I picked up two new release games over the weekend and I’ve been playing them in relatively equal chunks, but the content of those games is so different it’s almost jarring.
It’s pretty obvious what those differences are. The Last of Us in an R18+ game with mature themes and occasionally gory combat about a man and a girl traveling through a post-apocalyptic world. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a G rated game where you pick fruit off trees and go fishing, and the most violent thing you can do is hit people over the head with a bug catching net.
In a strange way these games compliment each other quite well. The differences between them mean that switching from one game to the other feels really refreshing. I play The Last of Us when I have a clear goal I want to complete, and I work towards it by simply moving forward. That’s the kind of game The Last of Us is. You have an objective and you need to complete it and nothing can really distract you from completing it (aside from stopping occasionally to take in the scenery).
Animal Crossing, on the other hand, is a game where you can do almost nothing for half an hour and still feel satisfied. There are goals that you work towards, but you aren’t insistently reminded of them. You’re free to pay off that home loan at your leisure – if you just want to spend the day talking with the villagers and digging up fossils for the museum, you can. It all feels very loose and how you play the game is entirely up to you.
But the problem, if you can call it a problem, is that I don’t really know what I’m doing in Animal Crossing anymore. The objectives are so loose that occasionally I’m not sure what I’m working towards anymore. ‘Bettering the town’ is a very broad goal. Perhaps this is the problem with jumping into a series without any prior knowledge of it. When I first arrived in my town and was randomly declared mayor I had no idea what anything did. I walked up to a tree with fruit on it and started shaking it. A couple of pears fell to the ground. What do I do with them? It wasn’t until the next day that I learned you could plant them. Which was regrettable because I’d sold most of them for money – money which I didn’t really know how to spend on anything other than a winter beanie and a television for a house I didn’t own yet. It throws you into this world and hey there’s a bug catching contest and is this what I’m meant to be doing with this game?
Let’s stress now that I’m having fun with Animal Crossing. Yesterday I spent the better part of an hour fishing for no particular reason and part of why that worked was because I didn’t feel like I was doing it for anything other than the simple fun of it. I caught a shark!
But it’s also true that there are times when I load up the game and just walk around going ‘what am I meant to be doing now?’ This might have something to do with how much waiting you’ll find yourself doing in the game. ‘Your house will be completed tomorrow.’ ‘The town development permit will be ready tomorrow – or maybe in a few days, even’. If you hit that wall early in the day, at this early point in the game it kind of stops me dead in my tracks.
I’m very thankful for the ability to visit other towns, though. There’s not been a night since release where less than five friends have been playing Animal Crossing, and at least one of their gates is always open. Then I can spend more time doing nothing at all, but in another town and with other people. On the first night I played hide and seek. Last night I ran around Shiggy and hit him with a net while he went fishing (but I made a donation to the construction of his new bridge, so I think it even outs). It’s this bizarrely good feeling of hanging out with your friends in a game world without necessarily working towards anything at that moment.
And while you’re in those towns, seeing what your friends have been up to and the sorts of things they’ve been making has an inspiring feeling to it. I didn’t know I could make a second bridge, but now I want to get to that point so I can move around my town easier. It’s definitely the kind of experience where communication with friends is important. There’s only so much you can learn from your villagers about the most basic aspects of the game.
When I’m done with Animal Crossing for the day I go load up The Last of Us. Suddenly I’m being pushed towards an objective. If I dawdle for too long in an area the game starts blatantly telling me where to go next, because it makes me to keep going. And as a result it’s an entirely different feeling when I turn off both games for the night and assess what I’ve done with them. I made it from point A to point B in The Last of Us. And I…caught a shark in Animal Crossing?
Maybe I’m just so used to games with a constant objective and a constant push to move forward. That’s why I’m finding this so odd. Presenting me with something loose and asking me to make something out of it is something I have so little experience with. I’m the problem!
But hey, it’s still fun.