Book Chapter: Neko Atsume: Affective Play and Mobile Casual Gaming

Abstract: In this article, I consider the role of affect in the popular app game Neko Atsume. Neko Atsume is a “cat collector” game where players leave food and toys out for cats. The game’s success is strongly linked to its ability to deploy a kind of affect on players – it relies entirely on our emotional needs and emotional entanglements, our desire to feel things, and our desire to take care of things, even when those “things” only exist as mere pixels. While we might find it unsurprising that affect plays such an important everyday role in our (very) emotional worlds, it would seem to be far more jarring to recognize that we might desire an emotional relationship with a smart phone app. Yet, unlike other games that play with digital affect, Neko Atsume is pressure free—we can call on it for emotional catharsis but can abandon it easily and without repercussion. In what follows, I identify this strange mode of digital affect as “conceptual affect” linking its cute aesthetic back to the idea that the affect is never quite real. It is because of the game’s conceptual affect and strange tension between emotional desire and distance that makes Neko so successful. Similarly, through Neko Atsume we can better understand the emotional resonance that occur in seemingly small apps.