The Animal Crossing series is available on the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, Wii, DS, 3DS, and on smartphones.
I’m fairly certain that I’m a horrible roommate.
I’m very particular about the way that my living space is laid out (regardless of my skill level with interior design) and my standards for cleanliness make me a borderline nanny compared to anyone else in my demographic.
Naturally, this made a couple of my college years in particular downright painful for everyone involved.
Luckily, that was also the same year that Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out.
While I did have to contend with a lack of control outside my own bedroom (including a surprise long-term extra roommate), Animal Crossing provided no such contention. Within the space of my virtual home – and, to an extent, its entire neighborhood – I could live life in a comfortable and orderly manner, all according to my own design.
Water the flowers, serve the neighbors a good cuppa joe, check the market for that last piece of diningware. Maybe stitch a new coat if I’m feeling industrious. Day in, day out, in a comfortable rhythm and routine. Glorious.
But it’s a bit of a precarious safe space. I kept to my daily rounds like a good Mayor (so good that I ran for office unopposed two years in a row!), maintaining the peace and keeping the neighbors happy.
Then I went on a school trip for a week.
And when I came back, one of my villagers had moved away.
Which wasn’t the end of the world, sure. But Jay the Bird had been an upstanding member of the community from my very first day in the village, and nothing ever quite felt the same afterward.
With the game’s erratic influence slowly shaking up the status quo about town, I felt less and less like the space was mine. I started to miss a few days of duties at a time. Then Goldie was the next to pack his bags, followed by Carmen and Agent S. And so my neighborhood became less and less the same one that I had worked so hard to build up. A village is nothing without its villagers, after all.
I’d run the course of my long-term objectives in the game by that point, to be fair. There’s only so much need one person can have to decorate around 3500 square feet of (virtual) house and manage an entire neighborhood, and collecting increasingly-rarer bits and bobs for the city’s museum was becoming a worse and worse effort-reward equation by the day.
But there was something to losing my hold on the space nonetheless. It’s a place that I used to live for some of the day every day, put in the work. Now those same relationships that I poured hours and hours into will never be reflected in the game again. I can’t go visit Flurry wherever she moved away to. The game’s just taken that piece away forever. Lil’ hamster friend is as good as deceased.
And so that little town sleeps on a cart. I’d like to imagine that Isabelle the secretary finally got elected mayor after all her years of hard work and oversees a rotating cast of new animal friends. Maybe Ribbot is getting in touch with nature by maintaining the orchard, or maybe someone new has taken over the job. It’s surely still a very nice town. It’s just not necessarily the same town I built.
But while it was, we sure did build a nice little community. I built my own home up from an empty shack to a cozily-decorated townhome. We brought some business back to main street. Added an accessibility bridge to the town square. Even built that lovely flower arch that Alice so nicely thought up for us. And every day I’d have some sort of nice visit, or play a little game, or just have a friendly little chat.
Within certain boundaries, I had created my own small little world. Just genuine enough that the villagers had some mind of their own, but constructed enough to maintain a nice little balance within the fiction (until the game itself butted in). And while that’s a bit of a power trip in some ways, to have full authority over the layout of a township and to never let your friends move away or meet complications, it’s a valuable thing to have some space where you can live things out exactly the way you’d want to, regardless of (an especially if) real life lacks that control.
It’s a very mundane sort of wish-fulfillment, to be sure. But I’d argue that only makes it more important, not less.