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dagiarrat avatar 12:46 AM on 07.27.2013  (server time)
Tom Nook is not a loan shark

Earlier this week, I purchased my first ever Shim Megami Tensei game. Concurrent with that purchase, and my previous purchase of the latest Fire Emblem, was a $30 credit in the Nintendo eShop. Eager to continue pioneering my way into the frontiers of game franchises I've never tried, I used that credit to download Animal Crossing: New Leaf.


I'm a devotee of Harvest Moon. The best parts of RPGs were pieced together to construct a staircase of gradual improvement at an unfrustrating pace and with low stakes: your grandfather left you this crappy farm, level it up to make money and become popular with these folksy small-town heart-of-a-nation folks you live next to. It felt very personal, but also provided steady microdoses of dopamine as you enjoyed the growing complexity and profitability of your farming enterprise.

A large part of what made the original Harvest Moon (along with some, but not all of its descendants) so satisfying was that there were many choices to be made at the margin, and a lot of them didn't matter that much. Regardless of how you chose to layout your farm, or what order you completed tasks in, or how frequently you gave gifts to the townsfolk, or how much effort you put into the expansion of your home and other buildings, or how you laid out grazing land versus farming land, the results of your efforts were gratifying without any larger context or endgame. There was an endgame, of a sort, in that Dad would show up and judge your life at the end, but there was no "game over" condition. You could "beat" the game without putting that much thought into your actions, but the thought you did put in felt good. It was never necessary to get a horse, but that made it easier to make money and opened up time in the day to do other things. It was never necessary to get as many cows as possible and get the best milk from all of them, it was just fun to increase the profitability of your farm.

Maybe this isn't the most efficient... Ah, forget it, doesn't matter.

Animal Crossing is terrifying because it's all of that with less context and more mostly unnecessary choices to make at the margin and a bunch of useless junk to collect. The addictive nature of this formula is mitigated somewhat by the real time progression of the game world, limiting what can be done in a given day, but the gradually increasing list of stuff to do is turning the game into the time sink I know it can be, and I've only been playing for a few days.

The main motivation so far seems to be the purchasing of increasingly expensive extensions to your initially diminutive house from one Tom Nook. Nook is a bit of a bogeyman to fans of the franchise as I understand it. He's often characterized as a loan shark, enslaving players to the almighty bell with growing home loans to pay off. This is completely unfair to the chubby raccoon dog in a sweater vest.

Tom Nook not only gave me a home, no questions asked, for what turned out to be a pretty small down payment, he allowed me as much time as I needed to pay off the remainder through what he called a home loan. Home loans don't come with a 0% APR, pay when you can deal. Nook wasn't enslaving me to any long-term debt, he was getting together the resources and labor to build me a house (overnight, mind you) and telling me I could pay him back whenever. He's more like a rich uncle than a loan shark.

Tom Nook is more generous than most people have ever been, show the guy some respect. Then again, maybe I'm just paying him too quickly to see the scene in which Nook's hired thugs grab me on the way to the post office and break my legs.

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