Animal Crossing and Essentialism

In this past year, the game, Animal Crossing, or どうぶつの森 (Doubutsu no Mori) in Japanese, has become extremely popular. It came out on the Nintendo Switch right as the pandemic was starting, and it seemed the perfect game to help people pass the time and get through the forced isolation.

To be honest, I have only begun to play this game a couple of months ago, but I have to admit that I have been playing a lot during this time. One of the things that occurred to me as I have been playing is that this game is a great analogy for understanding the concept of Essentialism.

Animal Crossing Explanation

For those of my readers who are not familiar with Animal Crossing, it is a simulation game on the Nintendo gaming system. There have been several incarnations of this game. The most recent one on the Nintendo Switch is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or in Japanese, あつまれどうぶつの森 (Atsumare Doubutsu no Mori).

In New Horizons, you start on a Deserted Island Getaway Package, and over time, you develop the island. Animals that talk, walk on two legs, and wear clothing share the island with you and more join you as the game progresses.

There is not really any set goal or objective to the game, but there are short and long term goals. One of the long term goals is to achieve 5-star island status. When that goal is reached, Lilies of the Valley begin to grow on the island.

Metaphor for Essentialism

In many ways, Animal Crossing mirrors the physical world. The game happens in real time based on the internal clock on the Nintendo Switch. The scenery changes with the seasons, and there is the option for the island to be set in either the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere.

I actually have two islands, one that I share with my spouse on the Northern Hemisphere, and one that I have to myself on the Southern Hemisphere.

There are also other things that are almost too much like the physical world. You need tools that break on a regular basis. Much of the time is spent making money to pay an ever growing mortgage to the tanuki in charge, たぬきち (Tanukichi) in Japanese, Tom Nook in English. Your animal villagers have interpersonal interactions with you and with each other, and these interactions are not always pleasant..

Yet, there are many, many things about Animal Crossing that are clearly not reflective of the physical world, including the walking, talking animals that wear clothing.

Flowers blossom in every season, even in the middle of winter.

If you plant trees, they are fully grown and bearing fruit within three to four days, and money does actually grow on trees.

There are some things that you can learn about the physical world from Animal Crossing. If you donate bugs, fish, and fossils to the owl museum curator, フータ (Fuuta) in Japanese, Socratés in Spanish, and Blathers in English, he will give you a short speech telling you about them.

Even so, the information is limited, and if one were to base their knowledge of the physical world on Animal Crossing, one would have some very mistaken and skewed ideas.

Essentialism and Modern Science

The primary premise behind Essentialism is that the world of the senses is only a small portion of all of existence. There are other worlds beyond the physical universe and there is an Ultimate Reality behind all of the worlds.

The sensible world has roots in the Ultimate reality, as do all of the various physical forms that we can encounter. On the other hand, they are not the Ultimate Reality, only a reflection of it.

By design, Modern Science is limited to the physical world. It is limited to that which can be observed and measured and to rational conclusions that can be drawn from these observations and measurements.

In a sense, it would be like having a person playing Animal Crossing observing and cataloging everything that could be found in that world. Indeed, there are a great many people who do just that.

Yet, they are aware that there is a physical world beyond the game world, and no one would think that the Animal Crossing world is all that there is.

The methodology of Modern Science is appropriate to learn about the physical world, but Essentialism teaches that this world is only a small portion and does not represent Ultimate Reality. There is nothing wrong with it per se, and it can be quite useful and beneficial.

On the other hand, it can say nothing about anything that is beyond the physical world.

See also:

The Traditional Model of the Cosmos, Part III: What is the Earth?

The Image of the Cosmos

Essentialism, Rationalism, and Post Modernism: A Parable