The Tea: Falling Out of Love with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
I put Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp down about two weeks ago and haven’t opened it once since. That’s kind of big for me.
I’d been playing it every day since it’s release. Every. Single. Day. I was even one of those Americans who gamed the system by registering for an Australian iTunes account so I could get an early crack at what I thought could be something really special. Something just like every AC before it (except for maybe City Folk, which felt a little meh, to be honest).
And for a while, I loved it. But just for a while.
I’ve written before about how Animal Crossing has been a critical form of self-care for me. In my sophomore year of college, I spent an hour of every day in New Leaf. This was an hour I absolutely did not have. I had way over-committed myself that year with advanced coursework, extracurriculars, and internship applications. Each day was a numbers game: nine cups of coffee, three hours of sleep, one hour of Animal Crossing. Clearly, I could’ve been using that time more wisely, but I wouldn’t have traded those 60 minutes for anything.
It was a step out of my life and into something better. It was like releasing a breath I didn’t know I was holding. For that one hour, I felt unconditionally safe and loved and accepted -- and it got me through the other 23 hours of the day.
So when Pocket Camp came out, and I was back on my usual BS of counterbalancing sleep deprivation with caffeine, I thought I was downloading a new kind of salvation right into the palm of my hand. By then, I’d basically put my New Leaf town on hiatus, just like so many negligent mayors before me.
I was a Responsible Adult™ with reverse senioritis (that’s when you start taking school way too seriously in the last year) and I just couldn’t afford that time anymore. I had to power through without it. But with a mobile game, I could escape whenever I had a spare minute. If I was waiting for a meeting to start or getting ready for bed or just eating breakfast, I could log into my campground and breathe. And for over half a year, Pocket Camp was the breath of fresh air that I could take with me wherever I went.
Lining Tom Nook’s Furry Pockets
For a long time, I ignored the criticism. Yes, it did seem like Animal Crossing had bought into the then-recent trend of releasing a free-to-play, watered-down mobile game to buy themselves some time (and rake in some “Leaf Tickets” from in-app purchases) before fans could start demanding a new main title.
Okay, we had already been demanding one before that point, but this was Nintendo. If Super Mario Run could capture the spirit of its side-scrolling plumber with just a single button mechanic, surely AC could take me back into the warm, magical world I’ve come to love. It would be enough just to feel like a valued part of that community and to see my familiar animal friends (still waiting on Alli though, tick tock, Nintendo).
Plus, the new furniture themes were (are still) incredible. From modern to historic to elegant and shades of everything in-between, it’s been such a joy to mix-and-match the new materials. If only Queer Eye’s Bobby could see me now. And if only moving furniture in real life could be as easy as swiping it from one corner of the room to the next. My apartment would basically decorate itself.
The only real issue in Pocket Camp is space. We have a whole new palette of options, but essentially only one (tiny) canvas. There are worse problems to have, of course, but with just a single campsite to makeover (and over and over), I looked ahead to when a Switch announcement would promise me the mansion-sized expansions of a main series title.
So while I waited, I went all in with Pocket Camp. I did every event. I collected ALL the things -- even the really hideous fish chairs from Chip the Beaver, all of which I’d very much like to stick right back into the ocean. I redesigned my camp again and again. Just when I thought I had it perfect, Isabelle would slide into my DMs telling me about some new furniture series that I just had to have.
Gothic Roses. Alice in Wonderland. Jello. The special event themes piled up, each more demanding on my schedule than the last. Sometimes I’d even set an alarm for 3 a.m. to wake up, replant my garden, and then fall back asleep, knowing I’d have new flowers waiting to be picked in the morning. I was obsessed. Once again, Animal Crossing’s cartoon brand of capitalism owned my soul.
Shut Up and Stop Taking My Money
But now I, too, have finally felt the event fatigue that’s been plaguing so much of the AC community. These timed contests and tasks just… don’t mean anything. Especially when it’s one right after another after another. I don’t care enough to pick up the 800th “gyroidite” (the somehow shittier version of a regular gyroid), and I sure as hell won’t spend money on those ridiculously overpriced fortune cookies (which just give me the same piece of furniture again and again anyway).
I’ve poured so much time into this franchise, and the one game that promised me convenience just doesn’t respect that.
There have been improvements since its launch, of course. You can finally sort your campers by level and theme, which makes so much more logical sense than by species. And thank God you can tap through the endless onslaught of friendship-leveling animations. But when half the game is unveiling parties and the other half is errand-running, it’s way too easy to burn yourself out on just going through the motions.
I don’t want to catch another common butterfly or harvest another orange or collect another conch shell. Yes, day-to-day request-filling has always been a staple of the series, but it’s supposed to be mixed in with charming dialogue that makes you feel genuinely connected to these animals (even though you know they’re programmed to like you) and the freedom to shape your environment into a personal safe haven (even though you know someone is going to move in right on top of your hybrid flowerbeds).
That’s gone, and it feels like AC’s heart has gone with it.
Pocket Camp is the sixth spin-off in the franchise. New Leaf came out in 2012, the year half the world prepared for a Mayan apocalypse. Do you remember where you were when the Mayan apocalypse didn’t come? I don’t, because that was a long time ago, and while Welcome Amiibo was a surprise expansion of what’s become one of my favorite games of all time, it’s left much to be desired (and even now, a bit of a bad taste in my mouth).
How long will they keep us waiting? How many more E3’s and Nintendo Directs will go by before I can dig up my waning hope for Animal Crossing on the Switch? A little longer, it seems.
In the meantime, I’m hitting snooze on Pocket Camp. I should’ve known it wouldn’t last. I mean, that game doesn’t even let you talk to Sable, so really, what’s the point?
Though Pocket Camp has fallen out of my favor, the warm, supportive, unbelievably creative AC community has not. One of my favorite members has to be YouTube’s MishaCrossing, whose Let’s Plays generously invite you into her world and whose tutorials show you, step-by-step, how to build your own (shoutout to those hacking guides, ayyyy).
While her repertoire has extended well beyond AC, my favorite project of hers is a 172-day-long Let’s Play of New Leaf that shows her bewitching town of Kodama grow from the planting of the town sapling into a truly magical world, one you can then visit via New Leaf’s Dream Suite. As I discussed last week, Let’s Plays don’t have to be an endless cacophony of outdated “noob” jokes and offense slurs. Sometimes they can be really special. And they show you how video games can create communities that are special too.
That's it for this week, folks. In the meantime, chime in the comments with your thoughts/critiques/defenses of Pocket Camp. Do you still play? Which event ruined your life? Spill the tea friends.
The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of content!