During crowded train rides and shows that require just half of my attention, I play games on my phone. Some condescendingly refer to this as “casual gaming,” but some mobile titles can be just as exciting as a chain reaction of explosions in a big-budget console game like Just Cause 3. Neko Atsume, a Japanese game about luring adorable pussy cats to your home and adding their photos to your scrapbook, is one of them.
When originally released in October of 2014, Neko Atsume—whose literal translation is “Cat Collection”—was in Japanese only. Early last year, after being convinced to download the game by already addicted friends who grew up loving Tamagotchis, I attempted to use online guides to make sense of the game’s multi-layered menus, but the frustrating translation process forced me to abandon my dreams of being a successful pussy collector and return to the mindless and wordless pleasures of Candy Crush. A few months ago, however, Hit Point (the game’s developer) released an update allowing users to switch to an English interface, and I’ve been slowly increasing the entries in my catbook ever since.
Because that’s all there is to do in this silly game: collect more cats. You attract them by putting out food of varying price points (from cheap stuff to sashimi) and buying items for them to play with and lounge on. As is the case in real life, different cats like different things. As is not the case in real life, satisfied cats leave behind currency in the form in gold and silver fish with which you can buy them more things. Though it’s possible to play the game without spending any actual money—a patient player can make enough gold fish in the game without every having to spend a cent—an occasional $.99 can help when you need a new silk cushion or cat metropolis now.
There is something unexpectedly addictive about collecting these digital kitties. Perhaps its their adorable—though limited—movements. Maybe it’s their names (you can change them if you’d like). Maybe it’s just the fundamental thrill of completing something—even cute little animals that sort of make you feel like a baby when viewing them in public. I’m not sure what’s at the root of Neko Atsume’s fully engrossing mechanics, but the moment you collect your first cat, you want more, more, more! There are currently 49 available—from generic-looking tabbies to the rare, elaborately dressed felines like Señor Don Gato (who loves the Mister Mouse toy) and Conductor Whiskers (who can’t get enough of the Twisty Rail). There’s even a Gaga-inspired Lady Mew-Mew, whose face you may find hard to read. And each time I open the app and find a new one has chosen my screen as its temporary home, the tiniest, most embarrassed piece of my heart melts.
With six left to lure into my western-themed garden (I spent more gold fish on that than I care to admit), the game has become a major part of my daily routine. Before going to bed, I put out food for my babies to eat while I dream about their visits. After waking up, I check to see what they’ve left behind. During my waking life, I put out more food every few hours—occasionally switching out the items in hopes of luring the more elusive characters. Though strategy guides detailing which cats are attracted to which objects are easily found online, I’ve found the trial and error approach to be more rewarding. Well, rewarding when I collect a new cat. Frustrating when the cat pisses me off.
“THIS BASTARD JUST LEFT ME TWO GOLD FISH?!” I scream at Tubbs, the gluttonous bane of my existence who regularly eats all the food on which I spend precious in-game currency.
“WHY WON’T GUY FURRY COME BACK TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED FOR MY CATBOOK?!?!!” I scream at an empty glass vase purported to be Guy’s favorite.
“JESUS CHRIST, DO I BUY THE PYRAMID OR THE CUBE?” I scream into wind, hoping for an answer that never comes.
After filling up my catbook and completing my collection—a goal I hope to achieve by the month’s end—I’ll likely delete the game and move on to the next mobile craze. And though I’ll always remember how important they were to me for a few brief moments, there’s something almost comforting in knowing they—like most real cats—will have forgotten me in no time.
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Images via screengrab.