Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Animal Crossing, that capitalist hellscape

I am not much of a gamer. I play exactly two video games: Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. I just really like going around picking cherries while peaceful music plays, I guess.

But I've been thinking a lot about how different they are, economically. In SV, you inherit a house from your beloved grandpa, fix it up, and start farming on a small scale. In AC, you purchase a "deserted island getaway package" from Tom Nook, and spend the rest of the game making it as little like the deserted island you came to as possible.

It occurs to me that Stardew Valley is a distributist paradise. Land owned free and clear, small workshops, everything purchased for cash only. The villain is Joja Corp, the awful company that runs the chain grocery store across the river. Everyone has a job and contributes something to the rest of the town. And almost everything you need is available locally.

Animal Crossing, on the other hand, is firmly capitalist. House upgrades are always bought on credit. You're always trying to make the island bigger and more developed. And most of the decorations you can buy are kitchy and commercial: vending machine, port-a-potty, cotton candy stand. Nobody in the town works, because they have purchased the experience of an island getaway.

Distributism, I believe, is more of an ideal than a practical system. Of course having the means of production broadly distributed is a good thing. But I have read a lot of Chesterton and Belloc trying to figure out how they intended to do it, and remains vague. In a way, it's almost an aesthetic: these things are good and fit with the scheme; those are not. That's why I don't identify as a distributist anymore; the ideals are great but I don't trust anybody that's vague on details.

That said, I do think that there are reasons why a place would become a capitalist hellscape rather than a distributist paradise, and vice versa. After all, there's no truly free market. We have regulations and limitations. It seems to me that having easy credit, a stock market (or, in AC, the stalk market, for selling turnips), and millionaires like Tom Nook are going to push an economy into a large-scale, very un-distributed kind of capitalism.

So what am I saying here?

I am saying that the Able Sisters, Blathers the owl, and I are going to rise up and overthrow Tom Nook. Too long have I sold and purchased everything at the same company store! Too long have I paid money for the privilege of giving away some of my precious, unspoilt island for Tom Nook to sell to a stranger! Too long have I picked native weeds to plant hothouse flowers in rows! Too long have I sweated for his meaningless five-star rating and concerts with a mediocre dog guitarist!

Vive la revolution!
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