I went to punch the man at the Tesco cheese counter in his mush this morning. When I say ‘went’, I don’t mean I set out intending to assault the poor man over his best cheddar. I mean I arrived at the delicatessen and for one strange twisted moment I thought he was a Japanese raccoon dog.
That was the moment I realised I’ve been playing too much ‘Animal Crossing’ on the 3DS. It wasn’t the carpal tunnel syndrome I’ve been suffering after days spent using the small controls in my big clumsy paws. It wasn’t even that fact that I’ve been doing all my shopping thinking in terms of bells. But the moment the small rotund man in the apron turned to me and I saw the sallow lie of his eyes, his slightly upturned snout, I felt like I was looking at Tom Nook himself. As you can probably guess, he’s not my favourite person at the moment. I’m into Nook the Crook for a cool quarter of a mill and he won’t speak to me until I’ve settled the debt.
I find these moments when computer games cross over into the real world happening to me more often than they used to. In the early days of gaming, it was hard to associate the real world with anything you experienced in the virtual. I don’t remember having these weird experiences back when 3D objects were jagged white lines and sprites just vague blocks of colour. It was first person shooters that started to warp my perceptions of the everyday. I first noticed the phenomenon after long sessions playing ‘Doom’. Walking past any industrial yard or road works, if I saw a pile of barrels I would mentally reach for my shotgun to blow them up. It happened again after playing too much ‘Burnout Revenge’. I couldn’t be in a car moving at high speed without the urge to use the crash barriers as a way of keeping me on the road whilst cornering. As for the urge to stick the nose of the car into anybody foolish enough to get in my way, well the temptation is almost too much to resist. The ‘Grand Theft Auto’ games were a long hard struggle to stay out of prison given my constant urges to car jack and ‘Portal 2’ was one long battle to avoid jumping from high places.
More recently, these moments have been happening all the time. Just yesterda
y I saw a butterfly. I’ve never chased a butterfly in my life but I gasped and skipped after it once I realised it was one that Blathers hasn’t got in his collection. Luckily, after a couple of steps, sense prevailed and I tried to look disinterested but, by then, it was too late. Everybody in the rugby scrum knew I had a passion for butterflies and I might never live that down.
‘Animal Crossing’ in 3D is a game that’s intended to ingrate seamlessly with your life but I’m not sure it should be this seamless. I wake up first thing in the morning thinking my debt woes are behind me because I have 200,000 bells in the bank. Can’t make that credit card payment this month? I’ll just spend my morn
ing fishing and I’ll sell the Hammerhead Shark I know I’m sure to catch. I’m also disappointed to learn that the next door cat won’t give me something for the old wardrobe I’m trying to offload in exchange for a pear wardrobe.
As games mature, it becomes easier to confuse the separation between your real and imaginary life. As excited as I am by the prospect of Oculus Rift hitting the mainstream, there’s something about fully immersing myself into those worlds that worries me. Gaming is a powerful drug and wrapping your senses entirely in a fictional experience is something for which the human species has yet to properly adapt. ‘Animal Crossing’ might be very similar to the game on the original DS but 3D adds that degree of reality which makes a huge difference. It’s the difference between imagining and
I used to mock the friend who first introduced me to ‘Animal Crossing’ simply because she would write real letters to the characters in the game. ‘You know, the computing power in a DS means that it can’t actually process and understand your real language,’ I would say. ‘Those long letters are just meaningless gabble to the game engine. Just hit a load of keys randomly and it will think it makes sense.’
‘No, that’s not right,’ she would protest and I would laugh.
Only, I don’t laugh now. Not since I told Bill the Duck to finish every conversation with his new catchphrase ‘arses’. The word has spread like a virus through the entire village and there are now ‘arses’ everywhere. It was a hard lesson to learn and I now know
I should never have misjudged the cleverness of Nintendo engineers. Now I’m playing the game with proper intent. I know it’s morally wrong to make a duck say ‘arses’, both in this world and that word. That’s assuming I can even tell the difference anymore and I’m not sure I can. Arses.
This was a piece I wrote very quickly in response to a job advert for video game related articles for a start-up games magazine. I never heard a thing, which probably tells me something about the article or the start-up games magazine.