The Animal Crossing series is kind of unusual as video games go. There is no fighting or shooting, as there aren’t any enemies. The game play involves taking care of a place and chatting with animal citizens. Players catch fish and bugs, harvest fruit, purchase and arrange furniture. Maybe after selling enough of their gathered items they might pay off their mortgage (really) and take out a new one to expand their house.
The new Animal Crossing mobile game, Pocket Camp, continues most of these elements, while casting players as a campsite manager with their own (expandable, customizable) camper van. The main way to progress through the game is to visit animals who are camping and give them items they request, such as bugs, fish, fruit, and seashells. Mostly, goals are achieved through repetitive but rewarding tasks. When players help animals, they are given bells and materials that can be used to craft furniture for their campsites or campers.
One thing I like about these games is that they reward in-game behavior that builds relationships and helps others. Succeeding in Animal Crossing means prudent management of your own resources, but also hospitality and generosity with others. This reminds me of the early church disciple Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) in the book of Acts, who is resurrected by Peter. To express their love for her, the people in her community show Peter the clothes she had made for them. I love this image of others attesting to the everyday faithfulness of this woman. The small, relational interactions in Animal Crossing remind me that although faithfulness can look like a dramatic action, like David leading his army, it can also look like Tabitha making clothes for her church family.
One thing I like about these games is that they reward behavior that builds relationships and helps others.
The slow, meditative, repetitive tasks in the game also remind me of the monastic tradition. In some monasteries, acts of communal hospitality, such as cooking and cleaning, are considered a part of prayerful practice. When a game like Animal Crossing elevates similarly simple activities to the main substance of the game, it reminds me of the beauty of everyday offerings in my daily life. I think of the Carrie Newcomer song that names “folding sheets like folding hands / to pray as only laundry can.”
Like all games, the Animal Crossing series isn’t for everyone. In fact, it can become the kind of thing that distracts players from the everyday faithfulness it simulates. However, by helping us form habits of care and hospitality in the tradition of Tabitha, these games encourage a biblical attentiveness to others. This is a practice we can bring outside of the gaming world and into the real one, which is in desperate need of it.