On Cats and Compulsions

Neko Atsume’s got everyone smitten with kittens


One Neko Atsume yard full of excited cats

Olivia Gallmeyer, Opinion Editor

Looking at the study hall students in the cafeteria, everyone observed has one thing in common: there’s a phone in their hands. Androids and iPhones alike are all busy running apps like Facebook, Twitter, or Clash of Clans. For many, though, our obsessive phone-checking has become focused on something a little more different, and a little more adorable.

Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector is a game for iOS and Android developed by Japanese company Hit-Point. The English translation came out in fall 2015 and quickly took the world by storm, with websites like Tumblr exploding with edits of adorable cartoon cats and chronic posts of “hold on, guys, gotta check my cats.” The idea of Neko Atsume is simple: put out toys in your yard to attract cats to it. It’s without a complex story or in-depth mechanics, yet it’s absolutely addicting.

cat1There are 53 different cats to collect and add to the “catbook,” which allows you to see every cat’s name and personality. The in-game toys range from balls and scratching posts to fancy cushions and tunnels, with different cats preferring different ones. Plus, you can attract more cats by buying different types of food and goodies with the in-game currency of silver and gold fish, left every time a cat visits.

Upgrading to higher-class foods like Frisky Bits, Deluxe Tuna Bits, and Sashimi can even allow special cats to come to the yard, like Guy Furry the chef and Lady Meow-Meow the diva. Most notable, setting out some types of food invites the plump, gluttonous Tubbs,  who will consume all food in sight in return for a large sum of fish. Tubbs is a divisive figure in the Neko Atsume community, with some denouncing his greedy ways. Others, though, see his bountiful gifts of fish as worth the consumed food; like him or hate him, the arrival of Tubbs always gets a reaction.

Neko Atsume’s simple cartoon graphics of kittens burrowing in blankets and batting at balls is irresistible in an addicting way. Once you start building up a yard, it’s impossible to stop. You need to name all of your new cat friends, or see if you’ve lured out a new special cat. It becomes a habit, but one that doesn’t cause any sort of damage, only the happiness of seeing Speckles and Sunny sit together in a cardboard train.

cat3Perhaps that’s why this game has become so popular. For so many, checking phones is a constant compulsive habit. This can become something very stressful when it’s something like social media or news, where negativity and hatred can run abound in political posts, current events, and cyberbullying. Many studies, in fact, have demonstrated the negative effects of chronic phone-checking, and have linked these behaviors to symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorders and other behavioral addictions; our constant desire to stay updated on news and information can prove dangerous.

Checking Neko Atsume can fill the hole often taken by checking texts, emails, and Facebook, but brings in something much more simplistic and beneficial. It’s easy to open the app every couple of hours to refill food and collect fish, but it doesn’t take up a large amount of time or cause the frustration that social media can.cat2

Neko Atsume is just a sweet, simple game about kittens, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

(Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector can be bought for free on Apple & Android devices; there are optional micro-transactions.)