The Capitalist Manifesto

by Chris Martino - April 15, 2003, 6:43 pm PDT

What follows is a true account of the seamy underbelly of Animal Crossing.

Animal Crossing may seem to be a light-hearted game full of adorable characters and colorful scenery. But this isn’t about the warm, fuzzy world that exists on the screen when you fire up the Nintendo. This is a story about the darker side of Animal Crossing. This is a story about corruption, greed, and betrayal.

I brought the game home the day it was released. Just another brilliant innovation from the developers at Nintendo, or so I thought. At that point, I had no idea just how far they’d gone. I named my town ElBarrio, after the neighborhood in East Harlem I live in. I named my cute little quasi-human Asimov, after my favorite writer. I met Tom Nook, who appeared to be an affable fellow, and I set up shop in my overpriced and miniscule townhouse (no big deal, I do live in New York after all). After running a few errands for Nook and meeting the animals (an eccentric bunch to say the least), I went to bed content with the knowledge that I had a brand new home, some decent shirts, and a couple pieces of mismatching furniture. Not a bad start in a new town.

The days went by and I was merrily paying off my debt, writing letters to my animal friends, and acquiring various goods. By this point my roommate had his own character set up, and we delighted ourselves by leaving somewhat inappropriate messages for each other on the bulletin board, such as “Hey, where do all the high school girls hang out?” and “I buried some seeds in acre C-3.” Soon after, one of the animals asked about my birthday, and it all began to go downhill. My birthday was almost a year away. So I told a little white lie. Sure, my birthday is only two days away.

Sure enough, two days later I received letters and presents from all the animals. I even received something from “Mom”, which creeped me out to no end. She had sent me a birthday cake that was absolutely worthless and took up space in my increasingly cluttered house (games imitate life, no?). The worst of it was that the animals didn’t give me anything better. I was hoping for a new NES game, because DK Jr. Math just wasn’t cutting it, but all I got were some really ugly shirts and some big, pink furniture.

I knew then that I needed to start getting better stuff. And a lot of it. To make matters worse, my roommate had bought a shovel and had started digging the whole town up. He kept finding various “-oids”. I thought they were just about the coolest thing I had ever seen. I’ll admit it, I was jealous of his extensive “-oid” collection, but all I ever got from the ground was fossils. I didn’t pay $50 for this game just to lose out on all the good stuff to my roommate, so I decided to concentrate on paying off my debt to Nook and to get more space.

For days I did nothing but fish, consumed by my overwhelming need for bells. But I was steadily paying off what I owed, and soon I would have the best house in the square. The reality of the situation hadn’t set in on me yet when my roommate asked to borrow my fishing rod. I lent it to him with no problem. Soon he was over-fishing all the good spots I had found. (I suspect he even took a day off work to fish.) And so it began.

It was an unspoken fact, silent. The arms race had begun. It hung like cigarette smoke in the air of our increasingly cluttered apartment (life imitates games, no?). We both got our licks in. After all, to hog the gamespace would be admitting that there was a competition, which there most certainly was. I took an early lead when I chose the cheaper, basement upgrade. I had paid it off and was already working to pay off the increased space upgrade while my roommate was still struggling. That Nook is a real sonvabitch. He clearly holds a monopoly and then fast-talks you into costly renovations without so much as an estimate. With my hidden lair beneath my house, I did a bit of cleaning up (okay, so games and life aren’t quite synonymous). I soon began to get better ratings on my layout, but this was small consolation as my roommate was snagging up the whole outer space décor at an alarming rate.

This was getting me no closer to the eventual goal of total Animal Crossing domination. I decided to try a different tack. I began a delicate series of diplomatic negotiations hoping to outwit my opponent instead of out produce him. I sent him letters. I designed a signpost signifying solidarity for our square. I even bought a gigantic rocket ship for him, hoping that in return he would give me that bookshelf wallpaper which would really complete the sophisticated aesthetic I had going on.

But nothing moved him. He was courteous, but not returning my favors. Clearly, I needed allies. If I could get the animals on my side, then surely I could break the deadly stalemate in which we were locked. At this point we had both developed a crush on Tangy, but I knew that her affections were fickle. I concentrated my efforts on Mitzy, who I thought was naive enough to become my unwitting pawn, and on Blaire who, though patronizing, was a powerful figure in the community. Alas, my love sonnets and carefully worded propaganda were not understood. Stupid animals.

This long battle had begun to take a toll on my sanity. My roommate, in his steadfastness, was nearly finished paying for his house, while my wardrobe was sorely lacking. If I let him upgrade, it could be the tipping point. I was staring down at the slippery slope and part of me wanted to jump. The time for action was now. My devious brain churned out Machiavellian scenarios, augmented by my growing sense of paranoia. I bought a secret memory card and started a colony in the netherworld. I named my illicit partner Diablo and set my scheme in motion.

My first action was to raid the new colony for its rare cherry trees. I set up a secret orchard in a little-used acre of ElBarrio, hoping for a steady source of income and enticing presents. My roommate had become rote in his habits, so I felt reasonably assured that he wouldn’t find this stash. Next, I began a letter writing campaign. I seduced the members of the colony with varied presents and had Diablo do the same with the members of ElBarrio. I hoped for a complete population transfer so that ElBarrio would be full of only loyal animals. As the transfer progressed, I had Diablo routinely buy up the best goods from ElBarrio. After all, he had no need to upgrade his house (I had warned him about Nook’s tactics), so all his bells could be used to my ends. His lack of a material instinct had other benefits for me as well. I donated all the fish, bugs, fossils, and paintings he found to my museum, making me known as a great philanthropist and benefactor to the arts. I even had him fill the dump with ugly shirts and dirty boots so that my roommate would have no space to discard worthless items. I, on the other hand, had a whole colony to trash.

My grip on reality was now gone. I was drunk with my new powers and frenzied by the material possessions I was acquiring daily. I began to send Diablo out on “chrono-missions”. He traveled through time with ease, hitting up the major holidays and events with an alarming veracity. Occasionally, this behavior would inspire the wrath of Resetti. Personally, I didn’t like him, as a man of my stature could not be seen with such an unsavory character. But Diablo seemed to hit it off with him, and I suspected that they had entered into clandestine activities behind my back. This would not do, but Diablo was still of great use to me, and I could not dispose of him just yet. But I would not need him much longer. His help had enabled me to concentrate on my debt without sacrificing the fineries of life to which I had become accustomed.

My roommate had begun to tire. Ironically, his own steadfastness, which enabled him to perform so well during the early rounds of the war, became his undoing. His life had become monotonous. All his friends had left. Now he was just a work-a-day Joe, hoping to pay off his debt and maybe get that new furniture he needed to maintain a semi-decent standard of living. He was but a shell of his former self, the maniacal glint in his eye all but gone. I think it was my vast collection of NES games that finally broke him. After seeing me delight in round after round of Punch-Out in my entertainment center (formerly my basement) the last glimmer of hope faded. He had lost. Victory was mine.

Epilogue

Soon after the war was over, I noticed that my former colony had begun to shape up under the careful guidance of Diablo. The trash was gone, the weeds were picked, and he had quite a house, no doubt with the help of the nefarious Resetti. I knew it would not be long until a conflict broke out between our towns, but my people were weary after a protracted civil war. They had become rather isolationist in their politics, and I wouldn’t be a very good ruler if I didn’t take the needs of my subjects into account. Under the cover of darkness, I carefully erased the colony and Diablo along with it, thus destroying the last evidence of my crimes. Besides, I needed the space to play Metroid Prime.

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