The end of the year is always a busy time for video games and 2019 is no different. With games like Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding and Borderlands 3 being released, it might be easy to forget about some of the wonderful games that already exist. Additionally, a lot of games nowadays are focusing on complex narratives and adult themes. While violent video games rule king over the industry, it’s also important to think about much simpler and peaceful franchises. One of them is a very well known title from Nintendo and has an instalment is due to be released next year: Animal Crossing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Animal Crossing, first of all, how’s that rock you’ve been sleeping under? Secondly, it’s a social simulation franchise of games where the player character moves to a town populated by anthropomorphic animals. The demographic of these games are kids, but they have fans of all ages. Think of it as a cute and cuddly version of The Sims. But under this thin veil of cute and adorableness lives a leech who is hungry for money.
And that leech is Tom Nook.
At the beginning of each game, the player’s character is basically homeless and everyone starts off with nothing. But that’s okay: just go on down to the shop, and Tom Nook, shopkeeper and this universe’s real estate agent, will welcome you to the town and will offer you a zero-percent interest loan to buy a house of your own. So, after slaving away, selling items, doing the odd job (mostly for Tom), and saving up bells (the game’s currency) wherever they can, the player will return to Tom Nook triumphant in the fact that they’ve paid off their loan.
However, the house they get is a little small. It’s split into two different sections: a small living room and an upstairs bedroom, both of which have barely enough room for the character to move or keep their things in. Again, Tom comes back with an option to ‘help’ them, offering the player the choice of an expansion of their house at a much more expensive price.
Should the player entertain him – and repeat running around town to get enough money – when they go back to their house, it will have expanded in size, at first only being a disappointing small expansion. But if the player isn’t happy, no problem. Tom will always supply a bigger option, as long as there is money.
Even though the game has no clear objective, a lot of saves can revolve around Tom’s everlasting lust for money. Despite its cute appearance, the player can often find themselves feeding this incarnation of capitalism in return for getting bigger houses and having more room to keep more things.
Sure, the player can do other activities in the game: go fishing, hunt for fossils, or talk to the many different NPCs that populate the world. But in the end, the player will always find themselves returning to endorse Tom’s thinly concealed consumerist plot. Even when the player goes to visit him in the shop, the money hungry little Tanuki will never stop following you, as if to reflect how no matter what you do, he will always be with you.
Through every iteration of the franchise, Tom Nook and his money hungry ways have always been a cornerstone. The player can go through the whole game without picking up a loan from Tom. The player will still have a tiny house, but it can be done. However, if they want to have a home of their own, the player needs to work for this cutesie version of a loan shark, basically giving them an offer they can’t refuse in exchange for a few jobs and their own financial gain.
And it’s odd because Tom Nook really stands out from the rest of the game. While most of the animal designs include sheep and owls, Tom Nook’s anthropomorphic animal design is derived from a tanuki, which is famously notorious for having a large scrotum in Japanese folklore. Fitting for a character who some players would believe actually is a scrotum.
Animal Crossing has always been about relaxing, about finding joy in the most mundane of situations. Sure, there are other shops in the game, but nowhere near the scale of Tom Nook’s business. The players could also do the odd favour for the town’s inhabitants. Sometimes they’ll give the player money, but more often than not, it’s either a piece of clothing or furniture that can be put in their house.
With the latest instalment in the franchise due to be released in March 2020, fans will be eagerly awaiting to see what the Nintendo published series has to offer. But they should all keep a close eye on their wallets. No matter what they do, Tom will be laying in wait, eagerly licking his lips for his next payday.
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