I have a somewhat complex relationship with the Animal Crossing series. The GameCube title, simply known as Animal Crossing, remains one of my favorite games on that particular console. I even went back to it fairly recently and started a brand new town, to see just how far we’ve come with the franchise. It was still just as charming and deviously addictive as I remember it being, and before I knew it I had spent a good two weeks playing a game that, by all accounts, was completely outdated. I have a strong desire to call the experience magical, although doing so would result in me needing to slap myself across the face.
Instead, I’ll just say there’s something about Animal Crossing that inspires the need to keep going, even if I know the conclusion I will inevitably reach seems fruitless. It’s just a daily grind of sorts, something I find myself both loving and hating at the same time. It made me realize it’s one of the most mechanically perfect gaming experiences Nintendo has ever made.
While many say that this applies to a lot of Nintendo’s big franchises, I firmly believe your first Animal Crossing experience will always be your favorite. I’m sure it’s not true for everyone, but the majority of people I’ve talked to who have some experience with the series and can confirm what I’m saying. This is the most basic explanation as to why I consider the original Animal Crossing my favorite, although I wouldn’t dare say it’s the best in the series. This is why my desire to return to it recently came up despite knowing New Leaf’s release was fast approaching.
Animal Crossing is mechanically very basic, yet the introduction of a real-time element makes it a very easy game to stick with and a tough game to go back to after taking a break from it. You spend time in a small town, talking with your animal neighbors, paying off a loan to a seemingly greedy raccoon to expand your house and continuing to improve it through furniture purchases. Your activities all circle back to the fact that you’re in Tom Nook’s debt, and he won’t let you escape until you give him every last bit of money you have.
There is fishing, bug catching and plenty of other fun things to do in Animal Crossing, plus plenty of holidays to celebrate with your new virtual friends, but it will eventually become less of a fun activity and more of a daily grind. When you see the word grind in this context, you most likely immediately think of something you hate to do yet need to in order to proceed in a game. Perhaps what comes to mind is a tedious chore that is relegated only to MMOs and other, similar RPGs.
In the case of Animal Crossing, the real-time mechanics and the plethora of random things that are bound to happen kept me turning on my GameCube every single day. I almost began to hate it, knowing that it was becoming a grind, yet when the game loaded and I was wandering around my town again I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy it. So it became my daily grind, yet every moment, even the most dull, felt enjoyable in some small way. It was all contributing to something, even if the results weren’t immediate. Animal Crossing became a game (and eventually a series) I could turn to and know I would enjoy, even with the occasional niggling issue that sometimes intruded on my experience.
You can easily point to the real-time aspect as the reason to keep coming back and, well, you would probably be right. Events happened at specific times or specific days, and if you weren’t there, you would miss out on a sometimes once-a-year opportunity. You could cheat and rewind (or fast-forward) time, but I could never bring myself to do it. Once I did, I would break the experience for myself and would never want to touch another Animal Crossing again. Even knowing about the ways in which I could cheat the system, allowing myself to do so would turn something unique into just another game. It’s not just about the system; it’s how the game was designed around it.
Before Animal Crossing existed, there was The Sims, a title that grabbed my attention for many of the same reasons. I could create my Sim (or family of Sims) and start a virtual life, complete with random events and my own personal goals. Like Animal Crossing, it became a game I went back to pretty consistently, yet I could easily stop playing and ignore for weeks if I wanted. It’s a game you could turn into a daily grind, playing for a few minutes to an hour every day, but it never felt necessary.
The Sims could never be the same as Animal Crossing, and it’s not as simple as implementing a real-time system into your Sims’ lives. Basically, Animal Crossing was built from the ground up to work that way, and The Sims was not. Your Sims have needs, and if the game kept going when you weren’t playing, they wouldn’t survive for long (or, at the very least, they’d be incredibly unhappy). Horrifying, I know, but when you create characters with basic human needs, you can’t expect players to be there 24-7 for them. It wouldn’t just be a daily grind; it would be babysitting.
Animal Crossing is addictive, yes, but my obligation to keep playing, despite sometimes feeling like a tiresome activity, is out of a desire to continue to enjoy the game. Sometimes I turn it on for 10 or 20 minutes just to get the basic stuff done; sometimes I turn it on and spend the rest of my day in my town. The best part? Both situations are satisfying for entirely different reasons. That is Animal Crossing in a nutshell. It can be either a tedious affair or addictive beyond belief, but it’s always an experience that you can’t have with any other game or series.
This is why it’s a daily grind and why I will continue to enjoy it. There are days I love it, days I don’t want to play it yet feel obligated to and days that fall somewhere in between. It’s something you can enjoy in short bursts or long play sessions, and even with its seemingly-simple mechanics and cute visuals, it is a masterfully-crafted experience no matter which you consider your favorite. If something can be classified as a grind is also something that is hard to put down, you know it’s special. Someday the charm may wear off completely, but until that day comes, the daily grind will always continue.