“But you're back to stay, right? At least for one more day?”
February 10, 2020 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Revisiting Animal Crossing: New Leaf Was A Mistake [Kotaku] “There’s a reason why I don’t return to Animal Crossing games long after I stop playing them. In Animal Crossing, the life simulation game goes on whether you’re there or not. The hours and calendar days pass in real-time. The seasons change. The villagers mosey on about their business. The weeds grow. The cockroaches take residence in your home. Whenever I make the decision to quit playing an Animal Crossing game, I never want to return for fear of triggering an animal’s decision to leave town due to my neglect. [...] In New Leaf, your character plays the role of town mayor. Colton let me have it when I spoke to him, lecturing me on the importance of what it meant to be an elected leader, only softening the blow by exclaiming his happiness at seeing me. Every other villager in Tennant reacted a bit differently. Each laying on the guilt with emotional surgical preciseness—cutting me deep.”

• Returning To My Animal Crossing: New Leaf Ghost Town [Game Informer]
“One of the expected consequences of my absence was the introduction of cockroaches to my house. Every room. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there was one in my room where I keep all my toilets. Cool little cockroach ghosts fly away when you step on one of them. Also, was I starting some kind of "Hank from Breaking Bad" crystal collection that I have no memory of? My house was right on the beach, so I took a stroll down to the seaside. Apparently I had left some rotten turnips and an old tire by the docks at some point. Happy Nature Day! I found some disturbing evidence that points towards the death of one of my former neighbors. I hope it wasn't that cool cat that wouldn't shut up about robots.”
• Revisiting My Animal Crossing Town [Goomba Stomp]
“The first thing I was greeted by was Isabel passive-aggressively telling me that she had been doing all the work around town while I was away. I don’t know what work she’s on about; everything looks the same as I left it. The only thing that has changed is that the café has finally been built, although the coffee rates are extortionate. I suppose that’s what happens when one person has a monopoly for the entire coffee industry. Most of the animals seem happy to see me despite initially almost spasming with shock upon laying eyes upon my Villager for the first time in 3 years; they all seemed to assume that I was dead. The game also treats my character as if he has been in cryosleep this whole time. He now has permanently messy bed-hair, which makes me think he is suffering from the world’s worst hangover. I suppose the last thing you want when your trying to get yourself together after a heavy night is to be greeted by talking animals.”
• Animal Crossing: New Horizons Will Be Filled With Regret and Guilt [Dual Shockers]
“But of course, you’ve forgotten. You’re too busy becoming infatuated with the new features heading to Animal Crossing: New Horizons: crafting, Nook Lines, 8-player online multiplayer, jumping over rivers with a long stick. These are all new features you’d previously only dreamt about. I bet you can’t wait to meet the new residents too: building new friendships, spreading gossip, becoming attached to a bestie. And with the modern world’s online presence we have today, you’ll be introducing friends to your friends. I only hope that as your new friendships blossom your past returns in fleeting moments. Remember those villagers you were close with at your old town? Remember the warm feeling of exchanging gifts and visiting one another every few days? Now they’re sitting in their home as darkness envelopes them, surrounded by your gifts and loaded with resentment, constantly reminded of how you abandoned them. You see, their lives didn’t just stop when you closed the game. They continued without you.”
• Animal Crossing: New Horizong [Trailer][Nintendo Direct Gameplay]
posted by Fizz (32 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I love this, like if you returned to a Sims game and found everybody in prison or murdered.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on February 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

This is part of why I stopped playing New Leaf.

Also the new tenants kept messing up my urban planning.
posted by curious nu at 12:45 PM on February 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've avoided my New Leaf save on my 3DS for years and years. I worry so much about that town and my old friends. They must think the worst of me. You might as well call the game: Animal Crossing: Ghosting Isabelle.
posted by Fizz at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

My daughter tells me this is a feature of Minecraft, too? We are talking through it.
posted by amanda at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2020

Jeez, and I felt guilty about my NeoPets.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:59 PM on February 10, 2020 [10 favorites]

Older iterations of Animal Crossing had similar issues (or features?) related to going away for prolonged periods. Your town would be full of weeds, and people would ask where you had gone. And even when you weren't gone, people come and go, possibly because of what you did or didn't do. Heck, I had a hard time figuring out the perfect balance of number and position of trees and flowers.

It's a cozy game, but you can't leave and come back and expect everyone to be happy to see you again.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2020

These constant-maintenance games make me feel itchy just thinking about them. Yes, I'm the guy who can't enjoy Stardew Valley because of the constant pressure. It's funny how different games attract and repel different people.
posted by SoberHighland at 1:54 PM on February 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

I haven't played any of these games, but I can see the appeal of a world where time passes while you're away. Maybe what they need is an exponential time shift, so your first day away from the game is 1 day of in-game time, but after that it takes 2 real days for the next day of in-game time to pass, and after that 4 days, and so on. Using this approach, a year away from the game is about 8 and a half days of in-game time. Long enough for the world to notice your absence, but not so long that civilization collapses.
posted by jomato at 2:33 PM on February 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

Tamagotchi Insurrection: Rise of the Forsaken
posted by fairmettle at 2:52 PM on February 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

Tom Petty voice: "Woah-oh, the game goes on. Long after the thrill of playing is gone."

I experienced this to a certain degree playing through Dragon Quest Builders: 2 (great game, btw) recently. You have a central persistent island that's supposed to be your primary project, but go to smaller islands as part of the main quest. I tried to build stuff on the quest islands to be aesthetically pleasing, but coming back to them later in the game just made me feel bad that I hadn't done a better job at creating nice places for my villagers to live. Long lines for the bathroom, not enough food, overcrowded and slapdash living quarters... I know that the game doesn't even care on the mechanical level (villagers complain, but won't starve to death or die of deprivation), but it "felt bad" on the fantasy part of the game experience.
posted by codacorolla at 2:52 PM on February 10, 2020

Pfft, this is so 2007...
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I should point out that one of the options you have as mayor in New Leaf is to remove all weeds and cockroaches, so it's not going to be a dilapidated hellscape on your return, however long it's been.

Doesn't stop your neighbors from guilt-tripping you, though, and that's worse than weeding.
posted by asperity at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2020

this is a feature of Minecraft, too?

Well, after an absence, my villagers said, peevishly, "Hnnnh? Hmmm. Hrrrnhh!"

(More seriously: so far as I know, time only passes if you're on a multiplayer server which is running. In singleplayer, time stops when you aren't on.)
posted by zompist at 3:31 PM on February 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

In the mid-2000s I put thousands of hours into Animal Crossing: Wild World. It was my comfort space, a safe place I could retreat to while my father was dying of cancer, which took a very long time. I didn't end up getting everything and doing everything, but I was well on the way. And then Dad died, my daughter was born, and the Nintendo DS went away for a while.

You always mean to go back, to clear the weeds and see how everyone is, check the beach for shells again, pick some fruit, see what Tom Nook has in store. Just to hang out again. But somehow you don't.

And then my little one was old enough to play videogames, and I showed her Animal Crossing, and pretty much the first thing she did was save over my town by accident. Not her fault, absolutely in no way, but she could tell I was upset, and I couldn't really explain why and at the same time make it clear that she hadn't done anything wrong.

I have a theory that our minds have a curious relationship with the game-places where we spend a lot of time. A couple of years ago I saw a spoof tourist poster for Thunder Bluff, the Tauren home city in World of Warcraft, and was filled with a clearly definable sense that wasn't nostalgia or good memories, it was simply 'I used to live there'. And I think that's it. I used to live in Animal Crossing, in a very particular version of it where I had friends and a home, and I can't go there any more. And I'll buy the new one and play the heck out of it, when I can wrest the Switch out of my kids' grasp, and it'll be sort of the same, except it won't. Because it can't be.
posted by Hogshead at 4:39 PM on February 10, 2020 [34 favorites]

Stardew Valley doesn't degrade like that while you're away, which is one reason I find it so comforting. Time only moves forward when you're actually playing. And really, you don't have to do upkeep on anything. Animals won't die even if you don't feed them, plants won't die even if you don't water them. It's just that if you DO do the things, you get progress and rewards and sometimes a gigantic pumpkin. But you can also just say nahhh and run around killing monsters in the mines, or fishing, or giving gifts to the villagers, or sitting in the saloon drinking beer and eating pizza and changing the song playing on the jukebox.
posted by theatro at 5:56 PM on February 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

@Hogshead This is so true. What a beautiful comment. When I think about it, it seems silly to have these feelings and memories of video games. But they're real and comforting. Definite nostalgia, definite bittersweet loss after moving on.
posted by stripesandplaid at 7:07 PM on February 10, 2020

Seems to me that all this unpleasantness could be avoided by setting your system clock 20 years into the future before launching the thing for the first time, then just keeping track.

The NPCs may well have guilt trip skills, but players have an actual time machine.
posted by flabdablet at 7:07 PM on February 10, 2020

Sorry--I can't not. It's John Cougar Mellencamp, not Tom Petty!
posted by umbú at 7:33 PM on February 10, 2020 [19 favorites]

the battery in my old gamecube is dead. no clock advancing when i'm not playing!
posted by Clowder of bats at 7:41 PM on February 10, 2020

These constant-maintenance games make me feel itchy just thinking about them. Yes, I'm the guy who can't enjoy Stardew Valley because of the constant pressure. It's funny how different games attract and repel different people.

They're actually opposite of each other. While I'm currently deep into Stardew Valley, I get really tense while I play. The time pressure of trying to get stuff done before midnight (or occasionally 4pm as you're trying to get to a store before they close) is not great for me. That said, it'll wait forever for you, frozen in the exact moment where you left off.

Animal Crossing is really calm because there's always as much time as you want to play each day. And a lot of things are kind of limited. There's only so much fruit you can pick in a day before it's gone. You can basically always walk a route around the whole village, stop by the store to see a few new things, maybe fish for a bit, and then you might as well quit for the day and do other things in your life. The animals will even hint strongly that you should take a break if you play for 2 hours (or maybe a bit less?) and rarely do you feel the need to. I like having the town to check in on every day, but I also like that sometimes I'm just going to log in and celebrate Toy Day with my animals, not accomplish anything. I've played five or six Animal Crossings at this point and they pretty much all keep me engaged and happy for a year or two, until we come around to holidays I've already done everything for. (With the exception of the phone version, which is as stressful as Stardew Valley while also being set in real time. It's a bad combo.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:53 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The GameCube version tries to detect if you've messed with the system clock and shames you at length if it does.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:02 PM on February 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

The only thing it could even theoretically detect is time going backwards, which is where the "keeping track" part comes in. Save the game, shut the box down, make a note of the time you did that, set system time to five minutes later than the noted time before the next game launch. How is the game ever going to know? It has no information to go on beyond the system clock and any logged time stamps it can find.

The point of launching the very first game session with the system clock set 20 years ahead of real time is to make sure that any other time stamps the developers might think to examine elsewhere on the box are always firmly in the past from the game process's point of view.
posted by flabdablet at 8:19 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

How is the game ever going to know? It has no information to go on beyond the system clock and any logged time stamps it can find.

I mean if you feel guilty about abandoning them in the first place, returning and just lying about time is unlikely to help the sad feelings. Sure the game characters don't shame you, but you definitely know what you have done.
posted by Literaryhero at 9:04 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The point of having a virtual time machine is that leaving a virtual character to fend for itself for five virtual minutes could not possibly constitute abandonment in any reasonable sense of that word. Not even virtual abandonment.

You're not lying about time, you're taking responsibility for the way it unfolds in-game. How is accepting all the consequences of that not mere God 101?
posted by flabdablet at 9:27 PM on February 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

And, this is the kind of thing that will make it really hard for Metafilter to get good people as moderators, I think. Psyops.
posted by Baeria at 1:30 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is one of the times I'm really grateful for game reviews, because this mechanic? It would make me wish for the days of hard copies so I could burn the disc, pulverise the remains, and jump up and down on them. I play games to feel good, not to have more people lecturing me.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:03 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, there's this forest in one Minecraft world on my son's pc that's near our favorite horse place and it's on fire. We tried to extinguish it and we failed, nearly dying in the process, so we ran away and we can't ever return to our favorite place because if we do, time will restart and the forest will burn and then the grass and the horses might die.

But if we don't go there, they are safe, frozen in time.

Time in Minecraft advances only in the vicinity of players. The current plan is to wait until it rains and return to the forest with plenty of water buckets and try to put the fire out.
posted by hat_eater at 3:42 AM on February 11, 2020 [13 favorites]

Thank you umbu, my eye was twitching and I was worried I would have to do that
posted by wyndham at 7:31 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Screwing with the time settings is annoying, though. There's the hassle of keeping track of what time you set it to and when you last played, and I've been known to use the system clock as a plain old ordinary clock when I'm checking the time while playing stuff.

I play games to feel good, not to have more people lecturing me.

The real-time mechanic is pretty awesome for feeling good, though. It's nice to see the seasons and time of day pass in the game as they do in real life. It's not a game that rushes you.

And if you do go back and visit your ACNL town after a years-long hiatus, all your old friends will spend one conversation asking what the hell happened to you, and then go back to their usual behavior. Except for the ones that've moved out while you were away. That part's the only real reason to care about any of this.

I'm looking forward to New Horizons and hope y'all will come visit my town.
posted by asperity at 1:40 PM on February 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

That does sound better than I thought, but it still wouldn't be good for me. One of my kids got Undertale and apparently now they can't play it again because the characters already got the good ending and if you play it again and take that away they remember.

I mean, what sort of monster does that.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:11 PM on February 12, 2020

Oh, Undertale. I got partway through the game before I realized that I had, uh, not been aiming for the good ending, but then I also couldn't bring myself to just go all-in for the bad ending, so I think I got myself to some kind of unfinishable state and would need to start over. I like what that game is doing, I think, but it is awkward.

Anyway, none of the Animal Crossing games have anything like that mechanic. It really is a pretty fast "hey, where've you been?" and on to more exchanges of letters and gifts and pointless errands and so forth. There is also no carry-over if you just start a new town. The guilt is mostly about the feelings we invest in the game.
posted by asperity at 9:39 AM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

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