I recently reached a sort of epiphany playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
I’d never played an Animal Crossing game prior to New Leaf (outside of Happy Home Designer, which came with my 3DS) but I had a basic knowledge of what these games were. I knew that they ran on the system clock of your console/handheld, and that events and stores were dictated by what time it was in real life. I also knew that a major focus of the game was repaying the loan on your house, as well as knowing that you were the mayor in this game. Aside from knowing those basic few facts, however, I went into New Leaf mostly blind.
My first day with New Leaf started as usual. I made my character (looking up a guide to get the face I wanted), became the mayor, got in contact with Tom Nook and found a place for my home. After learning the basic controls and how the game worked, I decided to focus my efforts towards paying the down payment on my home before Nook’s Homes closed. Doing so took a bit of work (as I was not yet sure how making money in Animal Crossing worked) but eventually I got it done and finished my down payment.
At this point, I had done all I could in the first day. My home was to be built tomorrow, I couldn’t start working on Mayoral stuff until the next day, all I could do was hang out around town doing whatever I pleased. In most games, I might be annoyed by not having any clear objectives/anything to work towards. But at this point, I had a surprising thought:
In an odd way, the lack of anything to work towards gave me a weird sense of freedom. Yes, it was simply an artificial limit on what you could do in a day. But it gave me a chance to really just explore the game without any expectations, without any objectives, without feeling like I “had” to do something, or I had to get something done. I was free to do what I wished in town, whether it be fishing, introducing myself to the townsfolk, catching bugs, collecting fruit, or whatever.
A lot of games claim to be open-ended, and many are quite open-ended. But Animal Crossing is the first game I’ve played which has truly felt like it doesn’t place any expectations on the player. There’s a structure to how you upgrade your house and how you develop your town, but players are free to do those at their own pace, when they feel the need to.
To those who have played an Animal Crossing game before, this all probably falls on deaf ears. But it was an interesting experience for me, and in the midst of my weeks-long sickness, it helped to have a game which invited me to play at my own pace. It certainly wouldn’t work for every game, but it was nice to see it in this one.
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