Animal Crossing is real, and it’s called Williamsburg, Virginia. The only way to get here is by a train whose single destination is Animal-burg. Upon arrival, we are given a quaint, cockroach-infested empty house that is surrounded by a cult of similar buildings all in a circle. Everything in this town has a stitched smile and no matter how many trees you shake, there is always more fruit on them the next morning. These lazy days are filled with walking in circles, knocking on friends’ doors, making small talk with rabbits and catching local bugs. There is everything one could possibly need in Animal-burg, complete with the perfect bubble of shops, museums and beaches. If that isn’t attractive enough, every so often there are community fireworks and farmers markets planted to keep you busy.
But even though this may seem like a compliment to Williamsburg, the town, like the game, is much more complicated than what is perceived. Underneath all of the friendly banter and bug catching, there are strange mysteries in the air of Animal-burg. Why is it that the minute you arrive, you are forced into working for a rodent to pay off a mortgage for a house you never asked for in the first place? And the longer you stay in this town, the more you feel the eyes of the town constantly watching you.
The only contact from the outside world are sporadic letters from your parents as they tell you how proud of you they are. Stuck in this bubbled alternate universe, you start to question why no one here dies or ages, and why some friends move away and are never seen again.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of Animal-burg is the mole that breaks the fourth wall and threatens you when you don’t follow the rules—making sure you stay in your place and don’t disrupt the programming of the game. Suddenly, on a rainy day, you walk out with your umbrella and look around, realizing you can’t escape the routine of Animal-burg and are stuck in an artificial realm of decor.
And so, here we meet again, back for another year in Animal-burg. I went to College Creek today and found a seagull named Gulliver washed ashore. It said it has sailed the seven seas, then gave me a piece of furniture that did not belong to it in the first place. After Gulliver, I dug up a beautiful Gyroid that sang, but fed it to a rodent for money. Maybe this year the feigned happiness of unsettling tourism will finally be exposed. Since we are stuck in this game, the least we can do is help each other pull the humanity out of it and discover what is really going on around here.
Ellie Moonan is a Confusion Corner columnist who wants you to know we are all trapped inside a Nintendo Switch.