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The death of Miitomo

Well, damn. Come May 9, Nintendo is shuttering Miitomo. I don’t know that it was ever terribly popular – it was Nintendo’s earliest venture onto mobile, but it wasn’t really a game. There were some game-like elements, primarily throwing your body into a pachinko machine to win clothes, but ultimately it was a dollhouse. A game of dress-up.

Entertainment, in all forms and across all media, is often a tool for escape. Some wish to lose themselves in a setting, others as a passive bystander in a plot, still others seeing pieces of themselves in fictional characters. A dollhouse experience is largely concentrated on this third aspect – expressing yourself, consequence-free, as this blank canvas of a person. While certainly a valid means of escape for anyone, this seems especially valuable to trans folks and people questioning their gender identity. The answers and comments on in-game questions revealed a staggering number of trans Miitomo users. I don’t really know of another game of dress-up that will serve as a viable replacement to Miitomo, and this is heartbreaking.

The May 9 date will put Miitomo’s lifespan at just over two years. Unfortunately, the app is entirely dependent upon the service, and assets users have acquired will not be retained locally, etc. While it seems plausible that local copies could be downloaded so that users could still fire up the app and change into any number of outfits they had previously purchased1, this will not be the case2. This is not a matter of ‘no more updates’, this is ‘no more app’. And that’s… a fairly short lifespan, even for a niche non-game. This absolute dependence on hosted assets makes me wonder about some of Nintendo’s other mobile forays. When Super Mario Run stops being worth the upkeep, will there be no more updates, or will the game cease to function altogether? Nintendo is in a weird spot where a lot of their casual gaming market has been overtaken by mobile. Obviously they want to get in on that and reclaim some market, but they just haven’t proven that they quite ‘get it’ yet. Or perhaps rendering a game entirely ephemeral is meant to prove to us the value of a cartridge. I… doubt it.

On January 24, Nintendo stopped selling in-game coins and tickets3 for real-world money. Daily bonuses, which used to be a handful of coins or a single ticket, are now 2,000 coins and 5 tickets every day. That’s a lot of in-game purchasing power for the next few months, and I’m glad that Nintendo is saying ‘here, just go nuts and have fun while it lasts’. Better than making this announcement on May 1, and operating as usual (including in-app purchases) until then.

I am truly sad about this; Miitomo has been oddly important to me. There is a lot of sadness and anger in the answers to the public in-game question running until May 9, ‘What was your favorite outfit in Miitomo? Show it off when you answer!’ Users are elaborately staging Miifotos with dead-looking Miis stamped ‘DELETED’, Miis crying on their knees, demonic-looking Miis labeled ‘Nintendo’ standing over innocent-looking Miis labeled ‘Miitomo’ with table knives sticking out of them. Ouch. We have #savemiitomo, #longlivemiitomo, #justice4miitomo (bit extreme, that) hashtags popping up. Suffice it to say, there is a frustrated community. I’ll be the first to admit that it never would have had the prominence of a Super Mario Bros. or Animal Crossing game, but Miitomo has been very meaningful to a lot of people.


As Queen, I keep dying

This post might contain spoilers for the games Reigns and/or Reigns: Her Majesty.

Reigns was a game that really kind of blew my mind when it came out. I guess the idea was to sort of frame a narrative around Tinder-esque interactions, which I didn’t really grasp (Tinder seems like the polar opposite of how I wish to find a mate). To me it was just this story, played over a whole bunch of games (some of which you had to fail), each game potentially affecting future games, and all handled via this incredibly simple decision tree mechanic. For the most part, you have two decisions at any given time (swipe left or right, that’s the Tinder-y bit). It was an oddly engaging game.

Now, in Reigns, you played as a king. So if they were to make a sequel, it would only be fitting that you would play as a queen. This is Reigns: Her Majesty. I don’t really make a habit of reviewing mobile games1 on this blog, but Her Majesty is fucking phenomenal. I don’t know if Leigh Alexander was involved in the first game, but she definitely has a writing credit on this one, and it shows. Reigns was clever, but Her Majesty is ridiculously tight, smart, and progressive.

Part of my draw to the game is likely bias — you play as a woman, a woman who I deeply respect wrote the thing, and the entire game just oozes with femininity and feminism. This has always been a sticking point for me, I will become far more invested in a game where I can play as a woman vs. one where I’m stuck as a man. That’s not necessarily a knock on any given game (or unwarranted praise on any other given game), it’s just my bias. But, trying to look past that bias, this Queen’s world undeniably gives Her Majesty far more depth than its predecessor.

If you never played the first game, it’s worth briefly describing what swiping left or right accomplishes. For any given scenario, swiping either direction may raise or lower one or more of your piety, popular favor, might, or financial2 stats. If any given stat maxes out or reaches zero, you die. This is the same in Her Majesty, but there’s a much bigger struggle (at least, how I’ve played it) with the church. Part of this is that a major aspect of the plot involves astrology and the occult, and diving into that essentially requires you to defy the church. Part of it is that you’re constantly given the opportunity to flirt with all the other women in the game and I mean, how could you not!? Oh, and occasionally the Cardinal asks you to conceal your pendulous melons (or something), which… no, I dress how I want.

And this is why I think the feminine aspect really gives the game depth. Personally, I find it hard to play in a way that defies my feminist sensibilities (and, in fact, a random owl occasionally pops up to tell you how feminist you are or situate you in various fandoms3), but this is often detrimental to my score – you are, after all, ‘just’ the Queen, and in a sense must maintain your place. But beyond my personal hangups, this still adds a great depth to the game. Choices aren’t as clear-cut, and your level of control isn’t always what it seems. Layer the whole astrological woman magic icing on top, and it’s an even more impossibly complex swipe-left-or-right game than Reigns.

This complexity and my desire to be an empowered Queen means that I have been losing very quickly, very often. Which might be grating in a lesser game, but somehow losing Her Majesty usually feels pretty damned virtuous.


Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has been available stateside for about a week now, and it is… strange. This post on ‘Every Game I’ve Finished’ (written by Mathew Kumar) mirrors a lot of my thoughts – I would recommend reading it before reading this. I haven’t really played a lot of Animal Crossing games before, and I tend to avoid free-to-play1 games. The aforementioned post is largely predicated on the fact that Pocket Camp doesn’t fully deliver on either experience. Which, I guess I wouldn’t really know, but something definitely feels odd about the game to me.

Early in his post, Kumar states that ‘[Pocket Camp] makes every single aspect of it an obvious transaction’, which is comically true. My socialist mind has a hard time seeing the game as anything but a vicious parody of capitalism. My rational mind, of course, knows this is not true because the sort of exploitative mundaneness that coats every aspect of the game is the norm in real life.

This becomes even more entertaining when you observe how players set prices in their Markets. For the uninitiated, when your character has a surplus of a thing, they can offer that thing for sale to other players. The default price is its base value, but you can adjust the sale price down a small amount or up a large amount. Eventually you’ll likely just max out your inventory and be forced to put things up for sale in this Market. More eventually, you’ll max out the Market and be forced to just throw stuff away without getting money for it. But in the meantime, people (strangers and friends) will see what you have to offer and be given the opportunity to buy it.

For the most part, if you need an item (I use the term ‘need’ loosely), it is common, and either hopping around or waiting a couple of hours will get you that item. So there should be no reason to charge a 1000% markup on a couple of apples. But (in my experience thus far) that is far more common than to see items being sold for the minimum (or even their nominal value). I don’t know if it’s just players latching on to the predatory nature of free-to-play games or what, and I’m really curious to know if it works. I’ve been listing things in small quantities (akin to what an animal requests) for the minimum price, and while I’ve sold quite a few items, most still go to waste – I can’t imagine anything selling at ridiculous markups.

So far this description of a capitalist hellscape has probably come off as though I feel negatively toward the game, which I really don’t. To return to Kumar, he leaves his post stating that he hasn’t given up on the game yet, but ‘like Miitomo, the first time I miss a day it’s all over.’ This comparison to Miitomo is apt, and a perfect segue into why I’m invested in this minor dystopia.

Miitomo (another Nintendo mobile thing) is really just a game where you… decorate a room and try on clothes. You answer questions and play some pachinko-esque minigames in order to win decorations and clothes, but it’s basically glorified dress-up. It seems like mostly young people playing it, but it’s also just a wonderful outlet for baby trans folks, people questioning gender, and any number of people seeking a little escape. I find Miitomo to be very valuable and underrated, and a lot of the joy Miitomo brings me is echoed by Pocket Camp.

While the underlying concept behind Pocket Camp is that you’re a black market butterfly dealer or whatever, there’s also a major ‘dollhouse’ component to it. You buy and receive cute clothes and change your outfits, which has no bearing on the game. You buy things to decorate your campsite which (effectively2) has no bearing on the game. You can drop 10,000 dollars bells on a purse that does nothing but sit in the dirt looking pretty. I guess it’s hypocritical to praise this meaningless materialism, but it’s a nice escape. A little world to mess around in and make your own.

I don’t know how long I’ll obsessively island-hop the world of Pocket Camp, but I think that (like Miitomo) once the novelty wears off, I’ll still pop in to play around with my little world when it occurs to me to do so. And the whole time, in my mind, it will remain a perfectly barbed satire on capitalism.


Super Mario Run

So, Super Mario Run has been out for half a day or so now, and I’m sure more meaningful opinions than mine are bouncing around all over the internet. It’s just too juicy to not set my own uninspired thoughts in pink internet stone, however. I’ve always been a Nintendo fan. These days I really don’t game much at all. The occasional weird indie, a nostalgic retro re-release here and there, but mostly if I’m gaming on a screen it’s either a roguelike on the computer or a board game adaptation or point-and-click (point-and-tap?) adventure on the phone. The last consoles I’ve owned were the original Wii and DS Lite. All this to say, having a Nintendo side-scroller on my phone is ridiculously exciting. The game is a ton of fun, well worth the cost of entry, and generally feels very much like a Super Mario Bros. game. A few thoughts: