Thursday, August 12, 2010

Animal Crossing and the Great Divide

I love Animal Crossing.  When I heard that it was coming to the 3DS, I let out peal upon peal of girlish, *squeeeee!*-ing delight.  There's something about the tiny people, with their tiny lives, making up nicknames for me and giving me random pieces of unwanted furniture that makes my life that little bit better.  Of course, I first started playing it when I had A) a full-time job B) was in a pretty serious World of Warcraft guild and C) was drinking about 12 double-shots of coffee a day.  Ah, the rose-tinted remembrances of game development.

Popping the cart back in recently, I was struck with the realisation that the boy I tutor wiped my save file, oh, a good 3 years ago now.  It was an accident, and he felt too guilty to bring it up for two years, but it was still a shock to seem my house reduced to only one room.  Sigh.  Time to start collecting oranges and peaches.

I dumped all of my inventory on the ground (as you do when your pockets are full, especially in real life), and started collecting fruit.  Now, I may have mentioned I've recently started the very, very preliminary stages of my Masters, and that's what I was meant to be doing last night, but, knowing that Tom Nook closes up shop at 10.00pm, I was hauling fruit for a good 20 minutes before I'd finally had enough and decided to do work again.  And the weeds!  Don't even get me started on the weeds.

It reminds me of a comic I can't find anywhere of a guy who goes back to Animal Crossing after he's been away for a year.  The city's overgrown with weeds, his house is full of cockroaches, and the townsfolk start accusing him of abandoning them.  Yeah.  My half an hour of gameplay was like that.

But, you know, it wasn't all bad.  Lobo the wolf was plenty happy to see me, and the others didn't stay mad at me for more than a perception round or two.  They were just happy I was back.  I've got to say, I do remember why I used to play it so often, and for so long - the relationships you build up with those silly little critters refuse to go away.  I remember the first time one of them moved town.  I was heartbroken.  Lobo is from my friend's town, originally.  I mean, if you keep sending them rotten boots in the mail, they'll eventually leave, but it was simply the case that she stopped playing before I did, and we'd connected once in the past, so he moved on over to my town.  He still has the catch phrase she gave him.  Unfortunately, all of my townsfolk call me by the nickname she had set up for me, too, but we can't have everything.

Then there's the faceless cat, who used to get ping-ponged around our office, each time with a face more ridiculous than the last, or the little mum and baby cat who get separated - the shooting stars you can catch if you try, the presents that float by randomly once and hour, and that you have to knock from the sky with your slingshot; the aliens in UFOs that do similar, but at night time, and the constantly moving bug and fish population, that change not only with the time of day, but with the seasons.  There's a lot to do.

I guess it's the unhurried pace I used to love the most, and now somewhat resent.  You take things in your own time, and it will take you forever to pay off your home loan if you don't diligently collect fruit and sell all the other items you find.  I was up to the largest level of housing, so I'd paid off 848,000 'Bells' for the latest upgrade (2,611,800 Bells in total).  When you stop to think that each 'exotic' fruit - e.g. fruit not native to your town - sells for 500 Bells, and you can only carry 15 items at a time, you being to realise what a time investment I must have put in.  I begin to realise it, too.

Is it worth it?  Probably not.  Am I absolutely rapt that there's going to be a 3DS version?  Yes.  Am I going to play during the Acorn Festival and try to get all of my old furniture back?  You betcha.  Every Saturday in August between 7pm and 12am there are also in-game fireworks.  That will be a nice bonus, if I happen to be signed in at that time.

So, what's the difference between Animal Crossing and the Facebook games I curse?  Well, I can't spend real money in Animal Crossing, the characters I interact with at least pretend to care about me and remember the things that I did earlier in the game, like catching a certain fish or bug, and there's no real punishment for not signing in, apart from weeds and cockroaches that I can get rid of if I want to.  If I don't want to, that's equally fine.  Basically, Animal Crossing makes me happy, when I have the time - everything is so simple and pretty, and the people are so nice.  It makes a very big change from the frantic pace of full-time work + taking care of house + cooking + Masters + cat.  For that reason, I feel as if I've outgrown it a little.  I'm hoping the 3DS version might bring me back in, but unless I can convince my friends to play it, too, I get the feeling my little avatar's going to be pretty lonely.

The other thing that makes Animal Crossing what it is, is the sincerity of its being.  It doesn't try to be another type of game, and it's not trying to cheat me out of my time or money.  It simply is, and if I want to be part of its existence, then that's wonderful.  If I don't, it will be waiting for me, just as it always was, perhaps a little dirtier and lonelier, like a favourite childhood toy, but it will welcome me back just as warmly.  When was the last time your video game gave you a virtual hug?

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