Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
2003 was a somewhat odd time for my gaming habits. The only current generation console I had was a PlayStation 2 and I was mostly playing things like Blood Omen 2, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Final Fantasy X and Dynasty Warriors 3. In other words, T or M rated games that were filled with violence. This was around the time Nintendo released the Game Boy player, a peripheral that allowed Game Boy Advance and older Game Boy titles to be played on TV through the Gamecube. Since I am not a huge handheld gamer (editor’s note: and we let you handle Pocket Power?) but a massive Castlevania fan, this meant I had to buy a Gamecube and this miracle device immediately along with the recently released Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and the two other GBA Castlevania titles. Being the sucker for deals I am, the store I bought these consoles from had a deal where two games could be acquired for free with purchase and the two least undesirable offerings were Bloodrayne and Animal Crossing. I had a pretty good feeling that one of these titles would end up at GameStop after only a few attempts and the other would spend a lot of time in the console. I was entirely correct on that assumption, I just had the games reversed.
Animal Crossing was the antithesis of everything I was interested in at that time, not just in gaming but in regards to the world in general. I was young enough where I hadn’t yet figured out I’m too dumb to be the great intellectual I fancied myself to be, and was also extremely bitter, depressed and generally hated life. Animal Crossing was a cutesy game with anthropomorphic critters that were friendly and generally nice to each other and always giving each other gifts, making friendly small talk and just being outside in the world enjoying fishing, bug catching, going to the museum and socializing in general. How I longed for Tommy Vercetti to come visit the town on the Nook Express and drive a hijacked tank over Tom Nook’s home and reign shells down on the various citizens while leaving tank treadmarks over the wreckage of the Animal Crossing town.
I paint this picture of me being this bitter antisocial misanthrope who revels in wanton violence to show how insidious this interior decoration simulator truly is. This was something I acquired because it was free and I thought I could turn it into five bucks GameStop credit, but I made the fatal mistake of putting the game disc in the system. For the next month the bulk of my gaming was about paying off my ever increasing debt of bells to Tom Nook. There were some cool features that came as a result of Animal Crossing constantly existing in real time, such as a day and night cycle and certain special events happening on holidays when unique items could be acquired. Those lacking patience and unavailable to partake in these events could mess with the system and try to see what the town would look like ten years in the future, but I think if we did that it would cause some things to get messed up in town, kind of like why time travel is discouraged in real life.
I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but Animal Crossing had a hold over me. The other games I was into began to gather dust as I chased after bugs, unearthed dinosaur bones and went fishing. The only repeated act of intentional violence involved a resident by the name of Otis. This quirk of Otis was discovered somewhat by accident when I was bug catching and this is where he commented “I hate you Chris. I hate you tons.” This amused me to no end and I regret not naming my character “Myself” to alter Otis’s speech, though I’m not sure if that would be a somewhat humorous declaration or Otis’s self loathing or simply a projection of my own existential angst. It ultimately doesn’t matter, because making Otis express my hatred never got old, though I eventually got a letter from him stating that he moved to a far away land and wished me the best. Other character’s get angry when I assaulted them with the net, but none were as satisfactory as Otis.
I could not explain why this game was enjoyable as it was. I’m sure there is probably some sort of psychology paper about something like a reward feedback loop and because of the speed I could make progress in completing the various collections or upgrading my home could account for at least part of it, but that aside, the process of doing those things was fun. It was neat seeing the dinosaur skeletons slowly take shape in the museum, and the competition with the friends I knew that were playing the game to getting our bug and fish collections done first gave us an excuse to talk smack to each other, though we didn’t exactly need one. The game consisted of weed removal, digging up bones, fishing, catching bugs, having superficial one sided conversations with NPCs and try to keep up with the Joneses in filling your house with useless digital crap. Nintendo still hasn’t caught up with the rest of gaming world in online play, and Animal Crossing was no different, even though online console didn’t really become huge until a few years later. To visit another player’s town involved putting their town’s memory card in the Gamecube and you could visit their town, though the havoc you could wreak on their dwelling was quite limited, at least this is how I member the process. The main thing you could do is help them with weed removal and see what their house looks like compared to yours.
The weeds were an interesting feature and oddly enough representative of the town’s decay and waning interest. For a good or month so, Animal Crossing was my go to game. After a while there seemed less and less reason to go back to it. Deliberately turning off the console without saving to incur Resetti’s wrath was more annoying than entertaining, and after all collections were completed and the house was at the maximum level all that there was to do was collect new items for the house and have social interactions with the NPCs. There were some NES classic games tucked away in the game, but getting them was random luck. The only one I had was Excitebike, which is a game I like but can only play so much of it. Weeds grew overnight in town, and part of the daily check-in ritual was removing them, keeping the city looking like it had a parks and recreation department. As I started playing every other day or every third day, the weeds were harder to keep up with and pulling weeds in Animal Crossing is about as much fun as pulling weeds in real life. As the visits became more and more infrequent, characters I had grown to know moved away while strangers moved in. Soon the town I took pride in maintaining with my mansion filled with those strange gyroid decorations and became overrun with weeds while I knew less and less of the citizens. Eventually I abandoned my Animal Crossing town and moved on to to other games and other activities in real life. I had in effect swapped places with my cartoonish avatar. I was now accomplishing great things and going on adventures with new people, while he was alone in his empty mansion, with lifeless faces of totems serving as his only companionship as strangers and weeds were now taking control of his town. The final nail in the coffin came around this past New Year’s Eve when I thought it would be interesting to write an article about returning to my Animal Crossing after over a decade to see what all changes happened, but going through my retro game collection it seems I sold it years ago since I can’t remember the last time I traded something in. Despite only being the focus of my gaming life for a short time, it was enjoyable while it lasted and did provide a needed distraction for me.