Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The Animal Crossing End Game

Why do we keep playing Animal Crossing?

When you first start Animal Crossing -- any game in the series -- there really are quite a lot of long-term goals available to you.  You can plant trees and flowers, fill a museum, buy a bigger house, collect furniture, acquire a wardrobe... But despite Nintendo's proud boast that Animal Crossing is a game you can play forever, you will eventually hit a point where you feel like there is nothing left to do.  Maybe you didn't achieve every goal, but you've covered everything that's interesting to you.  You've got the biggest house, the best furniture, a costume that you never want to change, and yet the game doesn't end.  What keeps you going?  Why play a game with no objective?

Well... why do we play any games?

When you're playing, say, Super Mario Brothers, your stated goal is to save the princess.  So you travel across the worlds, step on all the angry mushrooms along the way, and figure out how you're supposed to drop Bowser in the lava this time.  Princess Toadstool is free, and the day is won.  So what do you do?  Sit around and revel in the hard-fought peace you've won for the Mushroom Kingdom?

No!  You start a new game, of course!  The princess goes right back into her cage, and we do it all over again.

It's not about the destination -- it's about the journey.  As the player, we are not motivated to play the game because we want Princess Toadstool freed, even though there might be a cool cinematic at the end.  We play the game because we love bouncing on platforms and stomping on goombas and flying around and stuff.  The adventure isn't a means to an end; it is an end unto itself.  In the end, any reward the game gives us isn't as important as the fun we have playing it.

Animal Crossing does expect you to reach "the end" and then stay there.  Every village that's created becomes a unique, sort of organic entity.  Starting over just because you've accomplished all of your goals almost feels like you're killing a living thing.

If you approach the game from the perspective that it's not about the destination so much as the journey, then you can make the argument that you basically start over every day.  Yes, every day is about performing the same fetch quests, catching the same fish -- but then, every video game is like that when you play it over and over again.  The difference in Animal Crossing is that, even as you're playing the same game every day, the environment grows and evolves around you.  Seasons change.  Characters move in and out.  Shops change their stock.  Every day the same game in a world that's always changing.

So Animal Crossing is sort of about divorcing yourself from that idea that you're playing to accomplish something.  It's about appreciating this tiny world in your hands for what it is instead of chasing after a carrot on a stick.

To a certain extent, I think the people who get the most out of Animal Crossing are the people who can buy into the make-believe.  We sort of learn, as gamers, to try and look for the underlying systems in games, the variables that we have to manipulate to get the effects that we want.  But this is a game that wants you to role-play in the purest sense.  It rarely even breaks character itself; your character creation isn't handled by some menu-based system, but by chatting with a cat on a train.

I've been playing New Leaf.  Apart from opening up The Roost, I really don't have any goals left for my town.  But I still drop in as much as I can.  I browse the shops now and then.  I sell off the fossils I find.  But most of all, I log in to see what the critters in town are up to.  I know there's really nothing cool to get for moving packages around or leading people over to my house, but it doesn't matter.  I enjoy it for its own sake.

This might be the version I take to the grave with me.


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