At a recent game designer retreat (Project Horseshoe) we had a working group trying to understand the psychology ‘comfy games’ like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. One thing we noticed is that many games focus on the bottom portion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. They deal with survival, food, shelter and physical threats. Comfy games are instead comfortable spaces where you can work on some higher level human needs. You can dabble with self reflection, little social moments and maybe self expression. Games that treat players like higher order humans instead of twitchy, fear-based animals are a super cool thing!
However, when a design introduces intense lower level needs, it can ruin the atmosphere that makes a comfy game work. Pocket Camp introduces time pressure and responsibility. If you don’t get that stupid sofa crafted before the animal leaves, you’ll miss a chance to progress along the checklist. Even when you do complete the task, it is entirely transactional. What would have been a mysterious quirky nuanced relationship in Animal Crossing is reduced to a meter incrementing so you can earn precious currency. This is not an environment for self actualization. It is a place of rushed, time sensitive labor. Ugh.