A few months ago I picked up Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS, partly because I’d heard good things about it, partly because its a kid-friendly game I can play with my daughter, and partly because I’m always looking for games for my DS that are different from the norm. What surprised me is just how pastorally libertarian the game is.
Perhaps it’s a bit much to call Animal Crossing (Amazon) a “libertarian paradise”, but then again, compared to inherently big government-friendly, liberal-inspired games like SimCity … maybe not. The first character you meet in the game is a wily raccoon named Tom Cook who happily sells you a small house … and is eager to collect your mortgage payments. Your character explores the town surrounding his or her house, collecting various items either to sell to Cook for a profit, or to keep for prosperity in the museum. All the while anamorphic animals wander the town, asking you to complete the occasional task for them or challenging you to fishing derbies or butterfly collection contests.
There’s a town hall, but it’s primary purpose is to serve as a rallying point for various special events that happen throughout the year (such as Flea Markets) and the heavy fist of government is rarely felt in the game (save for if you turn off your DS without saving, causing an angry mole to show up and berate you).
Buying and selling is the name of the game, and although you’ll often make donations, no one’s forcing you to do it (but it can be a convenient way to secure that ranch-style sofa from the penguin two houses over, as he trades out his old sofa for the new one you just mailed him…)
The game’s multiplayer options are limited, but they do give rise to an ad hoc, trade-based economy as players seek out other Animal Crossing enthusiasts to trade valuable goods, like exotic fruits. Each game has a particular fruit tree that’s native to its town; trading for fruits from other towns, say apples for pears, is a good way to make a tidy profit.
It’d be cooler if the game had a deeper scarcity model — e.g. if you turn in lots of apples, their price goes down — or if the game’s inhabitants occasionally made runs on certain supplies. These sort of fluctuations in supply and demand are something that people in the real world have a hard time getting their brains around — as is illustrated by the recent gas price fiascos and the resultant political rhetoric. I’m not saying that adding this sort of feature to the game would suddenly make everyone economically literate … but it would certainly be educational. As is, is it proved to be a good launching off point for conversations about buying and selling with my 3-year-old.
Don’t get me wrong — this game isn’t a virtual Galt’s Gulch, and none of the characters run around spouting philosophy (but it would be great to see a Porcupine show up every once in a while), but its certainly got a benevolent sense of life, and the characters are all eager to live their own lives and pursue their own interests without launching into some sort of Animal Farm revolution.