Since I don’t have kids of my own, I rely on my friends’ kids to keep me up to date on what the whippersnappers are into these days. Kids know all sorts of cool things and since I am a woman in her thirties who still watches SpongeBob Squarepants on the regular, it’s not that big of a jump to think that there may be some overlap between what they like and what I might like. Plus it’s a great conversation starter by asking them to tell me about what games or apps that they are currently playing; they probably get tired of adults asking them about school. One of my primary advisors is eight-year old Olivia; every time that I come to visit her family, I have her teach me a new game. She and her older brother have introduced me to Flow Free and Farm Heroes Saga, both of which I have spent more than my fair share of time playing.
So it’s not that big of a surprise that the latest time waster, Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector, was suggested by the same family. This time it was their mom who texted me about it. I was vaguely aware of the existence of the game, but hadn’t actually checked it out. A recent story about the game in The New York Times had put it more firmly on my radar, so the suggestion from my pal that I try it out was really the final push that I needed to look into what the hullabaloo was about. On its surface, I wasn’t really sure why people were getting so excited about a game that’s sole purpose seemed to be collecting cats. I consider myself a cat person, but I was still doubtful that Neko Atsume was going to be my cup of tea. There are days when I’m not too thrilled with the one actual cat that I have, so adding a bunch of virtual cats to the mix didn’t hold a lot of promise.
The premise of Neko Atsume is pretty simple and it really isn’t even much of a game; the goal is to encourage a variety of different cats to visit your virtual yard by putting out an assortment of foods, toys and accoutrement for them to luxuriate on. The cats all have different names and personalities and show up with varying frequency; some cats come to visit multiple times a day, but other cats only appear rarely. After the cats visit, they leave some denomination of fish, which can then be used to buy additional food, toys and upgrades. You can take photos of the cats, but I haven’t really figured out what purpose (if any) that serves. There isn’t any real skill to Neko Atsume; it’s just kind of trial and error to see what brings all the cats to the yard and the end game isn’t all that clear. I don’t know what happens after all the possible cats have made an appearance; I’ve only been playing this for three days and I’ve already unlocked all but 24 of the 49 possible cats. There aren’t a lot of interactive elements of the game; other than filling the food and putting out new items, you just kind of check in periodically to see if any new cats have turned up.
And yet, there is something oddly hypnotic about the game. Because there is so little effort on the part of the person playing, I tend to check in more periodically than I would have expected. It is strangely satisfying when a new cat turns up, like you have cracked some sort of code, and it is sometime annoying to check back in and see the same cats that always are there (don’t you have anyplace else to go, Snowball? You are taking up valuable space). The cats in and of themselves are kind of cute, and it doesn’t hurt that one of the cats is named Pumpkin, which is the name of my actual cat. Absolutely none of this is sufficient to explain why I actually kind of enjoy this game, and yet I do. I even sent a text to my pal Alex who introduced me to the game, lamenting yet another visit from Tubbs the cat who eats all of your food and then lounges near the empty bowl with a smug look on his face. I kind of hate Tubbs.
What the long term staying power for this game is, I have no idea. I’m in it at least until the cat Joe DeMeowgio turns up, because what kind of Yankee fan would I be otherwise? But beyond that, I’m not sure what my end game is exactly. Maybe this is a sign that I need more mindless entertainment in my life. Maybe I just like the idea of collecting things. Maybe there are some hidden messages in this game and I’m secretly being brainwashed to kill The Queen of England a la The Naked Gun. I can’t quite determine what it is about this game that is so appealing, but everyone I know who has downloaded it seems mildly obsessed with it. Maybe I’m not meant to overthink this. Sometimes a virtual cat is just a virtual cat and that’s the end of it. But for now, I’ll let my amusement with Neko Atsume naturally run its course – and try to figure out how to wipe that smile off Tubbs face.
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is available for both Android and iOS.