Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Why Do We Even Care About Animal Crossing?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 23 Jul 2013 12:00
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Animal Crossing torments me. Not just because I still play it for about twenty minutes every morning to dig up the new fossils (and incidentally I've found you can put a not insignificant dent in your loans every day just by finding the one rock that disgorges coins) but because it's hard to categorise. Regular readers will know of my three-leg theory of game design, that the appeal of every game can be expressed as some combination of the three C's: context, challenge and catharsis. But I can't honestly state that Animal Crossing has a strong showing in any of those, so how does it make one keep coming back?

I said in the video that I think the most important factor is that every player of Animal Crossing is given an experience entirely unique to them, and then held responsible for it. Most games are about giving the player character a level of responsibility for the situation and the fates of the characters in it, with some exceptions - the Syndicate FPS springs to mind, in which the entire plot unfolds with no regard for the protagonist's input whatsoever - but any sense of obligation you might have in most games is lessened by the notion that you are playing the same story as every other player. And that everything you do moves you towards a predetermined ending.

In Animal Crossing, the future is an unwritten, nebulous thing. It's not much of a future, it's probably going to heavily involve rudimentary gardening, pawning fish, and the movements of colourful animal people, but it's one that is entirely yours to create. And no-one else will have one quite like it. A lot of people will have ones broadly very similar to it, but everyone will have their own little touches. Like the one surly bear character who has been carefully engineered to greet people with the phrase "lick my balls." Maybe that's how it gets you.

But it's not just that it creates something unique. Take Rogue Legacy for a counter-example, the subject of my contribution to last week's sizzlingly erotic Rhymedown Spectacular. A game in which the dungeon is randomly generated after every single attempt. It creates experiences unique to every player, yes, but you can't feel any investment in how the place is decorated.

Animal Crossing's trick is creating something unique that you are then stuck with, with only the fine details being changeable, and even that only through various levels of effort. For you see, it's human nature to be unthinkingly loyal to what we have, once it can't be changed. That's part of what fuels retarded arguments over whose console is the best. And it's the whole reason patriotism exists. It is not rational to claim that one country is the best if you have not had the chance to live in them all. But no-one has the time to do that, and everyone wants to stay in their comfort zone, so we turn to lazy thinking and self-delusion for our succour. Lazy thinking and self-delusion, come to think of it, is the appeal of Animal Crossing in a nutshell.

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