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The Animal Crossing: New Leaf Letter Series
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The Animal Crossing: New Leaf Letter Series

July 11, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

From: Christian Nutt
To: Mike Rose, Kris Ligman

I'd go much further than Kris and suggest that you're failing to see the crucial distinction between Animal Crossing and "awful free-to-play mobile games," and this is a point I tried to make when I wrote my take on the game but which I think really deserves more emphasis. Those games are generally punitive in their design, because they need to motivate you to come back.

Do this -- or else. That is your only choice: make sure your crops stay healthy, or lose them. This game is about X and you had better take care of X now, or we're going to take your hard-won X away from you.

Animal Crossing does not have this constraint. Of course, flowers will wither or weeds will grow if you don't take care of them. But slowly, and new flowers grow even as old ones die. Fossils will stay buried if you don't dig them up -- but so what? If you don't care about digging up fossils, then don't dig up fossils. Do something else. Like everybody else, on July 1st my town got cicadas. I could collect them... or I could do as I have been, and just ignore them, and enjoy them as part of the scenery of the game's season cycle. Blathers can go without.

You have a lot of choices, and the game has no critical path to speak of. And all of the activities are of both the same intrinsic worth from a systemic perspective (you get out of them what you put into them) and also probably just as intrinsically fun as any other possibility you could be doing at the same time. The game is, in fact, intrinsically fun -- so it doesn't really need to scare you into returning.

Now, if you don't like any of the options that are open to you, then yes -- this is the wrong game for you and I can see how it would feel like all you can see ahead of you is a list of chores. But if you see a list of possibilities, it's the right game for you, conversely. To me, it's been a gently unfolding palette of possibilities I discover one way or another (through friends, through their appearance in my town, through social media...) That's what has made this so much more to me than the Gamecube game ever was.

As for what Kris said, of course that's true. You can see Japan's taste for nostalgia in its pop culture all the time -- an obvious example would be Studio Ghibli's Porco Rosso, and if it's good enough for Hayao Miyazaki, it's good enough for anybody. But Animal Crossing can touch off real nostalgia, too, as in this essay from Jeremy Parish that's well worth reading if the appeal of the game still eludes you.

Both Tajiri and Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada have explicitly mentioned increasing urbanization as a motivation for creating their series, too -- Tokyo is a huge city in every dimension, and I think that it brings this out in creators in a way that doesn't seem to have any corollary in the Western game industry. (Incidentally, you should really watch Wada's Harvest Moon postmortem from GDC 2012 if you haven't. It's free.)

The truth of the matter is that Animal Crossing feels like a mini-vacation to me, not work. I play it to relax, and to escape. 

Mike, I'd be curious to know why virtual caretaking isn't satisfying to you in and of itself? Is it the stigma of social games, or because the gameplay actions are simple? When you speak of "a little substance" that Animal Crossing doesn't offer, I'm wondering — what are you looking for? 

From: Mike Rose
To: Kris Ligman, Christian Nutt

I think my comparison with the sorts of free-to-play titles I used to play was less a parallel between the design constraints, and more that I just feel like there isn't much to do. Actually, let me rephrase that: I could easily sit here now and play Animal Crossing for the next two hours, filling that time with activity, so clearly there is lots of do.

Rather, it's a case that what the game offers becomes increasingly repetitive and lackluster very quickly. I mean, I'm literally picking fruit from trees, swiping bugs and catching fish day-in, day-out, and while that did have a significant charm to it a couple of weeks ago, it's well and truly worn off now.

I now find myself each day grabbing the game, finding the rock that has all the hidden cash in it, and then turning the game off again, simply because I feel like if I don't grab that cash, I've wasted a day. And that, to me, displays at least vague parallels with the free-to-play constraints that you were talking about.

Additionally, I see people on Twitter getting excited about the clothes they are dressing their characters up in, or the new patterns they have created, but none of that kind of thing is exciting to me whatsoever. I don't have a single creative bone in my body when it comes to art, drawings etc., nor do I have any interest in experimenting with fashion. I chose clothing for my Animal Crossing character on the day I got the game (a gas mask and American Indian headdress combo) and I've stuck with that. I can see why people enjoy it, but it's not for me at all.

So, yeah, I guess what I'm saying is that I stuck around for the game's charm and wit, the bright colors, and the general lack of men with guns, but after two weeks of what my brain tells me is incredibly simplistic, I'm ready to claim my early mornings back.

I read my original email to you guys back, and I noticed that while I said I had "caught the Animal Crossing bug", I never actually said what it was that I was enjoying. I think I realize now that I don't even know if I was enjoying it -- it feels more like I was hooked on collecting things and being part of something, and now that that feeling has died off, I can't really see why I was playing it in the first place. 

RIP Rave of the Dale. 

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