Which Words Do Animals Recognize?
by Terrence Abrahams

The rumors that I've heard is that they recognize the following (+/-)

+

friend
thanks
present
villager names

-

sexual innuendo
curses
deathscoconut

Animal Crossing: Wild World was the best Christmas gift I received in the year 2005. That year, like the years before and several after, I was homeschooled. Lonely, an avid reader, and a stickler for spelling and grammar, I wrote obsessively, and often. Original short stories, scant poetry, sprawling Legend of Zelda fanfiction—all scrawled in ring-bound notebooks in corresponding colours (blue for original works, purple for poetry, and green for anything Zelda-related at all). A single black notebook held scattered Pokémon musings that read like a trainer’s diary entries.

Its remains an epistolary novel in the making.

The previous installment of the Animal Crossing series, Wild World, featured a similarly intelligent letter-writing system wherein one could manipulate the response - and the gift - one might receive in a return letter from a villager. This is, of course, if your letter contains no spelling errors or other apparent gibberish that might mess with the little animals understanding. As forum user drngin writes, “I know these animals only use spellcheck but my words are correct. -.-' [T]hey are hard to please.”

I took great pride in writing letters to my villagers. I wanted them to like me—they were my friends. In the little space I was given, I informed them of flowers, fish, new finds, new friends, any and everything going on in the town. If they responded with a letter that contained a question, no matter how abstract, I would deign to try and answer it.

In real life, I never have kept a diary. I didn’t—and still don’t—trust others not to read it, no matter where I keep it. If it exists physically, it can be found, read, pondered over, manipulated, or even abused.

The closest thing to my diary came to exist in the hundreds of letters I sent to my villagers in Wild World between 2005 and 2012. For seven years, my best friend in the game, a cat with wide eyes and blue markings named Mitzi, was the only creature in my life privy to my thoughts.

Even so, I often glossed things over for her, avoiding difficult topics in favour of good news or friendly banter. Regardless, she always wrote back. She would talk about strange dreams she had, something another villager had said, or scold me for writing something she didn’t understand. I loved her very much, and forgave her her limitations often, as she really, truly, did always write back. That, of course, was all I ever wanted from her.

These letters are impossible to recover. The occasional one would be shown to me in a gesture of celebration. A good memory shared to commemorate how far our relationship had come since that first letter—but the rest, eaten up by the game, discarded or archived or dispersed in some other manner I won’t claim to understand. Either way, they don’t exist. My diary of seven some-odd years remains with these little animals.

I know they’ve taken good care of it. ◒

 

Terrence Abrahams lives and writes quietly in Toronto. His work has been a part of The Poetry AnnalsPeach Magmany gendered mothersthe Puritan, and ZEAL, among others. He tweets at @trabrahams.