Journaling June: The Rules of the Game

For a long time I was ashamed that I play Animal Crossing.

For those readers who are not familiar, Animal Crossing is a very simplistic game where you play the mayor of a town of anthropomorphic animals. There are twenty or so NPCs: five or six residents (with houses you can visit); seven or eight shop keeps who sell things you need/buy things you have to sell; and the rest are a revolving cast that show up at different times for special events. The game takes place in real time, that is it uses the built in clock and calendar. When it is 5:00AM in the real world, it’s dark outside and 5AM in your town. Mid July on the calendar in the real world, the sun is shiny and the plants are in full bloom in your town. When the real world clock strikes midnight, January 1, the fireworks go off in your town to bring in the new year. (I’m in the United States so your game would be different. The dated events are specific to the region in which the game is played, so insert you’re specific events into the example.) Game play consists of things like fishing, talking with neighbors, starting municipal projects (new fountain, upgrading bridges, etc.), and shaking trees for fruits or treasure.

(basically, it’s being a retiree on Sesame Street.)

As far as video games go, there’s nothing exciting about Animal Crossing. No fighting. No explosions. No death. Well . . . If you plant too many trees in a given area the sapling will die, but that’s it. Mayberry, North Carolina has more thrills.

I was ashamed because I’m an adult and for some reason I am completely enamored of this almost infantile game. I felt out of place just like if I hung out at children’s readings at the library. Can you see it? A bunch of young children in a circle with their moms and/or dads. And then there’s one fat, hipster-looking dude, sitting there, laughing and clapping.

“Why’s that man like that, mommy?”

I know that’s hyperbole, and just plain silly to worry about, but it is what it is.

And then, when I started researching ASD after my diagnosis, the fog lifted and I could see the whole picture. Animal Crossing is everything the real world can’t be for me.

Understanding how to navigate through life is difficult, period. That is even more so when you’re an aspie. Our wiring is all discombobulated. Animal Crossing’s simplistic, straight forward, unchanging rules are heaven. Actually, all world based video games have this benefit (Zelda, Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, etc.). And I love those games, too, but Animal Crossing is special. The difference is two fold. First, Animal Crossing is never ending. No point. Just . . . live. Second, the controls on the other games are getting far too complex for my bumble-fingers to navigate. More often than not I’m just mashing everything like an overly excited monkey in a poo flinging contest. With luck I hit something. It’s the equivalent of repeatedly smashing the call button for an elevator. It makes me feel like I’m doing something, but really it’s just wearing out the control. Not with Animal Crossing. There are no fancy combos. Just the D pad to move you around. Then press one of the four buttons to perform some action (cast your fishing rod, shake a tree, talk to a friend, etc.).

(easy peasy lemon squeezy.)

More importantly, the simple, straight forward , unchanging rules in Animal Crossing are a relief from the chaos of the day-to-day world. In the real world, the lessons most people learned in adolescence, never made sense, or only slightly did. So to fit in, I tried to play out what I memorized from movies. Those people are cool so if I act like them I’ll be cool. The effect was almost always disastrously embarrassing. I felt swept around by a maelstrom. Where that failed, observing what everyone else was doing, and mimicing that, faired much better. So from the safety of the shadows, I watched and developed rules of conduct.

Problem is, rules (in the real world) have exceptions. Rules (in the real world) are meant to be broken. So, just as soon as I’d lock a hypothesis down into a “proven theory,” I’d go running out into the world Charlie Brown style and . . .

(you know the rest about Lucy and the football.)

Imagine playing a game where the rules were never given. As you play, whatever rules there are change arbitrarily. That game would suck, right? That’s what life is like. Thing is, it gets worse. Now days you need to add the growing mob mentality of cancel culture, perpetually angry people who are unforgiving and hell bent on absolutely destroying people they dislike. I don’t think that cancel culture is a new phenomenon. People have been destroying one another since forever. Now it’s a bit easier. One doesn’t need bombs, or guns, or weapons of any kind. Just dox someone, get on social media and release the information, incite the mob to go after everything she/he has or does with the intent of shutting it all down. Kazam! You’ve brought down the evil giant without firing a single shot. Hell, you don’t even have to get dressed. You can do it all in your underwear.

(no due process. no oversight. judge. jury. executioner.)

In a world like that, with wiring that almost assures I’m going to run afoul the “law,” I’m terrified. If I wasn’t already an introverted recluse, this nightmare fuel is justification for the J.D. Salinger lifestyle. I mean, really? Who in their right mind wants to play this game? No one, because it’s not a game. There are no save points. No reset. No respawn. No cheat codes.

(at least none we know of.)

So, yeah. I’ll gladly take the blue pill and blissfully live out my days in Animal Crossing. Plus, it’ll give me something to do while I wait for today’s guest reader, Xochi Mochi, at Drag Queen Story Hour.

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