I grew up in a home infested with roaches. The type of infested where you could see them along the cupboards and counter tops at night. I can still remember the sight of bugs running when I’d turn on the light. Bugs crawled on my food and on my face constantly. We cleaned and fumigated and exterminated and they’d always return. It took years for the house to finally be rid of them.
In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, it only takes about ten days of inactivity before your house is infested with roaches. And by infested, I mean about five bugs running away from you. When my villager, Johnny, enters her home, she is taken aback at the scurrying of little bugs around her furniture, but with a little running around, she squashes the bugs immediately, and does a jig in celebration of her newly cleaned home.
This is the most that New Leaf deals with pests in the house. There are no stray mice (unless you count your neighbors), no ants, no bed bugs to infiltrate and infest your home.
In late May, I woke up to large bug bites on my arms and legs. In my naivety, I thought there was a mosquito in the house, waiting until my partner and I slept to finally bite. And then one night my partner woke me up: he found a bed bug.
Despite their name, bed bugs hitch rides on any piece of furniture or luggage. Whereas roaches are commonly perceived as a sign of a dirty home, bed bugs don’t really care how clean you keep your home. If you travel, you run the risk of getting bed bugs. If you live in a building with multiple families, like an apartment complex, or simply have walls attached to your neighbors like I do, then you run the risk of getting bed bugs.
In life sim games like Animal Crossing, a filthy home is a quick fix. Roaches? Squash em! Even a house renovation game like House Flipper speeds up the process of changing a dilapidated home. These games shortcut the emotional and physical labor of dealing with a messy home to get what comes after—perfectly clean walls with fresh paint; new, shiny appliances never used; and a happy resident, ready to relax on their new couch.
I went into this quest to kill bed bugs with a life sim mentality. I thought I had the solutions already within my grasp, or easily obtainable from the supermarket. We were lucky in that our furniture wasn’t infested. We only found a few in our bedroom, and luckily they hadn’t spread anywhere else. But despite cleaning our bed sheets constantly, vacuuming religiously, spraying bug spray along the walls and corner, they would not leave, and I felt like my home was no longer my home. And I spiraled.
I rent, which means I am at the hands of my landlord. And my landlord is a property management company. Rather than calling pest control myself, I have to call my main office who will then call pest control, who only comes on Thursdays. I called in the bed bugs (which are considered a maintenance emergency, according to the property management’s website) on Monday, June 3rd. It is July 22nd, and I finally feel like I have my home back.
What happened in a span of a month and a half was a lot of anxiety. We had to move all furniture from the walls, causing each room to turn into its own game of Jenga. We have two rabbits who had to leave the house whenever the home was being treated, and we were lucky enough to have friends willing to let the buns stay at their house for a few hours, but that also made me stressed. What if the buns have bed bugs on them? What if we spread it to our friends who have graciously let us keep them there? What if they think we’re dirty for having bugs in the first place?
Even New Leaf isn’t afraid to judge. If a neighbor tries to visit your home while you still have roaches, they’ll leave in disgust. If cute, little animal neighbors don’t want to be near you when you have bugs, then what’s stopping real-life friends from doing the same? I spent a childhood being unable to be proud, let alone comfortable, in my home. It felt like I was stuck in a dirty house loop.
Some time has passed since the final treatment, and since the day I could finally put my home back in order. And I’ve come to realize how precious the home is. The bugs are gone, the buns are safe, and my friends are pest-less. It may have taken longer than in a video game, but I can feel myself wanting to dance at the reclamation of my space.
In New Leaf, my home is constantly changing. I add in new furniture, then sell it. I can buy wallpaper, make my own, or use designs from other people. I can even enter other people’s homes, even if I am not friends with them. But the game prevents you from touching or moving anything of theirs. There are boundaries in place, because the home is sacred, and even a simple game about animal neighbors understands that.
I thought the appeal of sim games was that anything could be changed at a whim. But what is most special about these games is the amount of control it gives you, not just in decorating and renovation, but also in claiming a space as unequivocally yours, even when bugs infiltrate. Lately, I’ve been playing more New Leaf, because this ordeal reminded me that my home in the game had gone unattended to for years. When I returned, I had roaches so I squashed them. Johnny jigged, and her home was hers again.