For the past five days, I’ve spent much of my free time wandering around my beautiful, remote island in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a soothing, laid-back game in which I am a human who arrives on a deserted island with a handful of anthropomorphic animals and works to build a community; there are no other real objectives, and the game lacks any conflict. (The worst thing that has happened to me so far is getting stung by wasps while chopping wood.) On my island, I tend to my tulips; I go fishing; I visit with my island boyfriend, a buff, simple-minded bird named Pierce; and I work to pay off the crushing debt I owe a raccoon named Tom Nook, whose company owns my virtual home. It is a quiet, pleasant existence for the most part, a welcome escape from reality. And yet, several times a day, red-hot flames of frustration burn through my carefully cultivated sense of serenity as I am forced, once again, to deal with my virtual nemesis: Blathers, the museum owl.
Blathers is an academic who was brought to the island by Tom Nook to help build a nice museum where residents can go to admire the natural wonders of the land around them. When players find a dinosaur fossil (the island is lousy with them) or a new species of fish or bug, they can donate it to the museum to be professionally displayed. Sounds nice, right? Alas.
To me, Blathers is a self-important loon who dresses like the president of a mid-tier college’s Young Republicans club. The institution he oversees is a British Museum-esque collection of fossils, bugs, and fish plundered from islands near and far. He sleeps all day, nominally because he’s an owl, and therefore nocturnal, but also, I suspect, as a way to lord his special status over me and the other lowly residents of the island who spend their days chopping wood and harvesting minerals to build bridges and homes. Should you disrupt Blathers’s slumber to donate a new specimen to his collection (he does not compensate anyone for their discoveries), he’ll make a big production of waking up, jolting his head up in surprise and yelling “WHO!” directly in your face. God, it’s so annoying.
Still, Blathers’s laziness would be excusable, or at least inoffensive, were it not paired with his open disdain for so much of the island’s fauna. Blathers hates bugs. He hates them so much, and he wants you to know it. Donate a new bug to him, and he loses his freaking mind. Here is how he reacted the other day when I donated a mantis.
He concluded his screed by saying that though bugs are “the bane of his existence,” he’ll make sure the “wretched thing gets the best of care here.” Come on. Get it together, man.
Later, I went to donate some fossils to Blathers, which he accepted with significantly more enthusiasm. He lectured me about some dinosaur or other, and I wondered why I didn’t just go sell the fossils at the the shop next door and use the money I earned to pay off some of my debt. What am I getting from visiting Blathers multiple times a day? The truth is, I believe in the museum. I like having a place to come see all the critters I’ve collected, and I like imagining the other island residents enjoying them as well — even though I know my boyfriend, Pierce, would much rather work on his squats than sit in contemplative silence in front of a fish tank.
But perhaps I was being unfair to Blathers. Maybe I just don’t know enough about what it takes to run a museum. To get an expert’s perspective, I talked to my roommate, who has a master’s in Museum Studies, and who has also been playing New Horizons for several days now. “Blathers is very old-school and colonial,” she said. “For one, his collecting practices involve looting specimens from remote islands. Then there are his display methods. From what I’ve seen, they are severely lacking in engaging interpretation. There are basic ID labels, but nothing that truly inspires visitors and gives them the chance to learn more. Though I will admit it’s a beautifully designed space, if a bit inaccessible.” I felt delighted, bolstered in my rage.
Sometimes, I’ll imagine Blathers wandering through the halls of the museum at night, a glass of whiskey in his wing, green bow tie askew, glaring in at the trapped insects and whispering spiteful things to them. I am disgusted by him, but more disgusted by myself because I know that regardless of his behavior, I will be back the next day with more captured animals for him to criticize.
Anyway. I love my fun escapist video game!!! Come visit my island sometime!