I woke up this morning to 2 requests and 1 piece of (unsolicited but welcome) advice to post a transcript of yesterdays show about Aesthetics, Taste, Late Night Talkshows, and Virtual Worlds and Animal Crossing. This volume of messages about a transcript hasn’t happened since I started the show back in 2018. So here you go:
I’ve also just uploaded the arrangement of the Animal Crossing theme for Harp and Glockenspiel I made to Youtube to kick things off 🙂
Permanently Moved :: Animal Crossing Is The Place For Taste
Having put out an hour long show last week, for the first time in 2 years I’m making an exception on 301’s 5min and 1 sec length constraint this week. I want to push the walls out a little as it were.
I, like the rest of the internet, want to talk about Animal Crossing.
But first, an update: I spent last week wiping, archiving and installing a clean OS on my Laptop. I’ve also finally set up my Notion.so workspace and it’s populated with a lot of near term projects I want to finish or complete. And for the first time since 2005 I’ve inboxed zero’d my Gmail. Feels good!
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate more deeply this week is that my laptop is a place. A psychic place in some sense. A room in my life that I portal into every time I open a laptop lid. A cyber-place, in cyberspace as it were. When I consult on Ops design with startups, I talk about techno social systems a lot. And most recently here on Episode 20-04 Make No distinction. I have come to the conclusion that not keeping your digital workspace tidy is the equivalent of leaving clothes on the floor or not doing your laundry. Eventually it all piles up. Your hard drive is a reflection of you. Last week my cyber-place had gotten so bad that I ended up a bit Bradly Cooper in Limitless.
So there was a great article on Charged blog last year called ‘Fortnite isn’t a game, it’s a place’ inspired by a tweet by Anoop Ranganath from 2018. Fortnite isn’t just a virtual world with rules and a shared objective. It’s built in voice chat transforms the game into a place to hang out with your friends. Kids playing Fortnite for hours on end hanging out are no different from the other kids sitting around the table playing cards chatting about their day. The kitchen is the place, the game provides a social excuse.
Spaces like Fortnite, Minecraft, WOW and Animal Crossing are all successful because they all share something in common. They allow the community to develop or have built in constructed grammars for interaction.
Web 2.0 networks like Twitter fail at any kind of civility because they were pioneers and focused on the development of the mechanics of the network, not the grammars, manners and mores that go along with acting in a virtual space.
Successful virtual worlds also share a kind of … performativity that helps the manners and grammars of the online space. I’m my little dude in AC, or a Mage in WOW. I approach twitter the same way to make it tolerable. I’m @thejaymo, on Twitter not Jay Springett.
Animal Crossing New Horizons as a game is just more Animal Crossing. But Nintendos inclusion of thoughtful social elements IE visiting other peoples islands have been a game changer for the franchise. When you are in the game, visiting a friend or a stranger you act like an animal crossing dude. You help water the plants, ask politely to pick someone’s fruit, and you emote. These behaviours come naturally because after about an hour with the game you are fully up to speed with the grammars of the toybox, and the manners and mores of the virtual world. You act like an Animal Crossing resident in game.
A player’s Island is a complete representation of what can be done and has been done creatively with the same toybox everyone is given. A 5 star island for example represents 100’s of hours of gameplay. Over that time the player expresses themselves creatively within the constraints of the game. So what ones Animal Crossing island IS in totality is a question of aesthetics, or rather, a demonstration of taste.
Back in 2012, Nathan Jurgenson (Now resident sociologist at snapchat and author of the social photo) wrote about a hot new social network called Pinterest for the New Inquiry where he argued:
What we pin, post, and “like” allows us to demonstrate our refined tastes, to declare publicly what we deem picturesque.
Identity is performed not as through a transparent window but through the logic of mediated and curated imagery.
In the case of Animal Crossing, it one curates virtual objects obtained through timmy and tommy nook’s shop. We will set aside the consumerist parallels with pinterest for now and continue with our aesthetic considerations: Jurgenson concludes:
On Pinterest, we do not collectively fail at creating a “real self” as we do on Facebook. The perfectly curated Pinterest pinboards … make no claim to represent the full complexities of reality or self-identity.
The toy box world of animal crossing allows for something similar. In game, the placement of every curated item, every hill, river or tree is a demonstration of someone’s taste. I use taste here not in the sense of 19th Century aesthetic philosophy, but instead reach further back towards the middle ages. Where calling an object honest was a reflection on the viewer not the artist. An honest object is one that an honorable person would consider to be beautiful. A 5 star island is the result of a player acting in their capacity as Nook Incorporated’s Resident Representative expressing their self-identity through the arrangement of virtual objects spatially.
In my opinion, a sign of any virtual world’s success is its ability to transcend its own boundaries and generate transmedia on other platforms. Twitter has its feedback loop with news cycle, Minecraft popularised online streaming, Eve Online has its corporation and stock market reportage and in case it has escaped your notice Animal Crossing Media is currently Everywhere.
One of my favourite things to have sprung up around AC are 5* island visit videos. At their best they are a cross between: Grand designs, the opening segments of queer eye where they walk round their victims apartments and critique the clothes on the bedroom floor, though the keyhole, and travel videos. There’s a lot of innovation compressed into the format for sure. Check out this clip from TagBackTV. As you listen – picture a cute little dude dressed in a top hat and tails with a moustache and monocle touring an island as a guest like some kind of island inspector.
You can hear in the clip TagBackTv’s appreciation of the host’s taste as demonstrated within the constraints of the toy box that is Animal Crossing. You can also hear the positive and polite informal manners and mores of the game that have been internalised by players from the Non Player Characters in the demeanor and performance of the voice over. I find it very compelling. There is also an emerging ‘gift exchange’ custom. A reciprocal Take one, leave one area at island entrances when you get off the plane.
Another piece of transmedia I think you should all know about is the Animal Talking hosted by Rouge One Screenwriter and former editor in chief of PC Gamer Magazine Gary Whitta.
The setup is very simple. Garry as his little dude sits behind a desk with a coffee cup on it, wearing a snappy suit and tie in a room arranged like a US late night talk show. There’s a couch for the guests. Windows in the background that looks out over a night time cityscape, there’s plants, a TV camera, a rug, and his co host @nickervision sits at a set of drums, with instruments and amps as set decoration in the background. I know you can picture it. It’s basically every late night talk show ever.
However, of course set in Animal Crossing, Audio is recorded presumably by some third party app as Nintendo quite rightly didn’t include that feature natively.. The host and the guests converse on Skype or whatever, and control their characters in game. Here’s a clip from rapper, T-Pain on the show from the other day talking about his island.
The show is already evolving, last night regular twitter user @directedbyrian was a guest on the couch alongside actors Elijah Wood and Danny Trejo. In this clip @directedbyrian leverages the implicit grammars of the game and gets up off the couch and spins around.
We have moved very far away from aesthetics at this point, but let me explain. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and consume a lot of web media. I estimated the other week on twitter that at this point around 2/3rds of the media I consume online from Newsletters, Blogs, YouTube, Podcasts, to Booksetc are made/produced by people I know IRL. Much of it I pay for
Gry Witta’s, Animal Talking is the convergence of a podcast, real time animation, and late night talk show all wrapped up in the aesthetics and constraints of the animal crossing toy box. All grammars and manners internalised by players in the game have all come along with it.
Animal Talking is VASTLY superior to any of the quote unquote real late night talk shows happening under extra normal lockdown conditions right now. There’s no grainy self shot webcam footage, no jokes falling flat without the audience to signal that something was supposed to be funny. In my opinion many big names have been struggling to keep the attention of their audiences as the lockdown has gone on.
Youtubers have more appealing grammars like the fast cut editing taken MTV visual literacy then super charged by vlogging culture. Late night talk show hosts/celebrities working from home used to traditional TV are floundering in their attempts to master the affordances of the changed media landscape. Why watch Gen X talking to a webcam when you could watch something made by Elle Mills instead? Just because a clip taken from the main TV does well on youtube doesn’t mean the whole show will translate mediums. The clips from the first lockdown episode of BBC’s HIGNFY was the cringiest thing I’ve ever seen.
Why did no one tell them day 1 of lockdown that they could use a DSLR as a webcam and record crisper audio straight to their phones with a headset plugged in? It boggles my mind, anyways I digress.
Animal Talking works so spectacularly well by wearing its influences on its sleeve. It is not traditional late night media dislocated to a new platform. The extra normal condition of the show is that it’s taking place in Animal Crossing. I’m sure we’ve all evolved our own grammars and manners whilst participating in the virtual world on House Party or on zoom calls that are unique to our group of friends. Animal Talking also takes place in a virtual world that everyone understands the grammar, and manners of Including the audience that’s watching.
Marc Geffen recently wrote in his newsletter ‘vivid and vague’ on The Minimum Viable Metaverse. A concept that has its roots in cyberpunk most memorably Neil Stephensons Snow Crash. They say that we are: “we’re starting to pick up strong signals about how entertainment, work, school, and common modes of social interaction will change.”
“we’re starting to pick up strong signals about how entertainment, work, school, and common modes of social interaction will change.”
He presents a ven diagram of virtual worlds, premium social media like twitch subscriptions, decentralised and remote technologies like bitcoin and zoom and the quiet democratisation of eCommonce that has been going on the last few years.
In the newsletter Geffen suggests that:
Video games will guide the way
Spatial software is coming soon
And virtual worlds will continue to explode as IRL continues to lose its monopoly on normalcy as the lockdown continues. It is a very good essay that draws many interesting conclusions that I agree with. Check it out, link in the show notes:
I’m excited to see what else comes out of the Animal Crossing Toybox in future. It is an exciting time. And I haven’t even bought up the wild west that is VR chat.
If you want more from me on virtual worlds, their grammar, and the demonstration of taste please do check out episode 20-03 on Mixtapes and Landscapes. Or check out Episode 19-19 from last year where I attempted to explain Fortnite for boomers. Links to all the articles and episodes mentioned are in the show notes.
As always you can follow me online almost everywhere as @thejaymo and subscribe to my blog at www.thejaymo.net/blog
Regular 301 second transmissions will continue again from next week.