I play video games a lot. I love games that are complex and compelling. The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, and Super Smash Bros. rank among my favorite games ever. Anything that has action, rich worlds, and intriguing mechanics usually wins my heart. But the one game I’ve played more than any other game, for over 330 hours, is Animal Crossing. Specifically, New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS.
This should make no sense whatsoever. I barely understand it. How does an action nut with no nostalgia for Animal Crossing fall so head over heels for it?
The truth is, I didn’t fall for it right away. It took some time. Animal Crossing is actually a pretty tough nut to crack. Every game in the series starts with you moving into a new town and buying a new house. Actually, you basically start off with a tent. Your mortgage is managed by Tom Nook, the enterprising capitalist Tanooki. The only way to improve your house is by spending thousands of Bells (the game’s currency, kind of like yen) to pay off your debt.
Already this sounds like a drag, right?
The thing is, the world works differently in this game. There’s no deadline to pay off your mortgage. You do whatever you want to, for however long you want, and pay off your debt whenever you can. So how do you make money? You can sell furniture, bugs, and fish you catch. Sometimes you just find money under rocks (wishful thinking). Sometimes you get it for some other random reason.
On paper, this sounds easy, and maybe even boring. The whole game consists of talking to your fellow villagers, doing odd jobs, planting trees, flowers, and structures in your town, decorating your house, and collecting things. Isn’t there any challenge or spice to make this game more complicated? Well…yes and no.
Animal Crossing games are not hard. Instead, they’re meant to keep you there for the long haul. That’s where the magic happens.
There’s no time constraint on paying hundreds of thousands in debt, but it takes a while to make that much money. This also means it takes a long time to get the biggest house and furnish the nerd paradise you always dreamed of. Animal Crossing sucks you in and keep you coming back, day after day.
Interested in catching every fish, bug, and/or sea creature? You’d better be prepared to stick around all four seasons of the year and keep coming back every day. But don’t worry, it’ll give you the chance to celebrate Toy Day, Carnival, and the Harvest Festival with your animal friends. (Yeah, this game has holidays, and they’re super fun.)
Like creating custom designs for your clothing and town flag? You can become a pixel artist and create clothing from whatever video game, show, or crevice in the depths of your brain that you want.
Want to cultivate every color of flower in the game? Well, to get the elusive blue rose, you’re going to have to buy daily fertilizer from the most upgraded convenience store and learn the genetic layout of red roses like Gregor Mendel is your damn patron saint.
Animal Crossing is only as hard and time-consuming as you want it to be, and at first glance, there’s no reason to do any of this stuff I’ve mentioned. It all sounds humdrum and boring, like a poor recreation of real life. But the whole reason this game was made was in order to serve as a second life, one that’s better than reality.
The series’ creator, Katsuya Eguchi, wanted to make the game because of a sense of loneliness he felt from being 300 miles away from his home in Chiba. Therefore, he wanted to make a game that provided a sense of “family, friendship, and community” for all its players.
True to form, my perception of Animal Crossing is a simulation of the perfect life in a perfect town. There are challenges, problems, and room for improvement in every town, but everybody trusts each other and wants everybody else to succeed. Bad blood has no place in Animal Crossing world. In a world that’s often stifling, cruel, and selfish, these games provide a true escape. They are the ultimate source of “me” time. It’s probably why I played New Leaf for an hour every day for almost a year.
Also, the music is just…sublime.
I should mention that these games are not perfect. Eventually you start to run out of room to put things. Having your villagers suggest nickname changes or say the same things gets old, and the illusion begins to wear thin as always.
But before that happens, you’re going to spend days’ worth of happy times doing…whatever you want, and that’s why Animal Crossing is different from any other game in the world. It showed that escapism and fun in video games doesn’t need to be high fantasy or intense action. It can just be a place where you feel like you belong. Your very own utopia in a box.
Think I’ll pay mine a visit.