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The Animal Crossing: New Leaf Letter Series
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July 11, 2020
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The Animal Crossing: New Leaf Letter Series

July 11, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

From: Mike Rose
To: Kris Ligman, Christian Nutt

I'm nowhere near as crazy as you guys; I've only put 15 hours into the game. To be honest, my attention is starting to wane -- a week ago picking up my 3DS was pretty much the first thing I did when I woke up and just before I went to bed, but the last few days I've not really bothered as much. Even when I am playing the game, I'm starting to grow tired of what it offers -- there's plenty to do, but it's all started to feel too much like work and grinding to me. Collect that fruit! Hand in those fossils! Catch those butterflies! The magic is definitely dying down, and I don't see myself playing it anymore in a week's time, or perhaps even in a few days' time.

The problem for me is that there isn't enough surprise or variety. The days when I boot the game up and something slightly different is happening are the best -- someone new is hanging around town and wants me to do something, or a new building has appeared -- but most of the time this doesn't happen, and I'm essentially grinding away to earn money to pay off my loan and build more structures. It's starting to feel a lot more like the awful free-to-play mobile games I used to dabble in, where I'd pick up my phone, harvest some crops, plant some more crops, and then get on with my day. Why am I doing this? Am I actually enjoying myself, or is it more that I feel compelled to keep going in the hope that I'll eventually get some real worth out of it? 

So the game had me for a little while, but its grasp is weakening and I'm fairly certain I'm on the cusp of slipping out. I just need a lot more substance to my game, and right now Animal Crossing isn't offering that at all. 

From: Kris Ligman
To: Christian Nutt, Mike Rose

I see where you're coming from a little bit, Mike. But, I don't know, I find the repetition part of its charm, in much the same way as the game uses grass erosion to teach you not to run everywhere. It invites a sedate daily ritual inasmuch as it's infrequently interrupted by little life events -- people moving in and so on. I don't think it's much of a stretch given its presence in other media like film and TV that routine is part of its aesthetic. Animal Crossing is as much about the daily rhythm of life as it is discovering new things in it.

That's not to say I think your criticism is invalid or anything -- far from it. I think it's a totally valid reason to check out. So many games are based around creating exciting, show-stopping kind of experiences that a game about pastoral quietude -- and which isn't using its shtick to foist microtransactions on unsuspecting Facebook users -- can register as a sour note even amidst the din. But, if you're into that aesthetic anyway (as I suspect both Christian and I are), it's all the more gripping.

For instance, the game just transitioned to midsummer mode as we're writing this. Someone I saw on Twitter made a remark like "great, now every day the game is going to sound like a wistful end-of-summer episode from an anime." And in a way I think anime (which is the Japanese pop culture most in the West are exposed to, at any rate) has a great way of instilling a sense of nostalgia for a past we never had.

It's commonly said that Satoshi Tajiri and Shigeru Miyamoto based Pokémon and Zelda, respectively, off of their longing for their own youth exploring nature -- and I think that transmits not just through the culture, but across cultures. As we become more urbanized and these natural and small-town spaces disappear, we escape to a sort of virtual outdoors out of comfort.

In fact, I love how Animal Crossing also serves as a critique of the encroach of modernity. All the things you do in order to update the town take a toll on it: the bugs you collect get "recycled," the grass erodes no matter how carefully you walk, and the more money you spend the more Tom Nook and his children overhaul your quiet main street with oversized convenient marts and shopping centers... You start out the game escaping to this rural town and then you spend the whole time catching it up to the big city.

...Anyway, that's a bit of a breathlessly academic read of the whole thing. And to be sure I don't feel it's the ONLY possible interpretation. I'd like to think Christian started it by bringing up Duchamp, though! Actually, Ian Bogost has written a few things about the series, so recently I ordered a few (more) of his books and we'll see where that gets me, when you guys hear from me next.

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