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Versus Mode – Debating Animal Crossing

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features senior associate editor Dan Ryckert debating the Animal Crossing series with associate editor Kyle Hilliard.

Dan: So Kyle...you don’t like Animal Crossing because you’ve been harboring an anti-Nintendo bias since you walked in the door. Correct?

Kyle: I’m not sure where you got that from. Maybe the many features I’ve written in favor of Nintendo games throughout my time here at Game Informer? I do include a lot of subtext in my writing.

Dan: Alright, whatever. So what’s your problem with Animal Crossing?

Kyle: In the interest of full disclosure, I did not play the previous Animal Crossing on 3DS, or City Folk. But I did play the original Animal Crossing on GameCube. I played it for a few days, giving it a real shot, but I never found myself compelled or interested in what was happening or who was living in my town. I could see the matrix, so to speak, with its randomized events and rewards. It’s all random dialogue with random characters and random rewards, and I never felt encouraged to keep collecting or talk to the A.I. animals in my town. I was happy to leave it behind once I gave up on the game.

Dan: Wait...so you haven’t even played the series besides a brief experience over a decade ago? You would have been like ten years old. That’s like me saying, “Well, I thought Tomb Raider was clunky in 1997, so I’m not gonna play this new awesome one in 2014.”

Kyle: I was in college when I played it, but I appreciate you thinking I am much younger than I actually am. My issue with the game is the core mechanic, which – and perhaps I am wrong – hasn’t changed. The goal is to collect assorted objects, wildlife, and decorations for your home in a town while building relationships with cute animals who are only a few steps away from being a random word generators, correct?

Dan: I mean, talking to animals is definitely a part of it. It’s by no means the “core mechanic,” though. Animal Crossing to me is all about not knowing exactly what will be going on in your town whenever you turn it on each day. Sure, there will be some penguin walking around looking for a lost glove or something, but there’s more to it than that. Neighbors will move out, new ones will move in, cool things happen on the holidays, things will go to hell and be covered in weeds and cockroaches if you don’t keep things up, etc. You get to visit friends’ towns and get their native fruit, bring it back to your town, and plant those trees everywhere. There are a lot of fun things like this to collect – every kind of fruit, filling up a museum with dinosaur fossils and fish, matching sets of furniture, etc. It’s this gradually evolving experience that becomes more and more filled out as you play it. I put over 100 hours into New Leaf and I’ve barely scratched the surface of big elements like fishing.

Kyle: Your list of positive aspects of the game, for me, just reads as an unappealing list of commitments and responsibilities. Checking in every day, for example, is not how I personally like to play a game. Collecting objects to place in museums, etc., is just tedious in Animal Crossing. There is no obstacle to finding these things, it seems, other than patience and time. I like collecting things in games, but in Animal Crossing it just seems like you’re waiting to receive things rather than actively collecting them. In regard to the assorted neighbors, they do have personalities, but their requests of you are culled from the same list of random tasks. When I played the game, all I found myself doing was running back and forth between folks handing off objects from one person to the next. My reward was their happiness, or some new wallpaper, which wasn’t enough for me.

Dan: That sounds more like the GameCube version to me. I also have a lot of memories of running wallpaper back and forth between cats or zebras or whatever in that one. You bring up “commitments and responsibilities,” but it doesn’t feel like that. Some elephant might ask me to come to his birthday party on a specific day, but I’m not gonna fail and have to restart a checkpoint or something if I don’t. Worst case scenario is that I’ve got an elephant who says something kinda passive-aggressive to me once, and then we’re back to the status quo. If I do want to go to the party, I can check out his house, figure out what kind of stuff he likes, and then buy something from the store that matches it. Then, he might love it and I can think, “Oh man, there’s that polka dot couch I bought for Trunky (or whatever). He must have loved it.” You know, now that I type this out, I’m not sure if it sounds like that much fun.

Kyle: It still sounds like a responsibility to me. I have to go shopping for this elephant, log on to the game at a certain time, show up at his place and give it to him, or I can feel bad about disappointing the elephant. It just doesn’t work for me. I do want to say, however, that I don’t think the game is dumb or stupid. I understand why people enjoy hanging out and collecting stuff in a town full of amicable animals. It’s pleasant, but for me it’s just boring and there isn’t enough reward to make me keep playing.

Dan: Sounds like someone has a weird guilt complex. You’ll feel bad about disappointing the elephant? You have the option of being all, “F*** this elephant!” and then throwing a bunch of trash in his front yard and digging it up with your shovel. That’s fun, too.

Kyle: That doesn’t sound fun at all. I want to play these games less than ever now.

Dan: You sound like a high-strung guy that doesn’t like kicking his heels up and spending some fun times with a bunch of cool camels and llamas. You can keep being a ball of stress, and I’ll be relaxing on a tropical island that a singing turtle brought me to on his boat.

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