Animal Crossing: A Unique Game that Can't Be Played All at Once

Everyone knows the feeling of getting a new AAA game. You run to the store at midnight (or first thing in the morning), wait in line, get the game before racing back home. Primary thought on everyone’s mind at that moment: “well, there goes my social life for the next few days”. Maximum a week usually, that game will dominate your time as you seek to complete it. But you will, that’s the point. Even with huge games like Bethesda’s Fallout or Elder Scrolls series, you will complete at least the majority of it in a relatively short time period (you will also become a hermit and your friends and family will begin speaking of you in mythological terms). The Animal Crossing series isn’t like that. Simply put: it isn’t like any other major video game release out there.

For the purposes of this article, the majority of my comments will be directly based upon my recent experiences playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS. I have played every Animal Crossing game released so far, but there are a few things in New Leaf that I want to focus on. Plus, it’s the Animal Crossing game that is freshest in my head.

So let me summarize what happens in an Animal Crossing game: you play as a young human who moves into a town full of bipedal humanoid animals. You are given a small house and few possessions. There are stores where you can buy things, clothing stores where you can design new clothes, a museum where you can donate bugs, fossils, fish and paintings. In short, the town feels alive. It is full of things to do. The catch: you’re a broke foreigner. You have to make friends and acquire currency… because you will be in debt in this game. A lot of debt. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

Tom Nook is the creature you will owe so much money to in these games. He may not be a villain in the traditional sense but rest assured: he has grown fat off your blood, sweat and tears.
Tom Nook is the creature you will owe so much money to in these games. He may not be a villain in the traditional sense but rest assured: he has grown fat off your blood, sweat and tears.

So it’s kinda like The Sims. Kinda but not really. There is another catch with any Animal Crossing game: they all take place real-time, whether you’re playing or not. That means that right now in my Animal Crossing game, the town is waking up and starting to move. Doesn’t matter that I’m not playing. Just as it is 8:11 as I write this, it is 8:11 in my game. Kinda crazy when you think about it.

Just like in real life, there are different seasons in Animal Crossing. I will have to wait till December to experience December in the game. No other game does this.
Just like in real life, there are different seasons in Animal Crossing. I will have to wait till December to experience December in the game. No other game does this.

So what does this mean for gameplay? Essentially it means I can binge-play all I want but time is going to prohibit how much I can do. There is only so much one can do in a day, this is true in both life and Animal Crossing. This makes Animal Crossing unique. Even in the Sims series, one can always fast-forward or slow down time. There is that degree of control. Here, no. If you say you’re going to meet someone in the game in eight hours and then forget to show up – that experience is gone. Furthermore, they will remember that you weren’t there and be angry at you the next time you talk to them.

Sounds a little too life-like, doesn’t it?

Good news: it still feels like a game. While certain aspects render Animal Crossing as a second-life simulator, this is still a different life than most of us will ever lead. In Animal Crossing, you spend your days catching fish and bugs. You dig up dinosaur bones. You run errands for friends. You can buy new things at your leisure, even when massively in debt. You don’t need to eat, you don’t need to sleep. Oh and Animal Crossing: New Leaf adds something extra to the formula – you’re the mayor.

As mayor you fund public works and can enact ordinances to shape your town and all of its inhabitants.
As mayor you fund public works and can enact ordinances to shape your town and all of its inhabitants.

This gives more power to the player. Not much more mind you, that damn raccoon is still going to own your money and your soul before you can possibly pay off your debt. Still, it’s nice to see a game changing up the formula and adding new gameplay mechanics. The time limitations come into play here as well. For instance, in my game I have just enacted my first ordinance, which was a desire to increase the amount of money you get from selling items (very useful when paying off debt). I enacted it yesterday morning. It took effect this morning, exactly 24 hours after I enacted it. So I had to wait a day… which makes me want to play today because I want to see exactly what it is that I just did.

The stores in Animal Crossing are not open 24/7. This also slows progress as you can collect so much at a certain time but sell nothing. Being mayor allows you to extend the store's hours, should you so choose.
The stores in Animal Crossing are not open 24/7. This also slows progress as you can collect so much at a certain time but sell nothing. Being mayor allows you to extend the store’s hours, should you so choose.

Playing an Animal Crossing game is incredibly relaxing. Maybe it is the fixed time that renders the effect but I honestly think it’s more than that. Part of it comes from the fact that, even though it is so close to reality, (especially if you’re a recent graduate with debt filling your life), there is no time table. Play Animal Crossing if you want to experience a world run by money but not dominated by it. Despite the passage of time, my character will never die. He cannot get hurt or have his ambitions ruined. Everything he works for: he achieves. In short, that makes the Animal Crossing series the perfect propaganda for capitalism.

If that’s true than that makes Tom Nook the 1%… funny how much shared hatred is in there.

How it feels being several hundred thousand dollars in debt... to a raccoon.
How it feels being several hundred thousand dollars in debt… to a raccoon.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of it or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.

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