- Dec 11, 2018
For years, Tom Nook has been dogged by his unsavory reputation. Nook, an anthropomorphic tanuki who lords over every Animal Crossing save file, has been labeled a villain, a nefarious bandit and a real estate robber baron, among many other more colorful titles. “I despise capitalists, and Tom Nook is Animal Crossing’s foremost capitalist,” declared a recent article in Vice Games.
In earlier titles, Nook exhibited a cruel streak. He was a busybody. And over time, his real qualities have been embellished with a range of secondary observations, ranging from the earnest to the comically over-the-top.
There’s the edgelord school of humor wherein an analogy is made between the game and some sort of ugly real life phenomenon. For example, Tom Nook abuses children, they claim, by installing the twins Timmy and Tommy Nook to labor in his general store, Nook’s Cranny. These go into the “pay no mind” category.
Then there are the good faith critiques of capital and the landowning class: Why are players forced to run errands for Nook, and also effectively pay rent to him? What’s the point of capitalism — even benevolent capitalism — in a desert island utopia, where food and water is abundant and money literally grows on trees? Still others don’t differentiate, having rolled up the whole slew of critiques, from the absurd to the well-meaning, into a single package in service of the meme: Tom Nook is evil, Tom Nook is cruel.
Nintendo is aware of Nook’s reputation — and they think we’ve all misunderstood the besweatered raccoon.
“I think he’s a really, really good guy,” Hisashi Nogami, the producer on Animal Crossing: New Horizons told The Post’s Elise Favis. “You do owe him money, but it’s not like he comes over and then asks you to pay him back. And he doesn’t add interest in any of the loans that you may have. I think he really does stick around and wait for you and then lets you take the lead for paying him back.”
Timothy Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Kansas and the author of a number of books on communes and alternative communities, cautioned against generalizations in an email to The Post, but rattled off a list of communities and leaders that roughly fit Nook’s profile: prosperous, and benevolent. So, Miller was asked, would they follow Nook’s money-lending lead?
“Zero interest loans from the community treasury? I think that would be rare, mainly because most communities are not sitting on a lot of cash,” Miller wrote back.
Ultimately, many of these communities went bust or only narrowly avoided bankruptcy. In this context, Nook’s achievement is even more impressive. His island community doesn’t appear to even entertain the possibility of failure. I doubt the programming would allow it. And so, against all odds, Nook’s project is the rare combination of utopian, and successful. It should be lauded on those merits.
If the Nook-As-Villain meme lives on (and it probably will) its utility will be in giving many players a Baby’s First Landlord to practice on. I have a happy relationship with my landlord, insofar as one can have a happy relationship with a faceless management company. But a few days ago I got an email from them. It read, in part: “It’s important to know that the eviction moratoriums that have been put in place does not relieve residents of paying their rent or complying with their lease. Again, we are committed to helping those directly impacted by the pandemic and are prepared to assist after all other options have been exhausted.”
What is direct financial impact in a historical pandemic? If a resident keeps their job, but needs money to support a relative, is that direct financial impact? What if all the other options of assistance are held up by legislative dysfunction? The logic and rules of landlords runs counter to the moment.
The benefit of the scrutiny of Nook (just or not) is that there are ample, and more deserving targets for such scrutiny in the real world. If the benefit of raking Nook over the Internet coals is the development of critical thinking and class consciousness, that’s a good outcome. Even if it’s not exactly what Nintendo had in mind.