Animal Crossing No Life: Obligation as an Experience

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Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done since June 9 — I played Animal Crossing: New Leaf for only seven minutes.

Since its release, I’ve played 178 hours of the adorable little simulation game. My average play time is 41 minutes. By comparison, my second-most played game on my 3DS — Mario Kart 7 — comes in at a modest 36 hours total play time.

But yesterday, I just didn’t feel like making time for the hamlet of Midori. And, for the first time, I didn’t feel obligated to.

The thing about Animal Crossing is that I’ve played it before; before the 178 hours I’ve spent with New Leaf, I spent tons of time with Wild World, the DS version. New Leaf is a fantastic upgrade, but the core gameplay is essentially the same. The pacing is slow and peaceful. As Cliff Bleszinski put it, “Everything in Animal Crossing happens…tomorrow.”

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Is Animal Crossing just insanely replayable, or is it something else? I’ve replayed plenty of games before — I’ve probably spent more than 178 hours between different versions of Pokemon — but this is different. I revisit other games because I want to, because I love them dearly; with Animal Crossing, it’s because I… have to. I feel like I should say hi to Brewster and Sable every day for fear of making their cute little animal faces sad. I’m compelled to hunt beetles obsessively until I have too many Bells to know what to do with. I’m terrified of my pink roses wilting. I come back every day because I have to, not because I can’t put it down.

That’s not to say I don’t like the game or think it’s boring; it’s a charming, sweet game that makes me smile every time I play it. I love Animal Crossing. But after a while, it starts to feel like my mayoral duties in-game are a full-time job. It starts to feel like a chore.

It seems weird; gaming is my hobby, and hobbies aren’t an obligation. Games are supposed to be fun, right? WRONG. (Just kidding.) Games are fun, but they’re also challenging, frustrating, time-consuming and emotional. Games provide a wide variety of experiences, and Animal Crossing is just a different kind of experience. It’s a comfy, relaxing space to retreat to when Hotline Miami starts to frustrate me. It’ll make me happy when The Last of Us makes me cry. It’s something I can always return to, but in order to have fun with it, I need to invest some time in it. Just maybe not as much as I have been.

  • It’s like this really manipulative mix of obligation and color. It shoves the cake down your mouth but it tastes really really good.

  • Now I want cake…

  • Lmao I loved every moment of this article. You definitely painted a picture and I all of a sudden fear Animal Crossing lol.

  • Aww, see…this is why I never played it. It never stops, even if you want to. I can’t tolerate a game that punishes me for not playing. I often go for days without gaming, sometimes up to months. I can’t have games that demand time in my schedule. It would just stress me out when I’m not playing. Vacation? No such thing! You must play! PLAY! I can’t. I want my games to be there when I decide to get back to them, whether it’s tomorrow or in two weeks.

    You paint an exquisite picture, my darling. <3 But it is terrifying.

  • And that precisely is the allure of Animal Crossing.

  • Same. I’ve seen what has happened to others playing it, so I’ve been avoiding it so I don’t have to have the same thing happen.

  • I’ve played a little bit of it as a resident in my boyfriend’s town where he is the mayor and its an enjoyable game but yeah, it can get annoying especially when you leave it for a week or so and go back to it. It feels like even more of a chore to pick all the weeds, water all the dead plants, re-plant, talk to people to see what is happening and whats new. It’s a feature of the game that i kind of wish it didnt have (that passing of time while you are away from the game) just to preserve your sanity. I also generally dont like games that don’t have a definitive ending to it, although that might just be my RPG experience talking.
    Nice blog 🙂

  • Oh my gosh, I can’t agree with this more. I love Animal Crossing so much, but now that I’m at a point where all that I care about is how my town looks, there isn’t much left for me to do other than hope a new public works project arises. That being said, I can’t possibly just wait til I feel like checking again. I have to play every day to make sure my town doesn’t start dying. I feel an obligation to my town folks as mayor. It’s a very very interesting dilemma to encounter in a game and you expressed it perfectly, Kallie… not that that surprises me one bit. 🙂

  • Ditto lol. I simply can’t give that kind of a time commitment at the moment.

  • I struggle trying to justify dedicating all that time. I’m beginning to get to the point where I want something concise and thoughtful. I would never want to watch a never-ending movie either.

  • Hah, I gave up on New Leaf after a week actually. For some reason I just couldn’t get into this AC game this time. People think I’m crazy actually. xD I’m glad though, this game can really do things to you!

  • Yeah I feel the exact same way. I hadn’t noticed it in previous versions but I definitely do now. I think it’s because my time is much more precious and doing the same thing every day in my AC town starts to get tedious and like a waste of time. It’s a great game but I still fear that next time I log in maybe Sly will have moved out and then I’ll just rage quit AC forever!