It's that time of year again, folks. The days are short and cold, the nights are long and even colder, and one of the best places to be is in your nice warm house. Since you're there, you may as well break out the good ol' videogames and make those chilly winter evenings go by a little faster.
In honour of this, I'm going to be posting about one game each day in the run-up to Christmas, finishing on the magical day itself. Keep in mind that these aren't necessarily going to be games that feature Christmas (although some do). Rather, they're going to be a mix of winter warmers, personal nostalgic favourites, and games that echo some traditional Christmas pastimes. I'm sure other people will have their own winter favourites, but this is my unique list and I'm going to do my best to give a little history on each game and explain why they're featured here.
So, without further ado, onwards with day twelve!
Originally released in Japan only on the Nintendo 64 under the title Dōbutsu no Mori, Animal Crossing was eventually ported to the Gamecube in 2002 (2004 for us Europeans). The game was a runaway success, spawning sequels and spinoffs on every Nintendo platform released since, and even a Japan only animated film.
On the surface the gameplay appears very simplistic, maybe even boring. Players start the game on a train, on their way to a new life in a new town. Upon arrival they are saddled with a large mortgage and are forced to work for the entrepreneurial raccoon overlord, Tom Nook. In order to clear their debts players could fish in rivers, ponds and the sea, catch bugs, dig up fossils, grow various fruits, then sell all of their discoveries and produce to ol' Nook. Or if they didn't fancy doing any of that they could chat with the exceedingly odd animal residents of their town. Essentially, it was a quaint village life simulator with a very surreal edge.
What made it really unique, though, was it's use of the Gamecube's internal clock. Time in the game would pass in perfect synchronisation with real life, including when you weren't playing. If you didn't play the game for a few weeks you could expect to return to a weed infested town, full of very angry neighbours who wanted to know where you'd been. Of course, you could always cheat and change the time and date settings on your gamecube, but that wouldn't really be fair now, would it?
Why It's Here:
Lets get the obvious out of the way first. Christmas day in real life is an idealised Christmas day in Animal Crossing. You'll receive gifts from your friends and family, it's a guaranteed white Christmas every year, and everyone in town will be out celebrating. But as fun as this is, it's not really enough.
The real reason that I've picked Animal Crossing for today is that the game itself is a perfect allegory for Christmas. It's twee and very family friendly on the outside, but it has dark and sinister undertones if you go digging for them, and every single person will have their own unique experience. Their odd traditions and conventions. This is just how people celebrate Christmas, everyone is different. Sure there are broad conventions, but it's those slightly odd family customs that really make it special.
As Abed teaches us in the wonderful 'Uncontrollable Christmas'
episode of Community, Christmas is actually a very personal holiday. The things that some people feel are essential to their Christmas experience would be completely alien to anybody else. Animal Crossing is one of the few games that reflects this uniqueness in its gameplay, while also representing the duality of Christmas in its tone.
If you're looking for one game to represent the quaint oddity that is Christmas, it has to be Animal Crossing.