A chubby, stuffed bear wobbled up to me today and started talking about bread pudding. This wasn’t the first time this week we had talked about dessert: just yesterday he told me he was making peach cobbler. The stuffed bear broke out in a fit of awkward laughter. He had eaten all of the bread pudding already, and not realizing this, had offered me some. Maybe next time. He waddled back into the woods and I continued strolling towards the coast.
I played Animal Crossing: Wild World on and off for the better part of a decade. I got the game for Christmas in December 2005 and put it down after finally catching the elusive coelacanth in the spring of 2013. The coelacanth is a super rare fish that only appears when it’s raining in your town, which is pretty much never. What makes the coelacanth a challenge for even the most experienced anglers is that they have the same shadow as the ubiquitous sea bass. You don’t know if the fish you’re about to catch is the most common fish in the game or a priceless, living fossil.
Sometimes I played Wild World every day for weeks at a time. The Animal Crossing series is incredibly digestible and is best enjoyed in daily thirty minute sessions. I would play Wild World almost immediately after coming home from middle school. Flipping open my white Nintendo DS Lite, I would find new furniture to buy, new visitors to meet, and new fish and bugs to catch.
The game sounds stupid when you try to explain it to people, but it’s probably even more stupid to spend hundreds of hours of your precious childhood catching virtual fish and talking to stuffed bears about dessert items. My town, the creatively named ‘Hyrule’, was like a second home: a refuge from the real world. Old PlayStation ads used to tell me to live in my world and play in theirs. But I just wanted to live in theirs.
The real world blows. When Mark Zuckerberg becomes president and hooks us all up to a 24/7 VR simulation and beams ads into our eyeballs forever, I will call that an improvement. I no longer look down on the meek NEET, the techno-oblate of our time. The NEET is part of a global religious brotherhood, his sordid bedroom a monastery to the devotion of the Machine.
Shall we too submit to the Machine? There’s surely no escaping it: even autistic Amish kids are watching Minecraft Let’s Plays on YouTube. What do we have to gain other than the smug superiority of having an iPhone a few years out of date? I’m special, he says, I don’t need the latest and greatest. He posts this from his 2013 MacBook Pro.
I didn’t make a Facebook account until the end of college. Who knows how many parties I wasn’t invited to, how many friends disappeared into the ether because I couldn’t keep in contact? Who really won: me or Mark? Use social media or you will be punished socially, you will face repercussions. The Silicon Valley mafia will show up at your door in the middle of the night, bearded men wearing thick-framed glasses and flannel shirts will storm into your home, and they will drill an Oculus Rift into the bony margins of your orbital canals.
Do you know why the real world blows? You know because when you wake up from a dream you’re horrified that it wasn’t real. You’re back here and have to be at work in an hour. Nobody ever had such a good day that they were frightened to fall asleep on the off chance it wasn’t real. Even nightmares are more interesting than your life. You at least get to be chased by some demonic entity beyond your comprehension rather than sit stuck in freeway traffic on your way back home from work.
The scary thing is that there may be no escape from it all. You will die and after drifting through a tunnel for what seems like hours you will be presented with a popup message: please log in to continue. Cue Jeff Bezos laughing in the distance…
I had a room full of Japanese themed furniture in Wild World. The west wing of my house was decked out in samurai swords, ninja stars, wall scrolls, and one of those bamboo teeter-totter things that fill with water. There was this cute half-Japanese girl who used to talk to me in middle school until I beat up a sixth grader. I’m kind of glad she stopped talking to me because I was very close to becoming a weeb. However, the Sim Managers had granted me one saving grace.
I was spared from complete social obliteration as a child solely due to the fact that I never got into anime. Video games became more or less socially acceptable in 2007 when Halo 3 and Modern Warfare were released. Anime never became cool and will never become cool. It is the last vestige of anti-modern entertainment. The Japanese do their own thing, even if they say something completely different to your face.
I’ve seen some of the classics, notably Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I never went much further than that. The night I lost my virginity I immediately left the girl in my room and watched Black Lagoon on Toonami: a final, tongue in cheek nod to the most incel of artistic mediums. I’ve seen anime ruin lives in ways sports or even reality television could never accomplish. I’ve seen good kids turn into wretched, hulking monstrosities of men. You know when someone watches way too much anime. You just know.
I turned on my Nintendo DS Lite the other day and my town hadn’t changed. ‘Hyrule’ was infested with weeds and my flower garden was dead, but everything was pretty much the same. My mansion with its red roof, the secluded shoreline full of coral below the shopping mall, and my orchard of exotic fruit were all still there. I walked across the bridge connecting the two halves of my town and journeyed through the woods.
The stuffed bear was gone. We never got to have bread pudding.