Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Which We Do Not Understand

I fear my daughter's Nintendo®. It's one of those next-generation Game Boy replacements called the "DS." It was her major Christmas gift last year and I have developed an uneasy relationship with it.

It resembles a PDA on steroids. It has two screens. I don't get this concept. Being a simplex thinker, the dual-screen aspect of the machine bothers me. When I play my games on my computer, I have a hard enough time keeping track of whatever is happening on my one (and only) screen. I'm sure I'm missing stuff even on a single screen, because I keep getting killed. I never see something coming. If it's dead-center in front of me, I can track it. Generally, however, in a PC game death comes from behind. It's the guys I can't see that always get me. If I had two screens to deal with, life would end much more quickly than it already does. Probably not just metaphorically, either.

Death is less of a problem with the Nintendo® because we don't allow Jelly to play those kinds of games. She really only has two right now. Game cartridges are rather expensive (dual screens are costlier to support, I guess) so we've had to be very selective of what she plays. For Christmas she really, really, really wanted "Nintendogz™" which is a virtual pet game. No problem. More than happy to oblige. Virtual pets I can handle. Virtual poop is MUCH easier to clean up than the real stuff, which is to say that even if Jelly ignores it, Daddy doesn't have to clean it up instead. It can stay in ever-growing virtual mounds in her DS for eternity for all I care. It still won't stink up the house.

Since she got some virtual money for Christmas (in the form of gift cards), we decided to allow her to buy one more game to supplement her collection. Given my statement above about being selective, we found this to be more challenging than we thought it would be. Of all the DS games available for purchase at EvilCorporateGiantMart, Inc., only three looked to be non-violent or anti-South-Park-attitude-ish. Of those, only one, "Animal Crossings," appeared not to insult a normal human's intelligence.

Which is where my fear comes into play.

I fear "Animal Crossings."

"Animal Crossings" turns out to be the sort of virtual universe that Jelly has been creating — without an electronic processor — for her entire life. I've written about Jellyville before. It still exists. Jellyville becomes her way of dealing with all the nonsense that the real world dishes out. "In Jellyville," she might say, "there is no bedtime. You can stay up for as long as you like. School won't start the next day until you wake up." This kind of pronouncement usually accompanies our shutting down a movie prematurely because of our unreasoning desire to have the girls go to bed. Before midnight. You might wonder why the kids are watching movies so late at night. You will understand this when I tell you that we start all movies before 7:00 PM, but there's a reason why someone invented the remote control. Whoever invented remote controls had daughters with tiny bladders and empty tummies. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, "Animal Crossings" is very much like Jellyville. It is, above all else, a virtual community. Probably you can make it a multi-player community if another DS is within, I dunno, 30 feet or something. But it's the kind of virtual universe that Jelly thrives on. You can create your own character and town. Then you "move in" to this town and begin interacting with all the characters that inhabit the place. The fact that all of the characters resemble Japanese anime animals reminds us who exactly developed the Nintendo and its games. Central to this universe is a character named Tom Nook. He owns the local store, which means he controls the local economy. He also apparently is a real estate baron because you can only purchase houses through Tom Nook. He holds your mortgage. And you can only gain employment through Tom. I instinctively distrust this guy, but Jelly loves him. Probably because she's figured out how to eke a living without having to work for the guy.

I created my own character and began to play. I found that you first have a brief period of actual employment with Tom, after which you're pretty much on your own. You make your living (post-Tom) by selling things back to him. Pears are a staple, for example. Thus a person spends a lot of time shaking fruit trees. You take the fruit and sell it to Tom, who probably sells it to others for a kazillion percent mark-up. Tom is a shrewd operator.

This isn't the only way to earn money, by the way. You can sell just about anything you find to anyone who's interested in it. If you find fossils, you can give them to the museum. These are the things I know about. My daughters (and even Mrs. Woody) have been able to figure out just about every conceivable way of interacting with this community.

I'm not that smart. I have yet to sell my first pear. Every time I tried to take pears into Tom, he ignored me. Jelly kept giving me instructions on how to talk to Tom, but I'm not that patient. If he can't tell I'm there to sell fruit, I'd rather take my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, there's nowhere else to go. It's kind of like Twilight Zone; you can enter the town, but it's darned difficult to leave. The funny part is, characters are moving out all the time. It's like they know something that we humans don't. They figured out the secret code or handshake that allows you to pack and leave town. Or perhaps they were evicted and just didn't want to say anything. I'd do that myself, but I'm afraid that wherever I go, Tom Nook will be there. Waiting for me. Ready to sell me a house.

There's also the dual screen problem. While all the action takes place on the lower screen, the upper screen shows things like constellations. These constellations mean something, but I'm not smart enough to figure out what it is. Also, which button do I push? A? X? Gaah! I can't take the pressure! Of all the male inadequacies I could be dealing with, I need this one the least.

I guess I mostly fear this game because it makes me look like such a schlumpf. I feel like I'm back on my mission in Guatemala during monsoon season, tracking through mile after mile of mud. After a few miles you begin to feel like you're not getting anywhere. This is how I feel when playing "Animal Crossings." Hence I haven't played it much. I always plead work conflicts; I'm just too busy, I'll tell Jelly when she offers to "let" me play the game.

This morning she even tried to trick me into playing it in a moment of weakness. She had stashed the game in our one working bathroom. She knows that I will play our electronic Yahtzee® game faithfully, no matter why I'm in there. Today she told me that the DS was in there, and that I was more than welcome to play it, if I wanted. She repeated this about twenty times before I was finally able to close the door and resume my lousy Yahtzee streak. "You can check your mail, Daddy!" she said as I closed the door. Great. I have mail.

Someday, perhaps, I'll get motivated to learn this game. But not right now. Right now I have work to do. My virtual boss is wondering why I haven't completed one of my virtual projects yet.

No comments: