In defense of Tom Nook
Mary Steurer | Monday, January 20, 2020
In celebration of New Horizons, set to be the newest addition to the almost 20-year-old Animal Crossing series, I would like to extend a defense of one of the franchise’s most controversial characters: Tom Nook.
To the unfamiliar, Nook is a raccoon shopkeeper who, to my knowledge, appears in every Animal Crossing game. His store, “Nook’s Cranny,” is a one-stop shop for town commodities: furniture, textiles, tools, plants and so on. He also has his hand in local real estate. In many games, Nook gives you a loan for your first house — and enlists you as his employee so you can pay it off.
As those of us who played Animal Crossing as kids enter our 20s and 30s, it’s hard not to be put off by Tom Nook’s financial carnivorousness. How can one not feel taken advantage of? He has a virtual monopoly on every good, save for clothes (which you often buy next door). Anytime you want an upgrade to your house, you’re put hundreds of thousands of bells in debt — presumably how he bankrolls the renovation and rebranding of “Nook’s Cranny” into “Nook ‘N’ Go”, and eventually “Nookway” and his franchise’s final form, “Nookingtons”.
But Nook is a raccoon of humble beginnings. Just look at “Nook’s Cranny.” It’s rumored to be the old garden shed of the game’s tortoise mayor, Tortimer, which certainly would explain the shoddy wood panelling and tin roof. It doesn’t even have a floor, for Christ’s sake. And we have no evidence Nook has an actual house anywhere, so we can only assume he sleeps there.
To pretend Nook is a bourgeois overlord is to ignore that he, too, is just trying to make it on his own. And at least his bloodthirsty greed is finite (in Animal Crossing: Wild World, that is). After you max out your house and he opens “Nookingtons,” he loosens up considerably. I like to think he enters a sort of semi-retirement, taking a step back to admire the empire he’s created.
You know who never chills out? You, the player. There’s pretty much no other goal in Animal Crossing but to hoard material wealth. And unlike Nook, it’s not just dollars and cents you’re collecting. No, you quickly expand your conquest to the natural world, collecting fish and bugs to memorialize in the local museum.
Even friendships with fellow villagers are abused for personal gain. Befriend a villager long enough, and they’ll give you a picture of themselves as a symbol of their friendship. This actually increases the value of your house in the game, so you have no choice but to become a psychopath who collects photographs of other people to show off like trophies. Tell me that’s not worse than Tom Nook. Tell me we are not the villains in this game.
The only real Robin Hood in Animal Crossing is traveling dog-musician K.K. Slider, who gives out bootlegs of his music just to fight the man (“Those industry fat cats try to put a price on my music, but it wants to be free,” he tells you.) But we can’t all be as cool as K.K.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.