Video games are one of the most perfect forms of escape.
When you’ve had a hard day at work, are stressed out with your life or just need a break from it all, most gamers turn to some other world. A world they can be some sort of bad-ass in, where they can wander around and let off some steam, just a few hours of escape from the realities of the world to unwind and relax. Some people play shooters, others play adventure games. But for me, for a very long time and even now, I run off into Alfville. Alfville is my own little slice of paradise, nestled within my Gamecube. Alfville is my town in Animal Crossing.
There’s a weird appeal to Animal Crossing that’s hard to explain to people who haven’t played it. I’ll try here anyway. Animal Crossing is a game where you can collect bugs, catch fish, garden, interact with villagers (all animals), furnish your house and spend your lazy Sundays listening to the latest K.K Slider song you got. It runs in real time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s a unique, quirky and adorable game.
My obsession started back when I was in Year 9 of High School. It was 2004 and I was 15. I received the game for my birthday and was quickly hooked. Starting off in the train, being asked my name, where I was headed and what I planned to do when I got to Alfville, I was quickly thrust into a world full of anthropomorphic animals, insanely cute surroundings and the feeling you were in for a long stay. I started with a small shanty of a house and quickly worked my way up and gained bells (money), furniture and friends within the village. Eventually I had a fully furnished house, extra rooms and was slowly working towards more. I would wake up early and play for an hour before I went to school, think about it at school and come home and play more.
It essentially became my second life.
It was weird, the more I played, the more I wanted to stay in Alfville all day. I would wonder what my villagers would be doing while I was gone, how I would spend my bells at Tom Nook’s. I would draw layouts of how I wanted my rooms to look. I genuinely cared about my little world and everything in it. If a villager was unhappy, I’d do my best to fix their day, they would regale me of stories, like Roald (who’s a penguin) telling me about the time he beat Buck (a horse) in an arm wrestling competition. I’d help deliver their parcels, run their errands and help them any way I could. I would take account of the weather and seasons and know when I could catch a red snapper or a specific bug. I use to sit in class and hum the tunes that would occur at specific times of the day. Like I said, essentially a second life.
For a long time though, I didn’t understand my obsession and what drove me to live in this village with these virtual friends. I took to Twitter to ask some Animal Crossing fans, what drove them to love the game like I do.
“It’s cute, there’s loads of different things to do, it’s fun having a daily routine with it and I’m an obsessive collectoholic” – Cal Skulthorpe
“When you get a tarantula and a scorpion in the museum they fight” – Debs
“BECAUSE TOM NOOK IS A CROOK FUCK THAT GUY” – Jamie Galea
“Stupid Animal Crossing. You’re best friends with the kitty next door, AND THEN SHE MOVES AWAY 😥” – Cooking Mama
“I FREAKING LOVE ANIMAL CROSSING. IT’S BASICALLY LIFE” – Scree
I read these responses and tried to further think about why I was still so obsessed. Even now, many years after the game had been released, I still go back and play. For a game that looks so simple and easy, it’s deceptively deep and addictive.
I think there’s a lot of factors to it. There’s not just one. It’s a whole bunch of things, that together, form the reasons why I still play.
I love the fact that villagers come and go, that you form bonds with your neighbours and what they do. They’re there everyday and it was a joy walking out my front door and greeting everyone I saw. I enjoyed chatting with them and seeing how they were doing and as mentioned previously, helping them with their jobs. They’d send letters to you and it made the whole experience, for me, feel more alive and organic. It was genuinely sad too, when you discover that a friend was moving town, you’d never get to see them again, never get to say hello in the morning. You get attached and it helps make the experience that much more fun and personal.
The relaxation in it was another thing I love. I could spend hours fishing by the sea or lake, waiting for the big one to bite. I could run around all day with a net chasing butterflies. I could dig every hole and collect every fossil. I could rearrange my house 10 times over and still find new ways to make it feel more homey. Give me some flowers, some fruit and a few days and I could turn my town into a beautiful paradise. It’s so innocent and it makes you feel so at ease and calm with everything else.
The ‘collector’ side of me loved the game too. I’d donate everything and anything I could to the museum and it was immensely satisfying watching the museum fill up with my donations. Going into the aquarium and seeing it teeming with life brought me immense joy. Seeing skeletons of dinosaurs I’d find fit together like a big jigsaw puzzle was a sight to see. Viewing paintings made me curious what they were based off and I would look at them for hours. I’d chase the bugs too, before Blathers, the curator of the museum, would yell at me. Same with furniture. I’d start a collections of a style of furniture and would not stop until I had every single piece in it and in such a perfect placement in my room. The collectathon itch was more than certainly scratched.
Partaking in events and festivals was another part that drew me in and helped fill this world. I remember hearing about fishing festivals, or Halloween coming and I’d get so excited. New guests would come into town just for the occasions, the mayor would pop out and chat with you and it felt special being able to partake in these events. It again helped to make the world feel realised, alive and organic. It’s truly the game that never sleeps. Some of my more memorable events included Christmas Eve, chasing Jingle the Reindeer around, dressed in full Santa garb no less, grabbing presents off him and being so excited for all that. The snow would be falling too and trees would be wrapped in lights. I remember staying up on New Year’s Eve as well, spending time with Tortimer, setting off party poppers and counting down to the New Year. It was a strange and very fun experience, like celebrating with a bunch of new and very close friends.
The music of KK Slider on a Saturday night was awesome as well. He’d appear every Saturday and he’d play you a new song. You’d listen to him strum on his guitar and sing and it would be fantastic. Next thing he’d be done and he’d hand you a copy of what he just played. I remember always running straight back to my house and playing that sucker on the jukebox. It was always a treat and just like events, something I’d look forward to. Also, he’s a guitar playing dog.
In the end though, I think I can tie down my love of Animal Crossing with probably just one word. Escape. Out of all the things I love, the escape from the troubles and stresses of the real world would be the one thing I love. I could load up Alfville and just relax. It was my own world that I had become a part of, a relaxing and innocent, childlike world. It’s always there, ready to draw me in and let me be happy.
Sometimes you just have to escape.