Welcome to my debut as gaming correspondent, the apex of my journalistic career! And how witty of The Spectator to choose someone who has never played a computer game in her life. But luckily I have some grandchildren to advise me. First decision is what games console I want and the general consensus is Nintendo Switch, which has the advantage of being small and portable and not attached to the television. Then — what game? The experts recommend Animal Crossing because, they say, it is foolproof. (Ha!) So I order a Nintendo, which takes days to come (apparently ‘everyone’ is into gaming during lockdown) and go through the rigmarole of registering. What name do I want to call myself? Well, Lynn has the advantage that I might remember it. And what avatar? Huh? I can choose between several yucky cartoon characters and an even more yucky fairytale princess, which I pick, to my eternal shame. The Animal Crossing box promises ‘a new life on a deserted island paradise!’ I am ready —but first I have to FaceTime grandson Max to ask where to insert the tiny sim card. He manages not to roll his eyes.
The game begins with two raccoon-like creatures at a reception desk introducing themselves as Tommy and Timmy and saying ‘Welcome’. They want to know my name and birthday (luckily not the year), and then where I live. But they only want to know whether I live in the southern or northern hemisphere so that my island can be tailored to the seasons I am used to. Then, weirdly, I have to choose whether to be a boy or a girl, and what skin color I want. They offer a range from pink to mid-brown, but nothing on, say, Naomi Campbell lines. Or indeed 75-year-old broken-veins lines.
Next I have to choose one of four desert islands on a map and join Tommy and Timmy on a flight to my chosen island. Once there I have to follow them to the Plaza where ‘our fearless leader himself will be giving a presentation’, which means FaceTiming Max again to ask how I am supposed to move. Fearless Leader is a somewhat larger raccoon who introduces himself as Tom Nook, founder and president of Nook Inc, and we are joined by two other guests (victims?) who introduce themselves as Pashmina and Hamlet.
By now I have been on Nintendo listening to boring speeches and answering daffy questions for more than an hour and I am still waiting for anything that I would call a game to appear. So I switch off and go and have lunch. BIG MISTAKE. When I switch on, I have to go through it all again from the beginning because I failed to save it.
Eventually, Fearless Leader tells us all to find places where we will pitch our tents. I choose a spot near the beach but Pashmina and Hamlet disappear for ages and Fearless Leader tells me to go and help them. I find Hamlet standing paralyzed with indecision. He tells me: ‘I’m still trying to find the right spot. I’ll be doing some serious cardio, so it’s gotta have lots of fresh air.’ When I tell him there is plenty of fresh air right where he’s standing, he says: ‘That was a tough decision. You totally saved my glutes!’ Oh God, I’m stuck on a desert island with a complete weirdo fitness bore. So then I go in search of Pashmina who says she’s thrown a stick to decide where to pitch her tent and tells me ‘You rock, kidders!’ She seems to think we are going to be friends but she can forget it.
Back to Fearless Leader, who tells us we are going to build a campfire and have a feast. I have to go and pick up 10 tree branches to make a fire, and then six apples, which takes for ever because I can never remember which buttons to press. Fearless Leader asks us to choose a name for the island. I start typing ‘Hell’ but only get as far as ‘He’ when the others all start clapping and saying ‘It rocks!’ So the island is called He and I am appointed Resident Representative. Can I switch off now?
Max has warned me I must always remember to press the save button, but when I do, a message comes back saying ‘You can’t save now’. Bastard! Apparently you can only save when you have completed all your tasks. And when Fearless Leader eventually says I can go to bed, of course I can’t find my tent, and then I can’t get into it and by now sobbing with frustration and fury, I just switch off and glug a few glasses of Chilean red. So that was an entire day listening to boring speeches, doing pointless tasks, meeting horrible people, like being back at school. Why do they call it a game? It is servitude. Max assures me it gets more fun as it goes on, but in order to go on, I’d have to go through all that rigmarole again because I failed to save it. And how can I have fun with people called Hamlet and Pashmina who keep telling me I rock? I so don’t rock.
I’m not sure I have any future as a gaming correspondent. I’m supposed to give the game a grade but it’s a bit unfair when it’s the only game I’ve ever played. But my advisers assure me it’s an A.