Another idyllic video game area is the village that you inhabit in the Animal Crossing series. The village is run by a mayor and the police force’s only role is to monitor the community lost and found. They do this by letting anyone take anything they want from the lost and found. As many internet content creators have stated in the past, though the village seems peaceful, it is most likely run by some secret organization headed up by the seemingly helpful shop owner Tom Nook. This week instead of imagining what laws exist in a fictional universe, I’m going to examine what would happen if you tried to fight back in court. What would happen if Villager, the character you control, sued Tom Nook?
The first topic complained of is that Villager is immediately saddled with a massive mortgage for his house that he must repay to Tom Nook. Villager’s best strategy when bringing this claim would probably be to argue that the contract entered into by Villager and Tom Nook is unconscionable. Unconscionability comes about when there is unequal bargaining power and when the deal shocks the conscience of the court. Villager might have a chance here. Since this is a video game, we have a transcript of the verbal contract entered into by the two parties. After Villager states that he likes how the house looks Nook states “So you’ll be buying this house, yes?” Quite a loaded question. If the Villager does agree that he will be buying this house Nook goes off on a tangent, but eventually the topic of price comes up. In order to figure out the price of the house Nook thinks about “ . . . the land, the building, taxes, surcharges, various fees, and whatnot.” Now paying for the building and the land makes sense. I won’t fight him on tax, though I am impressed that he can do the calculation in his head. But who is this surcharge going to? Nook and Villager are the only two parties to the contract. What are various fees and whatnot? No way that stands up in court. Or maybe it stands up in court; you can’t really predict what will happen in court. I’ve definitely never been to court inside a video game except for that one time in Chrono Trigger.
What if Villager disagrees with the price? In that case Nook just says, “Whoa ho ho ho ho ho! You are having a joke! Of course, its nothing to worry about so much!” He laughs at the idea of bargaining over the price of this house. It certainly seems like there is unequal bargaining power here. Tom Nook does prove how benevolent he can be by letting Villager choose a color for his roof, so it seems that there is one thing Villager actually has control over. The topic of unconscionability is a somewhat subjective topic, and if Tom Nook is as evil as is believed, then he has probably bought off the judges in the Animal Crossing universe and no judge will rule against him. If the court did find in favor of Villager then the court could either refuse to enforce the contract, which then evicts Villager; enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable part (so I guess they would then actually determine a fair price); or limit the application of any unconscionable clauses in the contract as to avoid any unconscionable result. There is one clause in this contract, you pay me and you get a house.
The next topic often brought up by people who don’t like Nook is that immediately after coming to town Villager has to work for Tom Nook. Nook demands that Villager work a part-time job at the store. After Villager has completed his tasks he is compensated for his work. There are no consequences for Villager if he does not complete his tasks. He cannot be fired from this part-time job, and he gets paid when he finishes his tasks. This is not indentured servitude. But none of this matters, because Nook would not be forced to comply with most statutes that create employment law in America. An employer has to have a certain amount of employees to be covered by most of the statutes. When Villager is on the payroll the only employees are him and Tom Nook. Even if we assume that Nook’s nephews, Timmy and Tommy, are on vacation when Villager gets to town, that gives him a whopping four employees, still not enough. Nook might even have a case that Villager is an independent contractor, not an employee, and thus he doesn’t even have to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act. Nook would argue that Villager is not dependent on him. Looks like Villager doesn’t have a case here.
But what about those nephews Timmy and Tommy? They’re pretty young looking. I’d consider myself pretty good at guessing the ages of racoons. As alluded to earlier, no matter how many employees Tom Nook has, he still has to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act, which states that children cannot work with limited exceptions. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf Timmy and Tommy are running a store all by themselves, so at that point it seems fair to assume they are old enough and mature enough to not be covered by child labor laws, but what about when they’re just working for Tom Nook? If the Fair Labor Standards Act does exist in Animal Crossing then oppressive child labor is not allowed. So if we assume that Timmy and Tommy are under sixteen years old in Animal Crossing it might be possible to alert the federal government in the Animal Crossing universe that Tom Nook is violating child labor laws. But it seems that Tom Nook has protected himself here as well. At various points these nephews of Tom’s are referred to as his adopted sons. If he has adopted them they are now his immediate family. If that is the case, then he is allowed to make them work because they are exempted from the law.
So with a quick look over these few areas of law it seems that Tom Nook is sitting pretty. His worst case scenario so far is having his contract with Villager invalidated and making Villager homeless. He’ll just renegotiate and get him back into a house in no time. Maybe one day I’ll return to this game to finally find a way to get back at Tom Nook. Maybe he’s just unstoppable.