(On the Nintendo Switch Lite)[See TVC’s review of an earlier emanation here]
A Millennial may annoy with ‘their’ incapacity to deal, and impatience, with technology older than today, but that level of irritation is as nothing compared to that engendered by an adult of the Silent or Boomer generation who says, upon facing an item of technology newer than the fax, “I’ll have to ask an 8 year old how to do that!” (this would be said with an implied LOL if that weren’t something that only the under -10s understand).
Even Lynn Barber of that generally old-person-friendly magazine The Spectator reports proudly (23/5/20), when playing a video game for the first time: “But luckily I have some grandchildren to advise me…first I have to FaceTime grandson Max to ask where to insert the tiny sim card. He manages not to roll his eyes.” I do not manage it. I don’t even try. Why are our elders so proud of this learned helplessness when dealing with post-911 technology? Why do they make no further effort after prodding ineffectually at a screen for two minutes?
“So‘” continues Lynn, “I switch off and go and have lunch. BIG MISTAKE. When I switch on, I have to go through it all again from the beginning because I failed to save it…Max has warned me I must always remember to press the save button….” (Does Ms Barber write her features, columns and books on a slate?) Hence she is “FaceTiming Max again to ask how I am supposed to move.” Maybe just press some of the very few buttons on the Switch? Has the woman no pride? What if Face Time goes down? How long will it take to get to Max’s house in her four-in-hand?
On my bucket list of things to never do before I die (and it will be difficult to do them afterwards, I suspect) is, “do not look at a gadget and say ‘I can’t use that, we didn’t have those when I was a girl, the old way involving slavish levels of labour was better, I can’t understand this stuff, and I can’t be bothered.” So yes I have a Switch Lite, the descendant in a long straight line from my beloved GameBoy, and I play games, all at an age well past Max’s. Children are better at this stuff than are luddites like Lynn, not because of any innate ability or techno-age birthright, but because they have more free time and less on their minds. Nor are they afraid of, or bored by, the Switch and its friends. They’ll give it a go and are curious enough to keep on with a game which they hope will reward them down the track, rather than dropping it in frustration as Lynn did when it was not immediately fascinating. There’s the irony.
And of course my favourite game is the one that Ms. Barber was unconvincingly giving a try: Animal Crossing New Horizons. Ms. Barber really ought to call Max again, or some two year old, and have another go. It is magic. Every day the diligent player collects and sells fruit, waters flowers, talks to villagers, sells and buys, decorates the house, improves the scenery, fishes and catches bugs. But the ability to terraform one’s endlessly mutable island with ledges, waterfalls, bridges and inclines, is the primary improvement on the game’s parent, Animal Crossing New Leaf. Ms. Barber refers to “indentured servitude“. At the beginning of the game there are tasks which must be performed and bells (the in-game currency) which must be earned, in order to learn the mechanics and principles of the game. After that, bells are required for purchases and the building of island infrastructure. Animal Crossing has long described as a capitalist game, but self-improvement and self-determination are the point. The Big Guy is a raccoon, Tom Nook, who seems to live in the main office with his colleague Isabelle, a yellow dog, who may or may not be his wife. The game’s beautiful, seamless graphics and rolling perspective allow the player to build a pretty island peopled with animals in dresses. There are players who strive to make their islands ‘spooky’ or ‘industrial’, but really, if you don’t like flowers and kawaii overload, don’t play.
It is not necessary to go online in order to play. However, being able to visit other islands to sell turnips at a high price (called ‘playing the stalk market’), to collect otherwise unavailable items, or just to look at some of the truly incredible works of art which the game has spawned around the world, make it worth the $5.95 per month (or $29.95 annually) Nintendo membership. Also, there’s a really, really clever grandchild common to us all. Its gender free name is Google. You really won’t need to Google to learn how to move or attend to the basics, they are self evident, or learned through the early ‘indentured servitude’, if you put just a little effort in. Beyond the basics, though, the game is so potentially complex that you might want to google Feng Shui principles for your house or the genetic code of the flowers if you wish to breed hybrids.
The gameplay is superbly constructed. Shadows move according to the time of day, items are sharp in-close focus, flowers and trees wave independently in the breeze. Your island operates in real time, with southern or northern hemisphere seasons and regular ‘visitors’. Nintendo sends updates for short-term events, such as cherry blossom season.
There are minor flaws – repetitive dialogue, some clunkiness in the terraforming mechanics and insufficient design spaces. But this is a magnificent game, A thousand kudos to the Nintendo boffin who said’, ’Let’s make a girl’s game‘,* playable every day without boredom for a year, free from combat or racing, devoted to design and useful living’ and a million to the one who says, “Let’s make another game along the same principles, but different. Not everyone playing video games wants to shoot stuff or look at boobs.”. May that next game sell millions: one of those copies will be mine. And I’ll play its descendants on the remote descendants of that beloved GameBoy for as long as I am able.[*yes, we know. Max can play too.]