The Game That Taught Us Community
The idea of life simulators was not a new thing before Animal Crossing came out. The Sims had just released a year prior in 2000, which featured characters in a digital sandbox living their individual lives in a world of your making. The uniqueness of Animal Crossing was what helped it stand out at a time when we didn’t even know we wanted a game like it.
Originally designed as a N64 game, Animal Crossing gained enormous popularity when it was updated and released worldwide on the Nintendo GameCube. This was an odd little game to release at the time, standing in stark contrast to many of the “serious” and “dark” games that many gamers were eating up. Many derided it as nothing more than a children’s game, citing the bright colors and bobble-headed animals as “cartoon-y” (which is, funny enough, similar to many of the comments made about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker prior to its release).
Despite many people’s misgivings, the original game took off and became one of the highest rated games on the GameCube. It succeeded in ways that were unprecedented at the time and left many people scratching their heads. What IS the appeal of this game? Why is it so addicting?
Animal Crossing is the quintessential comfort food of gaming.
For me, the main appeal of this game comes from its social interactions. The neighbors in your village are anthropomorphic animals with wacky attitudes and pun-filled names, complete with their own unique personalities. The GameCube version boasted over 200 possible animals that could be your neighbors, which meant that your town was truly unique with its randomly-generated terrain and who decides to live there. Interacting with these neighbors every day and sending them letters netted you not only different items you could place around your house, but also builds your relationship with them. Villagers warm up to you after some time and even create special nicknames for your character, helping you develop this unique bond with them over time (which creates truly heartbreaking moments if they decide to move away from your town).
The real time gaming aspect was also a unique feature that wasn’t really seen in the same way before Animal Crossing. The game plays out according to the internal clock on the GameCube, so you had to plan out your play schedule in order to get as much out of the game as you can. Shops had set times when they were open, your neighbors had a specific schedule for where they would be at what time, and many bugs and fish you hunt for only had specific windows for availability. Not only did it play out day-by-day, but the game also played out according to a seasonal schedule; snow fell in winter, trees budded in spring, and holidays followed a generally realistic schedule. This helped you feel even more immersed in the world because it reflected your real-life surroundings in such a stark way.
Where this game really shines, though, is in the sheer amount of activities you can do each day. You set your own schedule based on what you feel like doing that day. Want to create a new, fashionable clothing design that your neighbors might start wearing? Go for it! Want to fill out your fish, fossil, and bug collections in the museum? Have fun! Want to meet K.K. Slider and collect all of his albums? Better make sure you visit on Saturday nights! The game rewards you based on how YOU want to play, and makes sure that it provides enough content for you to feel successful in whatever path you want to take. It may force you to try new things from time to time, but never to the point where it takes the fun away. This is a very difficult tightrope to walk when it comes to player engagement, but Animal Crossing walks it well.
Animal Crossing is the quintessential comfort food of gaming. It gives you just enough to keep you engaged and allows you to make the choices. The layers upon layers you discover the deeper you get into the game reveals more and more fun things to do. Although the graphics are a bit dated at this point and some of the features are clunky and unrefined (especially compared to its 3DS and Wii counterparts), Animal Crossing for the GameCube is still absolutely worth your time and bells.
To learn more about what makes Animal Crossing great, check out our episode on the series.