After logging 100 hours in 2 weeks, Tom explores what sustains his crippling addiction to New Leaf and suggests why it can be important to break the Bell-farming rut.
Why do I play Animal Crossing? Why do I, and so many others, keep playing Animal Crossing? And why do some people stop?
I began to think about these questions when, out of curiosity, I checked my Nintendo 3DS Daily Log application today to find that Animal Crossing: New Leaf had shot to the top of my Software Charts by a great margin, at 102 hours played. I started playing the game on June 19. Granted, that's not all me, as my sister has logged some significant time with her character, but still, it's enough for me to contemplate the idea that I might have a problem.
Evidently, I'm not alone - in our recent Games of the Year So Far feature, the Nintendo World Report staff concluded that Animal Crossing: New Leaf is, at the moment, our favourite game of 2013.
Already, we have had quite a range of responses to this pick - some understand the addictive hold of this game, while others have expressed concerns that they might already be burning out on it. New Leaf is probably the most acclaimed entry in the series since the very first one, but there is still a bunch of early adopters who feel that not that much has changed and who have become frustrated with the game's deliberately slow pace.
I had some of the same misgivings about the previous instalment, Let's Go to the City (known as City Folk in the US) on Wii. Having plumbed the depths of the GameCube original and Wild World on DS, I felt I could dissect the systems of Animal Crossing and as such, I tried to accelerate the Wii version along. Essentially, I was trying to force progression, which was a big mistake, so I played considerably less of the game as a result. It wasn't fun for me any more - it was more akin to work, and it was my own fault for playing in that fashion.
Some people would probably argue that Animal Crossing has always been a game of chores and busywork, but I beg to differ. It seems against the spirit of the type of game this is to tell people how to play it, but I believe that if this is your outlook on Animal Crossing, I implore you to rethink what you are actually trying to get out of playing the game.
As I put it at the top of the page, the new appreciation I have gained for Animal Crossing in my time with New Leaf, and why I have enjoyed it more than any prior titles in the franchise, is that I began to stop and smell the roses - and I don't mean the roses that you plant and water around town.
There has been plenty of discussion in the past on the presence of goals in these games. However, what I've noticed is that some people are losing sight of the reward for completing these goals, and are just focusing on the act of achieving the goal.
I suppose it is typical that certain players would approach a "sandbox" type of game like this one by making their own missions. By playing this way, some have adopted the mentality that Animal Crossing is entirely governed by money; an endless pursuit of finding stuff to sell and paying off loans. It's as if they have turned the game into a score attack challenge, where the high score to aim for is a 300,000 Bell house payment or a 250,000 Bell donation to a public works project.
But at that point, what are you putting all this work in for? What's the sense in paying off the second floor expansion of your home, only to immediately return to hours of running between the shop and the town with pockets full of fish and bugs to work on the loan for your basement? You haven't even taken the time to do anything with the new space you just earned. How many of you have dumped findings into your museum as some sort of arbitrary completion objective, without taking the time to explore the exhibits you made?
Nothing in Animal Crossing happens quickly, and that's exactly the point. The error I made with City Folk was attempting to force things to happen and consequently becoming irritated. With New Leaf, I'm really enjoying my more laid-back, contemplative style of play that harkens back to what I loved about the original GameCube title. There's little benefit to trying to understand what parameters the game operates under - not knowing how it works makes it all the more pleasant of a surprise when Dr. Shrunk unexpectedly shows up outside your house petitioning to open a club.
Of course, I still set goals for myself to accomplish. There's always got to be a drive to keep going. But now I'm no longer thinking about them along the lines of "I need to make X amount of Bells." It's more in terms of what I want this section of my town to look like over the long-term, or what I'd like to do with this specific part of my house. When I visit other people's towns online, I'm not thinking about plundering the place for all the foreign fruit; I am more concerned with gathering ideas for what I might do with my own town in the future.
Only when the game is experienced at a leisurely pace can I properly appreciate my townscape as it grows and develops, and enjoy talking to my neighbours, participating in events, playing tours at the island and giving a sense of identity to my virtual world. And if you don't want to do those things, if you feel that you have to be making money at all times even though it might not be very fun, then maybe this series just isn't for you.