In our review of Animal Crossing: New Leaf we mentioned how it’s a game that you live as well as play.
It’s a game that holds up a mirror to your own life, interests and passions. New Leaf is a beautiful achievement. But, for all the joy it brings you now, it may also bring you sadness and disappointment in the future.
I had previously played the GameCube and Nintendo DS editions of Animal Crossing. I played for hours, days, weeks and months. I forged friendships, I kept the towns tidy, I stocked the museums, and I ran hundreds of errands for my appreciative residents. I put my heart and soul into those games, and even went as far as celebrating New Year’s Eve 2006 in real-time with my animal chums.
With my interest in the series reignited by Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I decided to revisit my old towns to see how they had fared without me… It was a sobering experience.
Returning to the GameCube town of West Dan, I found the place overrun with weeds, the other residents seeming not to care a jot. They had obviously just relied on me to do all the heavy lifting, and in my absence had let the place rot. I found a healthy amount of interest in my bank account, which was nice, but a quick visit to Tom Nook saw it quickly snatched away to cover an outstanding mortgage payment.
My house was riddled with roaches, my basement home to a collection of Gyroids who have been gurgling to themselves for 9 years. And as for the villagers, a brief shrug of acknowledgement and a pithy comment regarding my absence was all I received.
I hoped that my return to the DS village of DanVille would prove more heartening, but no. I was met with the same disarray, the same cold welcome.
To make matters worse Animal Crossing: Wild World had an unnerving ability to reach out into my real life, provoking genuine sadness. There, in my town-house, I found the avatar of my then current girlfriend, a sleeping beauty, undisturbed for six years. In DanVille we are still together, in reality we have long since parted.
I found reminders at every turn. My mailbox contained unread letters that she had sent to a future me. They were full of excitement and hope, but now serve as a reminder to the promises we broke and the dreams that we lost. And up in the sky, a constellation created by me, and named after her. Super sob!
This edition of Animal Crossing has become more than a game; it’s a time capsule, a snapshot of my life sealed within a cartridge.
In an attempt to escape these memories I tried to find my all time favourite DanVille resident, Cube the penguin. All I found was a space where his house had once stood. And in my mailbox, a letter from the little rascal:
“I can’t believe I’m moving! Sorry, but I need to move someplace with a 24-hour buffet! See ya!”
Cube and I had shared so many good times, but obviously not enough buffets. The only record of our friendship exists in my memory and in those 94 characters of text.
Animal Crossing creates such wonderful and affecting worlds, but they are worlds that only exist when you look at them. If you love them and tend to them, they will love you back. But if you leave and forget the game, prepare to be forgotten in return.
The experience depressed me, all that effort, all that time… But just as the illusion was in danger of being shattered, something wonderful happened. This morning I switched on New Leaf only to find a new resident in town. A penguin going by the name of Cube.
Maybe life in Animal Crossing is not so bad after all.