A lush, rich landscape that is eerily beautiful. Bizarre, unknown creatures that have evolved and/or mutated into a mix of animal and human. Unexplored stretches of coastline, a lighthouse, abandoned structures. Am I talking about Area X, a mysterious region at the heart of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, or Nintendo‘s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp? It could be either.
Pocket Camp, a mobile version of the popular Animal Crossing, is set at a campground. You can travel to different environments within the game to meet various animals and collect items like fruits, insects, and fish. The animals are anthropomorphic; they talk and wear clothes and make a whole bunch of odd requests. Area X in Annihilation (the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy), soon to be a film, is a region of coastline in the United States that has undergone some sort of unknown transformation. An invisible border separates the area from the rest of the world, and anyone who crosses the border can’t communicate with those outside. Many who went into Area X vanished. We learn about the anomalies in Area X through data left by expeditions, including animals that appear to have merged with humans and possess far greater intelligence than their non-Area X counterparts.
If Area X continued to evolve and expand (the bordered region is expanding of its own accord), it could become Pocket Camp. The happy, pleasant setting of the game is Area X in its future. Evidence:
As mentioned, Area X stretches along a coastal region. Many locations are along the water, but you can wander inland to escape the coast. Pocket Camp has marked locations on the ocean, in a grove with fruit-laden trees, and by a river. All of those settings are present in Area X. Pocket Camp has the lighthouse and a base camp (your character’s camp), too. The abandoned village in Area X is no longer abandoned; it’s where OK Motors can attend to all your camper customization needs.
The Anthropomorphic Animals
The presence of talking animals that have limited vocabularies in Pocket Camp is the real connection to Area X. It’s not hard to imagine the odd creatures the biologist encountered in Annihilation twisting from something ominous to cute and friendly critters over hundreds, likely thousands, of years of evolution. The Crawler that possesses the intelligence to write, the dolphins that seem to have the eyes of humans, the decaying animals that have human cells–this combination of human and animal could have kept changing to become the likes of Isabelle and K.K.
The way Pocket Camp‘s inhabitants use the same phrases over and over and the nicknames they choose for the visiting humans points to new-ish lifeforms that haven’t spent enough time around humans to fully grasp our language. In this world, perhaps the animals have decided to drop the border around Area X to welcome humans for the first time. Players of Pocket Camp are the only humans these animals have interacted with.
The Madness of the World
Pocket Camp presents a weird, unhealthy friendship system (that, considering how much I’ve played, obviously doesn’t bother me too much). In order to gain friendship levels with animals, you have to fulfill requests for them. You have to bring them two coconuts and three cherries, or whatever they ask for. If you want them to come visit your campsite, the base camp, you have to use your resources to build the furniture they want.
Being sucked into unusual behavior is part of the allure and danger of Area X. The biologist in Annihilation observes how what she encounters can get under one’s skin: “That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.” She also notes at one point the desolation of the area tries to creep in, and one way to combat desolation is to connect with who and whatever is available, even if their needs are demanding.
There you have it. This is what happens when I’m sick and reading Annihilation for the first time and playing a lot of Pocket Camp. Do you think this theory is the product of too much cold medicine or does it have legs? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments.
Images: Nintendo, Farrar, Straus and Giroux