing | Friends (2017). Available at: http://animalcrossing.wikia.com/wiki/File:Phineas’_Badge_Given_Dialogue.JPG (Accessed: 10 March 2018)

Animal Crossing | Town rating (2016). Available at: http://uk.ign.com/wikis/animal-crossing-new-leaf/How_to_Get_a_Perfect_Town_Rating (Accessed: 10 March 2018)