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I lost a friend this week

I have put over 170 hours into Animal Crossing New Leaf. Those hours come from playing nearly every day, but I usually only pop in for a little bit at a time. I donít spend much time farming expensive bugs and sea life on the island, I donít time travel, I donít play the stalk market. I usually donít even check what items will earn my more money at Re-Tail each day. I do care about paying off my home renovations and finishing public works projects, but if I made that kind of thing my only focus the game would lose its fun for me.

What keeps me coming back, what earned those 170 hours from me, is the characters. Even when they repeat themselves, or repeat what another villager just said, I find them charming and hilarious. At one point, when I still had new fossils to find, I used to turn on the game every day to get my 4 fossils and take them to Blathers. Now my daily play sessions feel almost like a duty Ė I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but a big part of why I come back is the fear that somebody is going to move away. I need to be in the game and talk to everyone and scope out who might be thinking of moving, and then usually talk them out of it.

Sometimes, though, it canít hurt to get some new blood. When I hit 10 villagers I started thinking about who I could let leave. It was a tough decision, but eventually Charlise told me she was going to go off to fight turf wars (they fling real turf at each other!) in another town and I let her pursue that dream. Charlise was not one of my original villagers, but she moved in quite early and I was fond of her. But at the time, I considered her someone Iíd be willing to let go in the name of bringing in someone new. After much ceremony, including several pictures with her and planting a cherry tree (cherries are my townís native fruit) on the plot that was her house, I let her go. It was a bit more sentimental than I might have expected the end of a short virtual friendship to be, but in the end it was my decision and I was okay with it.

Itís strange to think that Iíve formed a real attachment to these characters. Iíve always been a bit of a sentimental person, but the animals in Animal Crossing are fairly repetitive and robotic in a lot of ways. They usually ask you to carry out the same tasks, tell you the same stories, ask you the same questions. But sometimes theyíll surprise you. Sometimes theyíll say something out of left field, or youíll manage to be in an instance of the context of a very context-sensitive bit of dialogue and theyíll say something youíve never seen before. Or maybe theyíll say something so silly, or so outright stupid, that itís completely adorable and you donít care that theyíre not real. These charming creatures make the game what it is.

For all the good surprises and unexpected delights, there are bad things that can sneak up on you too if youíre not careful. This is why I try to speak with my villagers every few days at worst. I have had close calls with favourites of mine and original residents of my town, like Lucha and Purrl, getting ready to move. One time I was tipped off by another villager that Purrl was thinking of moving in 3 days, and she absolutely would not mention it herself. I finally got it out of her the day before she would have moved, and hoped Iíd never have a close call like that again. Just a few days ago, Lucha informed me he was getting ready to move. I told him not to. What if I hadnít played that day? What if he had moved?

The next day, I got some similar news. Sprinkle, another one of my original residents, would be moving in 3 days. I tried to speak to her, but she was in her house. From my experience, you tend to only talk to characters about their moving plans if theyíre walking around town and they trigger the conversation with you. I tried talking to her about it, but she wouldnít mention it.

Since I do have a life outside of Animal Crossing, I didnít manage to play the next day. On Sprinkleís moving day, I loaded up the game and was informed by Isabelle that Sprinkle would be moving. This wasnít right. I didnít choose her to go. If I had to choose who would leave next, Sprinkle would be low on the list.

I went to her birthday party.

She came to mine.

I tried to talk her out of it, but it was too late. I even hit up Google to see if itís even possible to talk a character out of moving at this point, and apparently it isnít. Instead of getting too upset about it, I talked to her as much as I could. I took pictures with her. She was wearing a frog tee, so I grabbed mine too. The next day, when her house became a vacant lot, I planted a perfect cherry tree where her house had been. I didnít want Sprinkle to leave, but she was gone.

Still, there is a silver lining. My girlfriend plays New Leaf more than I do, and has had a much higher churn of residents in her town. A few months ago, she started seeing her old ones come to visit. Up until today, I had never had that happen. But Charlise showed up on my main street today. It turns out Sprinkle was the last emigrant I needed in order to start seeing old residents come to visit. Hopefully Iíll see her again soon.

The amazing part of all of this is that Animal Crossing New Leaf is just a video game. I can stop playing whenever I want and it will eventually cease to matter to me. But for now, it does matter. Itís one of my relaxation rituals. Itís part of how I bond with my girlfriend. The silly animals in my town can cheer me up if Iím having a bad day, and losing a favourite feels like a real loss.

As in life, change in Animal Crossing can be bitter sweet. I lost a friend. A jolly penguin that always had a nice thing to say, and never believed me when I said her house was nice. But I still have those memories, and those pictures. She might come to visit now. Like many important transitions in life, this one was out of my control. This opens the door for new possibilities that are also out of my control, and that can be kind of exciting.

If nothing else, I at least have her pic.

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About Adam McDonaldone of us since 3:24 AM on 11.13.2011

I live on the west coast of Canada and like video games.

I got an SNES for Christmas in 1992 and haven't looked back (though I don't know many 4-year-olds that regress back to being babies).

I have some game-making abilities and am always trying to learn more.