Ever since Nintendo decided to loosen its shackles and allow its characters to appear on systems other than their own, I’ve been anxiously looking forward to the prospect of playing Animal Crossing on my smartphone. That day finally came late last month with the arrival of Animal Crossing Pocket Camp for Android and iOS. The more I play this game, though, the more I realize how similar it is to my life as a dad. It’s just like parenting with a toddler or preschooler…
It Doesn’t Sound Too Exciting From the Outside
When I try to explain the appeal of the Animal Crossing franchise in general and Animal Crossing Pocket Camp in particular to the uninitiated, the person normally responds with a rather quizzical look on their face. How is this fun, exactly? Why would I want to play this?
Basically, you go around a village (in the original games) or a campground (in this new game), running errands for the different villagers (or campers, in this case). You collect fruit, catch fish, and chat with these animal-themed acquaintances. Along the way, you accrue in-game wealth and items that can then be spent to buy furniture and other amenities. You level up your friendships too and pay down your loans.
To a lot of people, that probably sounds awfully mundane. You know, like changing diapers, filling out preschool application forms, and shuttling your kids to soccer practice.
But It Will Completely Take Over Your Life
While I cannot be completely confident about the specific numbers, I can be certain that I’ve put a significant amount of time into Animal Crossing Pocket Camp since the game came out a couple weeks ago. It’s a compulsion that I simply cannot control. Is my new cream sofa or modern wardrobe ready yet?
In much the same way, having a kid is far and away the most life-changing experience you can have. The changes have been far more profound and far-reaching than going to school, getting married or buying our first home. Fatherhood defines me and you really won’t understand until you experience it yourself. Kind of like Animal Crossing.
They’re Stubbornly Specific in Their Demands
The first tip I listed in describing how to survive the Terrible Twos was to encourage clearer communication. What starts out as single words quickly evolves into increasingly complex sentences. With this, children learn the power that language can hold. And then they learn to wield it.
This is just like the animals in this game. When you chat them up, they’ll tell you exactly what errand they want you to run and exactly what items they desire. I want three oranges, two apples and two cherries. Exactly that. Nothing else will do… until you satisfy this request, at which time I’ll come with another stubbornly specific demand.
If you’ve ever had a picky eater or experienced the meltdown in the middle of the store, you’ll know exactly what this is like.
And You Never Have the Right Thing on Hand
See Rosie the cat there? She wants two horse mackerels and two olive flounders. I’m so close. I’m only missing one olive flounder. Of course, I’ve got about a dozen squids, a handful of yellow perch, and more pale chubs than I care to count, but she doesn’t want any of that. She wants her two olive flounders. Nothing else will do.
Sounds just like trying to manage the demands of a child. She wants an apple. Of course we’re fresh out of apples. We’ve got plenty of bananas and oranges and peaches, but she wants an apple. Why is it that her requests never align with my inventory?!
They Speak Gibberish (You Need Subtitles)
You know how the adults sound when they speak in Charlie Brown cartoons? The villagers in Animal Crossing Pocket Camp sound kind of like that, but cuter and a little more musical. The net result is you really can’t understand what they’re saying unless you read the words typed out in their speech bubbles.
And when your kid first starts talking, especially if she’s especially loquacious like my daughter, they may as well be speaking Animalese to you. You might be able to catch a word here or there, but unlike Animal Crossing, there are no subtitles for real life.
This Cycle Interval Feels Awfully Familiar
You don’t need to play Pocket Camp for very long before you realize that everything in the game is on a three-hour cycle. The visiting campers come and go every three hours. The fruit on the trees regenerate every three hours. That’s just the standard interval.
If you have a newborn baby in your life (or you still remember when you did), then you’ll probably know that three-hour cycle all too well. That’s (at least) how often typical newborn babies need to be fed, almost like clockwork. That also means it’s how often (at least) you’ll be burping and changing diapers too, at least for the first while.
The Game Never Really Ends
When you think about more traditional kinds of video games, there is typically a defined end. It’s after you finish the last level or you defeat the final boss. With Animal Crossing Pocket Camp and all the other games in the franchise, the game never really ends. Even if you’ve collected every possible piece of furniture and met every character, you can always keep playing.
Parenting is much the same. The challenges and tasks associated with raising a baby are different from those associated with taking care of a toddler or dealing with a teenager. These are just different stages. And it doesn’t even end at adulthood. My grandma still checks in on my mom regularly to make sure she’s eating right and doing the right things.
Earning those achievements in Pocket Camp may not be quite as rewarding or as fulfilling as parenthood, but that’s not going to stop me from visiting Lost Lure Creek regularly to catch some crucian carp for my pal Apollo. Nothing else will do.