When you think of manly things, a certain set of images comes to mind. Monster trucks. Bare-knuckle boxing. Hunting. Ramping a monster truck with boobs painted on the side over a flaming bear and then fighting that bear with your bare hands. You know, that sort of thing.
What doesn't come to mind is designing intricate floral patterns for loveseats, collecting clothing accessories, and fussing over adorable, doe-eyed, anthropomorphic townspeople of whose acceptance you desperately yearn.
Not really, anyway.
Yet, here I find myself, a many seasoned gentleman, sitting upon a library of Animal Crossing games, all of which have been furiously defeated, if such a thing is possible. There really is no ultimate completion to Animal Crossing. No one wins. Sure, you may have worked hard like a good little indentured servant and have been awarded with a golden statue erected in town in honor of your diligent embrace of capitalism. But is there an end cutscene? Credits? A black screen with ‘The End’ printed in white bold letters? No. Not even one with a question mark at the end.
The house is now yours. You've finally purchased it. But your servitude yet continues. Your house is not complete until you’ve properly secured yourself a complete matching set of furniture for every garish level or expansion you’ve been needlessly adding to your tiny shack. And once you’ve managed that, why not get all the sets? And you’ll have to have the proper matching outfits to coordinate with your house, the one you spend no time in at all. This is important. That raccoon in the apron paid me to tell you that.
Oh, and let’s not forget your townspeople. They are not to be ignored. You have an entire village of mindless, chatty adorable creatures -- sick mockeries of conventional animal forms -- who have endless tales of town gossip, sleep habits, and weight lifting routines to dispatch to you without warrant. They also are inept beings, completely unable to perform simple tasks and seem to wander around lost in their very own town. Which is embarrassing, since it contains no more than a few small homes and only two places of business. But you’ve made a commitment to them now! They have walkman players, vases, and rugs they need you senselessly trade with their neighbors for arm-chairs, wallpapers, and umbrellas.
But this is the nature of the beast. Animal Crossing is nothing more than a surreal life simulator. You don't manage bladders or a conventional "job" like you may do in the Sims series, but rather some sort of strange bastardization of the American Dream. Wherein the game's only 'plot line' revolves around burying yourself into debt without foresight and trapping you forever in a walled suburban town. The only progression of the storyline involves buying piles of useless items way beyond your means which you collect solely to feel some sense of accomplishment as you try desperately to forget about your crippling mortgage. The people that populate this nightmare are soulless, materialistic, interchangeable caricatures only mildly recognizable as humans who often don't even remember your name, but you can be damned sure they want something from you.
Credit to ~Ruthie312
So what sort of black heart pumps at the center of this game that draw so many players from both the casual gamer circle and those of the hardcore? Gaming articles and blogs before me have questioned this love, for sure, but they only sought to answer why the game is addictive. This is not a mystery. Control of a character in need of upgrades, prizes awarded to you as you progress along an arbitrary goal, a nearly infinite series of items which seem to be progressing towards some manner of success, a time-focused design that demands your daily interaction to keep properly maintained. These are the aspects of MMOs, and we all already understand why those are addictive. That's not the curiosity I have.
It's why I love it so freaking much.
If I were to turn the game on one day to find that the lovable squirrel/secret agent who I adore so very much has decided to leave this hellish circle of woe, a wave of concern and panic sets in. What have I done to anger him? I've been nothing but gentle and benevolent. I mailed him furniture which he now proudly displays in his home. I've written him letters and somehow mailed him fruit along with them. I've spoken with him daily and delivered items to other villagers that inexplicably ended up in his possession. I've been nothing but the bestest of friends. HOW COULD HE BETRAY ME?
That's the rub, though. Animal Crossing, despite its ever persistent void of actual content, still snares its players into becoming dedicated to the wellbeing of the town and its people. It becomes not a matter of completion for which you churn through the endless parade of senseless jobs and collecting, but a matter of pride. This is my town of LOLWANGville. I have crafted it and it is mine and I will maintain it. I will befriend the villagers I find adorable and I will ruthless flog the others with a net designed for catching bugs. I will find all the fish and bugs so that they can be displayed with my name in the museum, because I write the science books. The only species of animals the village is aware of are the ones I show them. I will draw lewd things in the sky because it is my sky. I own it. I own the damned sky. Other games give you the illusion of godliness, like the Sims. But you're not really in control there. Your families of mind-slaves function better under your control, sure, but they don't need you. They can live and prosper without you, albeit with more pants-shitting and grease fires. Not so in Animal Crossing.
The game leads you to believe that you're trapped under the heel of that swindling raccoon, but this is not so. Tom Nook only exists because I let him exist. He runs the shops, but the shops run on my time. The town itself only functions because I arrived. It will become overwhelmed with foliage and nightmares if I do not bestow upon my expertise of pressing the A button rapidly. The museum would sit empty, the tailor without hilarious images of genitals to stitch onto clothes, and all would be unemployed and purposeless. Like Schrodinger's Cat, the town of LOLWANG exists in a quantum state of existence and non-existence when I am not there to oversee it. In fact, it didn't even take form until I first arrived. It exists only because I do.
I love Animal Crossing because it makes me GOD ... Until I get bored after three weeks, that is.
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