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.”
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.