There is something so satisfying about the slow, meticulous mode of destruction in a videogame. In Ben Esposito’s Donut County, destruction comes in the form of a raccoon-controlled hole that grows every time a new item falls into it and consumes everything it comes across. It sounds dangerous, as if death and destruction would be the most obvious and immediate results of a large hole in the ground, but Donut County is calm and quiet. It’s so soothing that you’ll start to find it strange how relaxing it is to watch a town be destroyed.
I’m less interested in the massive explosions and chaotic annihilation found in games like Grand Theft Auto or Minecraft. Watching cars erupt into a mass of metal and fire or watching big blocks of dirt disappear from the strength of one creeper can be exciting, but those silent, steady losses are what feel so much like real life, like change, whether welcomed or not.
Controlling a massive hole bent on eating up everything feels like trimming hair—that addictive urge to cut a little more, a little more, until you’ve gone a little shorter than expected. It’s clipping finger and toenails, listening to the loud click of the nail clipper, but without gross bits of nail flying everywhere. Donut County gets at the beauty of the slow build of change. Each section starts with a small hole that feeds on rocks and grass until it eventually grows large enough to reach people and buildings. Large change, like a move to a new state, or the birth of a child, can be exciting but terrifying. Small changes may seem unimportant, but they can leave a great impact, especially over time and as they add up.
Donut County reminds me most of the sensation of plucking weeds or stomping roaches in Animal Crossing. Both acts are a sign of an unkempt town—weeds appear every day and can soon overcome a town, and roaches appear in homes after a week of not playing. As sad as it may be to see these things, making them disappear is cleansing. Scouting for weeds to pluck is like taming a stray hair, and stomping a roach is a small game. The reward is a clean home and town.
Animal Crossing is similar to Donut County in that they are both about gathering things to destroy them and then gather them all over again. You take a large amount of debt to buy a small house. When you finally pay off that debt, business-savvy Tom Nook convinces you to expand, giving you more debt. The game isn’t just about collecting debt, but also clothes, furniture, fish, and fossils. Everything comes to your hand, to then be taken off your hands, either by selling it to other villagers, or by donating it to a museum. Animal Crossing is all about the end of things, whether it be seasons or small items. Change is always imminent, and always embraced.
Even the residents in Donut County embrace their lives inside of a pit. As each person retells how they found themselves thousands of miles beneath the Earth, they do so without much fear. Falling through a hole may be a sudden change, but not one to be completely afraid of. When the town does make it back above Earth, they acknowledge that things will probably not be like they were before. But rather than fear that fact, they embrace it, and roll with their new reality.
In every Animal Crossing, players are allowed the option to destroy their town. There’s always melancholy involved with deleting an entire save, especially if you’ve spent hours trying to create a beautiful town for the villagers. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a mole named Mr. Resetti will speak with you before resetting your town: “It ain’t gonna be easy, ya know. Startin’ your whole life over… But sometimes havin’ a second shot is just what ya need, so ya can try things out without fear of failure.”
Change is the destruction of things, like hair or houses. Change can be hard to accept, but sometimes we have no choice. Sometimes a hole opens, and we’re forced to look inside. Sometimes it’s an option we’re given that is ultimately the right decision. Donut County and Animal Crossing share that message. Destruction is good! Little acts of demolition are necessary for growth. If a game about a racoon and his holes taught me anything, I am happy it’s that.
Shonté Daniels is a poet who occasionally writes about games. Her games writing has appeared in Kill Screen, Motherboard, Waypoint and elsewhere. Her poetry can be seen at Puerto del Sol, Baltimore Review, Phoebe, and others literary journals. Check out Shonte-Daniels.com for a full archive, or follow her for sporadic tweeting.