I have the same problem with both Rune Factory as Animal Crossing : they're games I shouldn't enjoy nearly as much as I do. In essence, they simulate being tied to the land and the people around you. In this age of the Internet Community, it's a little scary to think about what that means.
In Rune Factory, I stay friends with people, as long as I make the effort to speak to them every day, and give them gifts on their birthday. This is not entirely true to life, since I've missed a real friend's birthday for 3 years in a row and she somehow doesn't hate me, but it's a simplistic view of what's involved : relationships, of all kinds, take effort. Animal Crossing is the same. In fact, if you don't speak to a character for a number of days in a row, there's a chance they'll even leave town. Harsh.
While Animal Crossing is all about keeping your town pretty and paying off a mortgage, Rune Factory takes it one step further. You grow plants in your farm, which you can sell or use for crafting. In addition to this, you get quests from the townsfolk, and can go dungeon-delving with a friend at your side. Rune Factory 3 has even been extended for multiplayer. I don't know about you, but watching my boyfriend and I hop around the screen as little yellow Woolies (read : sheep) on an adventure in the forest is about as much cuteness as I can take.
But it's the social interactions that keep me hooked. Sure, it's frustrating that each character only has one thing to say on a given day, and, sure, Rune Factory 3 is essentially a dating sim, like all of the other Rune Factory games, only this time I'm locked into being a boy (albeit a cute one who turns into a sheep~~). But the more time you spend with a character, the more they'll open up to you. The shy girl you meet on your first day who won't say a word will eventually say something sweet or astounding. The lazy girl will turn out to have grand aspirations. Even the characters you can't ever date are revealed to have hidden facets to their personality.
It's compressed and easy socialising. It's Facebook without all the spam. I know Collette likes food, so if I give her food, she'll be happy. Some of the other girls are more complex, but they give me hints. They like me if I talk to them, and are disappointed if I don't. There's nowhere near the amount of to-ing and fro-ing that comes with a real friendship, and none of the arguments. I wonder if that makes me a little shallow, but I do have real life friends. They're just not accessible at the flick of a power switch. They're also not dismissible by the same.
I guess it's the same as real-life pets. They're cute until they vomit on your new carpet. The in-game thing is so much easier, cuter, never grows up and can be turned off. Our cat keeps us awake all night if she feels like it. Still, no amount of stroking a glass or plastic screen can compare to the softness of her fur, or the happiness I get when she lies down beside me and purrs me to sleep. Friends aren't as close as all that, but I know I'd go crazy if I only had Rune Factory.
I do feel a little guilty, though, when I'm at a social gathering I'd rather not be attending, and I take out my DS to socialise in a different way. For shame, you may say. For comfort, I'll reply. We no longer have neighbours, but strangers, and our tribes of people collected by interest are nowhere within reach. Somehow, in the snowglobe world of mobile gaming, those little 2D people seem more real, and infinitely closer. Despite my love of games and all they entail, I still find that a little sad.