It has been just over a month since Animal Crossing New Leaf was unleashed upon North America; and, I have been playing it for nearly as long. I purchased the game on release day, something I don't do often for most games, simply because I had been a big fan of the series since it's original release on the Gamecube over ten years ago.
For those of you not familiar with the series, Animal Crossing is a pretty simple game, it involves mostly performing little odd jobs here and there to earn Bells (the in game currency) in order to pay off a loan for the house you move in to. Along the way you make friends with your villagers (all of whom are a variety of animal species), take part in special holiday events, decorate the inside of your house, and work on providing a museum with pieces of art, fossils, fish, and bugs. It really doesn't sound too exciting when reading about it but it does have an oddly attractive nature. Regardless, I did not intend to write about what the game is, how pretty it's graphics are (they are pretty cute if not mind-blowing), or how tight the controls are; I wanted to write about my experiences with the series and how I've changed from my first time playing to now.
As previously mentioned, I have been playing the Animal Crossing series of games for over ten years now. Really thinking back on it, I was probably right around half my age now when I sat down for the first time ready to experience what was being touted as "the real life game that's playing, even when you're not." I had no real expectations for what it would be, whether I would even enjoy it, but I was drawn to it none-the-less. I started up my Gamecube, popped in the game disc along with the extra memory card it was bundled with, and waited for it to load.
A squeaky voice almost stuttering came through my TV speakers, "Nintendo," just as the familiar logo faded from the black into my sight. A faint whisper of a train-whistle can be heard in the background, as if to say you have now embarked on a journey and, welcome, to a new world. The main theme music kicks in, a simple drum beat and a catchy upbeat piano tune. The title screen fades in and your eyes are blasted with it's bright, colorful, and cheerful graphics. This is only maybe 30 seconds to a minute in and already the game has welcomed you into it's arms.
I quickly made my character, named after myself, and got to work on creating a new town. Knowing myself at that time, specifically, my obsession with Japanese culture and otherwise just plain weird stuff I probably concocted some loosely oriental name for my new home. I go through the initial phase of answering some silly questions about myself and then the train pulls in to my new found paradise. Upon arriving, I am greeted by a raccoon who gives me a house, a hefty loan, and a job to pay it off. I set out knocking out each task like there's no tomorrow, eager to get in to the game and starting molding it how I should see fit.
Fast forward a couple of months, the full home loan has been paid off, along with numerous size upgrades along the way. I added a second floor and a basement, changed my roof color, and added all the pieces of furniture I could muster. I had become obsessed. Every little detail needed to be just so, I needed to catch all fish for the museum, needed to collect every fossil for the museum. I needed to win, something.
The odd thing about Animal Crossing is there really much in the way of objectives or an end goal. The game is entirely up to the player in how to proceed with their time spent playing it. Maybe you don't care about catching all the bugs in order to get 100% completion on your museum. Maybe the museum is the only you do care about and you never bother paying off your house loan, you are perfectly content to live in a small shack of a house with nothing more than a bed, a tape deck, and a calendar. Or even still, maybe you couldn't care less about either of those things and you focused more on creating a pristine mountain village with pine trees and flowers as far as your TV can display. I needed it all.
The game brought out obsessive and possessive sides in me that nothing before it had ever done. I was monstrous, I needed everything to be perfect, going so far as to create custom clothing designs and doing my best to force villagers to wear them. And yet, there still was not enough control for me, I still yearned to be able to do more.
Fast forward a few years, the second game in the series is released. I'm a little older, I haven't played the first game for a while, I was in a different place by this point. The game retained the charm that I knew and loved, the core concepts and gameplay hadn't changed and again I was hooked. Having grown up a bit though, I wasn't as focused on controlling every little detail, I understood more that some things were maybe out of my hands. I wish I could say that I had maybe matured by that point, but really I just knew more about the limitations of what a game was and was not capable of achieving. I still enjoyed the game, though I played it a bit less than I had anticipated, but in new ways. I was a teenager then, I though the funniest things in the world were drawing penises in the constellations and making my villagers say "fart" as much as I could. The game didn't change much but I had. It was still glorious.
Fast forward a few more years, the third game in the series is released, I skipped over that one. By that point in time, I thought I knew everything about everything and no "life-simulation" game was going to change that. Stupid boy I was.
Bring us in to today. The fourth installment in the series is released and I couldn't be happier. I've been out living on my own for a few years, I'm married, and I have a great job. By this point it's changed a bit since the original with new ways of customizing your town, and the way you can customize your house is remarkably refined, but I find myself not worrying so much about the little details anymore. I will admit, when I first started playing the game, I went back to my old ways though. I was beetle farming my way to the bank trying to pay off my home loans as quickly as I could. I went on a fishing, and bug netting spree with intent to fill up my museum as much as I could. But the past few days, I find myself changed.
I'm not so worried about the position of all my trees, I don't care about the fish, or the bugs, or the fossils so much. I now just walk through my town, saying hello to all passersby and helping them when they need, but I feel content with things how they are.
Sure, I still want to have a bitching house with cool furniture and all the little trimmings, but mostly, I just like to dive in and enjoy the sights and sounds of some faraway land that doesn't exist. I just try to relax and take in this fantastic little world that Nintendo has created for us. It's like a handheld zen garden you can pick up whenever you feel the need. It's still early on in it's release, and sure there are plenty of new fish and bugs for me to catch but it's no longer my driving force. The game allows me to just let things be and try to appreciate the little things in life.
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