Dollah Dollah Bells, Y’all! – Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I’ve written about my appreciation for how Animal Crossing handles gender. I also appreciate how it deals with money, and possession of material goods.

kittyselfesteem

Animal Crossing is a game about collecting things. In fact, if the game can be said to have a goal, its goal is, at its most basic level, to collect. Daily activities include shopping at the store, shaking furniture out of trees (Oh, the feeling of shaking a urinal from the branches of a tree), digging up fossils. You engage with villagers, do favors for them, and are rewarded with stuff.

There’s lots of stuff. I have the Prima guide, and it’s like the LL Bean catalog of Animal Crossing. Over 300 pages of stuff. Pages and pages of stuff. Furniture. Wallpaper. Shirts. Bugs. Fish. Gyroids.

Back in the Gamecube days (circa 2002), Animal Crossing was definitely a game about stuff, at least for me. My main goal was to upgrade my house to get more room to cram more stuff in there. I want the complete Modern Furniture set. Also, more NES games and gyroids to fill my basement please.

My obsession with stuff spilled over into real life. I bought things just to buy things. DVDs. Clothes. And, yes, video games. It accumulates. It takes over.

In Animal Crossing, you can only hold so many items in your house. However, they supply you with a magic closet, a wardrobe with an interior the size of a small country, in which you can store extra items.

Eventually your own private Narnia also reaches its capacity.

That means it’s time to prune. Getting rid of your digital items is hard, especially the rare ones. The ones you can’t purchase from the catalog at the store. I would agonize over ditching these little piles of pixels. Ten years later, I can’t say I miss the Warbloid I left at the recycling center, or the Exotic Bureau I sold to Tom Nook. Why did I even hang onto them in the first place?

As Animal Crossing has grown, so have I.

aquarium

New Leaf takes a different approach to stuff. Yes, this is part of Animal Crossing’s natural expansion of the game world. (Every day I am surprised by the new things to do. I walked around town carrying a cup of coffee. Why? Because I could! And, you know, coffee.) But it’s more than that.

Re-Tail, run by husband-and-wife alpaca team Reese and Cyrus, is a recycling/second-hand store. It is the only store that is inside your village, not on the Main Street drag north of town. Whereas the museum, the post office, the Able Sisters, and the various incarnations of Timmy and Tommy Nook’s retail paradise are separate from your life, Re-Tail is an integral part of it.

Re-Tail encourages you to – take a deep breath – get rid of stuff.

Hold my hand. We can do this together.

There are two ways to get rid of your stuff. You can sell the items directly to Reese, or you can put them up for display in the shop.

re-tail

Putting items up for display serves no real practical purpose. Animals won’t pay an extravagant amount for your used crap (even Kitty won’t pay 10,000 bells for a Rococo Sofa), and, when it really comes down to it, you can’t make a significant amount of bells more than you would just selling your secondhand stuff to Reese. So why is the option for flea market space there?

Because it’s not about making money.

Re-Tail is about sharing your possessions – and therefore, your life – with your neighbors. Other animals come into Re-Tail. They browse your stuff. They encourage you to let go. “You can get rid of something, but the memories stay forever,” they say. They get their own personal use from your items. You can go into their houses and see your old things, if you wish. Reminisce. These little pieces of your life become little pieces of theirs.

Eventually they’ll outgrow your things — their things — too. The birdbath Kody bought back in July might show up back in Re-Tail in August. Or you might even realize that Kody gave it to Paula who in turn tries to give it to you. “You can re-gift it if you want,” Paula says. She knows it’s just an object. A symbol of her gratitude. She knows that if you sell it, or give it away, that you don’t appreciate her any less.

It’s just stuff.

simonbench

Animal Crossing is no longer a game about collecting. It’s a game about sharing. It’s a game about sharing your stuff, your money, your life, yourself, with other people.

Now if only I could stage an intervention with Kitty over her spending problem…

kittybargain

Behind the Rainbow Screen – Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a judgment-free zone encouraging self-expression that blurs gender lines.

The Animal Crossing series has always been about self expression. As the game has evolved from Gamecube to DS to Wii and now to 3DS, the methods of self expression have also evolved.

New Leaf is the subtitle given to the 3DS version, and, from what little I’ve seen, it’s quite a step beyond the Wii version in terms of what you can do. You can buy fortune cookies with humorous, often Nintendo-related, fortunes. As Mayor you have more control over your town. For the first time, you can customize your house beyond just the roof color. You spend the entire game staring at your own endlessly happy little avatar, and the customization options have exploded: you can change your pants, socks, shoes, and over accessorize yourself until you look an Olsen twin. Or both Olsen twins.

As Nintendo takes its own small steps toward the online environment, they encourage players to connect to the Nintendo network to download a new item each month. June’s item is the Rainbow Screen.

Rainbow Screen

That’s me behind the screen, in my teeny tiny butterfly-wallpapered house.

There’s not much of a screen to it. A screen implies something to hide behind. This is a transparent rainbow arching between two fluffy clouds.

June is also Gay Pride Month.

This is more than just coincidence, or Nintendo throwing a rainbow-shaped gay bone to its audience. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a judgment-free zone encouraging self-expression that blurs gender lines.

Although your character’s gender is decided by whether you think you’re “cool” (male) or “cute” (female), it stops there. All that does, along with a few other questions, is determine your character’s facial type.

With the current expansion of clothing customization options comes more than just jeans and sneakers. Characters can also wear dresses. (I admit that I cannot remember if dresses were an option in Animal Crossing: City Folk, or if that game still just relied on patterns. However, I do believe it would give you the option to take on a hairstyle normally reserved for the opposite gender.)

The Able Sisters – Mabel, Sable, and Labelle – run the combination clothing and accessory shop on Main Street. Each day they rotate the clothing your character can wear. It can range from the costumey – an Egyptian pharaoh’s robe, a motorcross helmet, viking horns – to the practical – stonewashed jeans, a plaid shirt, wire-frame glasses.

Your character can purchase any item clothing he wishes. Want to try on a dress? Go right ahead. Mabel even encourages it, even if she is a little older and clearly unaccustomed to cross-dressing customers. With the ridiculous costumes she sells, she should be used to a flamboyant queen or two shopping there by this point.

Yodel Dress

My eyes are closed because I’m embarrassed to be seen in Heidi’s hand-me-down dress. Yodel-a-he-hoo.

I have yet to mail dresses to some of my male townsfolk and see if they’ll wear them around town. If I can get Peewee – a butch gorilla – into a micro-mini dress, my life will be complete.

It didn’t click with me how much Animal Crossing is doing to not just ignore the issue of gender expression, but to encourage it, until a conversation I had with Kitty, my neighbor, who is a cat.

Each animal folk has their own personality. Although there are potential hundreds of animals, their personalities are not exactly unique. There are a handful of set personality types – the butch, the athletic, the grumpy, the cute, the cheerful, the scatterbrained, the elderly – and they are assigned to animals, enough that each animal in your town appears to have their own personality. Most animals are more creatively named than Kitty, and many are disturbingly named after a product that would be made from the animal were they to be slaughtered and processed. I’ve encountered a brash hog named Rasher, a duck named Pate, and a horse named Elmer.

Anyway, I expected Kitty to be the snobby type. There is often one in the town, usually a cat, done up in fancy makeup and expensive-looking clothes, and preoccupied with designer labels, frou-frou furniture, and maintaining a classy appearance.

I haven’t yet drawn a bead on Kitty’s personality. She isn’t snobby. She’s amiable. Middle of the line. Nothing struck me as memorable about her until she asked me the question: “Do you wear makeup?”

I had two options, which I don’t remember exactly, but were along the lines of “Yes, sometimes” and “No, never.” I chose “yes, sometimes.” Kitty responded, “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s 2013. Boys wear makeup now. I say deal with it.”

Being new to the game, I had forgotten I could take screenshots at any time. Here are Kitty and I enjoyed each other’s company after our chat.

Kitty likes me for me.

Kitty likes me for me.

I’m not sure if any animal will ask this question, or just the “average” one I’ve deemed Kitty to be. I’m also not sure what the response is if you say no.

However, I’m beyond excited with Kitty’s positive response. I picture a young boy playing this game, confiding honestly, and receiving encouragement from a place where they might not expect it, and at a time when they might not get it from anywhere else. “I say deal with it,” indeed. I appreciate that this response comes from the animal with the most middle-of-the-line personality. It isn’t the brassy flashy one that says this, it’s your normal, next-door average Jane, saying, you know what? It’s okay. Go for it. There is nothing wrong with it.

New Leaf, like all Animal Crossings prior, lets you design your own town flag. Do it. Let your flag fly.

If you like my post, please check out this post on how Animal Crossing encourages sharing, and discourages making the accumulation of money and material possessions your main life goal.

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