Neko Atsume is a Japanese game where you collect animated cats. It’s just like dating.
The iPhone game Neko Atsume is everywhere. I mean, this could just be me and my passion for all things cats, but the internet has me thinking otherwise about the strangely addictive “game.”
I put the word “game” in quotes because usually it signifies some level of difficulty. That’s not the case here. If you’re unfamiliar, Neko Atsume means Kitty Collector — and that’s exactly what you do. Using silver and gold fish as currency, you purchase treats, lounging spots, and activities to place in your digital yard hoping to lure cartoon cats to photograph. It’s Pokémonfor the Forever-Alones.
Sure, there’s a social component: you can tweet the photos you take of these cats. But mostly, it’s an insular activity. You accept the rewards they give you. You play games, swapping out one brand of food for another to attract the attention of the more aloof kitties.
In short, Neko Atsume is exactly like dating.
I didn’t realize how closely the two were related until I found myself flanked by my real-life cats and far more invested in the kitties on my screen. My aged Persian and young black cat had essentially become the Jon Cryer to my Molly Ringwald, the Anthony Michael Hall to my … Molly Ringwald. They’d been there loving me the whole time, and I was too busy obsessing over something out of reach and bad for me.
I used to roll my eyes at women who talked about only being interested in men they couldn’t have. But here I am, hunched over my phone rolling my eyes at Bandit, who at 14 visits won’t ever leave me alone. Why won’t you let me live, Bandit?
He’s always on my screen, shaking his X-shaped butthole adorably in my face. But it’s the illusive Xerxes who I long for. He’s so cold and withholding, appearing when I’m not there and leaving me a paltry two silver fish when he goes. But just like Jimmy Merolla from eighth grade with his Oakleys and frosted tips, his antipathy has only made me want him more.
I’m not big on keeping mementos from my old relationships but I flip through my collection of cat cartoon photos with a wistful fondness. The game has turned me into one of those friends who meets a new penis and vanishes for a couple of months, only to reappear ten pounds heavier, blissed out, and totally distracted.
“Oh my god, are you checking on them again?” asks a co-worker. I just coyly smile and leave more digital food out for their consumption. People try to tell me stories to keep my attention but I’m a woman in love penning missives to her bae. I cannot be taken away from the screen.
Who knows how it will end. “Do they die? Like Tamagotchis?” a friend asked. My heart turns to ice thinking that it ever could. This happiness, this comfort, this joy is like every other relationship I’ve been in, and not a possibility I’ve ever considered.
That’s where Neko Astsume is better than dating: I can push aside my worries. I don’t need to have a formal conversation with these cats about “where it’s going.” I mean, I could, but that wouldn’t be a sane thing to do.
So instead, I savor the honeymoon phase, buy them fancy food, make memories, and pine like every fifteen-year-old before me.
– by Rebecca Jane Stokes
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