The lights are on
The first Animal Crossing hit the U.S. via the GameCube in 2004. I passed by the colorful box on various rental and game store shelves, never giving the charming social sim a second glance. I hadn’t read anything about the goofy anthropomorphic animal residents or fruit harvesting in the gaming magazines I subscribed to. I also didn’t have any friends that were playing the game, so nobody could’ve told me how oddly therapeutic catching beetles can be. I finally picked up the series with Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS, and I’m happy I never discovered the title by myself. Had I tried it solo back in the day, I wouldn’t have had anyone to swap absurd tales and fruit with, and I’m learning that’s half the fun.
The Game Informer office is the first place I ever heard any real, passionate discussion about Animal Crossing. My coworker Dan Ryckert started his review of the game, and started regaling the bullpen with tales of singing turtles, passive-aggressive cats, and binging on fortune cookies to get Nintendo memorabilia from raccoons. Longtime Animal Crossing fan Jeff Cork soon joined in, showing off his creepy attic filled with screaming statues, anatomy statues, and a dentist chair. Hearing Dan and Jeff cackle with each other became too much, and I eventually downloaded the game. I needed to know what it’s like to be Mayor.
With that, Scumtown was founded. I started my game at home one night, working hard to get my approval ratings up and spread my humble apple crop. I came into work expecting my tale of starting the game to be old hat to Jeff and Dan, but they lost their minds when I told them I had apples. I had assumed apple, as generic as they are, were the native crop for all new towns. My coworkers immediately began negotiating deals to get my fruit. In exchange I acquired a variety of exotic fruits like coconuts and durians, and my town was underway. I was starting to understand why my Twitter feed was buzzing with Animal Crossing talk.
I remember visiting Jeff’s town and meeting a penguin named Puck. Puck wears a hockey helmet, jersey, and fills his house with a snow machine and other winter sports paraphernalia. Jeff told me Puck was his favorite, but the penguin complained about his Mayor. Later that week I was at the airport heading to E3 when I noticed a new animal exploring town. It was Puck! I had effectively stolen Jeff’s prize penguin from him. I quickly snapped a photo and sent the taunt to Jeff, which I assume ruined his entire month.
Once on the plane, Dan invited me to visit an island to collect fruit and play games. On the boat ride over, an old tortoise serenaded us with bizarre songs about cucumbers while interjecting relationship advice. I laughed harder at these goofy songs than I have at anything in a game for a long time. It’s as much about the quirky, top-notch writing as it is the surprise of such an offbeat character. I know this moment wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if Dan and I weren’t exchanging confused, amused looks.
I’ve invested almost 40 hours into Scumtown since I started playing New Leaf, and I still check in daily. Sure, I’m interested in harvesting my money rock and earning bells to expand my house, but I keep at it because I know my friends and coworkers are as well. If I let Scumtown slide, then I won’t have stories to share about a psychotic moose or the disturbing clown sheep that recently moved in. Or that time I was stood up by Baabara (also a sheep), after she made a date to check out her house. Interactions in Animal Crossing are silly and trivial, but discussing them with friends makes me appreciate the absurdity. I won’t be letting the weeds take over as long I’m surrounded by people invested in Nintendo’s endearingly simple formula.
Listen to Dan, Jeff Cork, and myself discuss Animal Crossing on the Game Informer Show