It lives


Ya ain't in Mrs. Quitter's School for Resettin' Babies no more. It's time ya graduated, kid! --Resetti

Thanksgiving was a holiday feast of gaming at my house, mainly because I decided to try something a little out of character for me. Rather than focus on one game at a time, I cracked open several at once and took a bite of each.

So I played roughly an hour of Assassin's Creed 2, a little Left 4 Dead 2, some Forza 3, a taste of FIFA 10 (notice a trend here?) - and of course plenty more Demon's Souls, multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Beatles Rock Band. I'm not sure when "feast" becomes "gluttony," but I probably crossed that line, eh? ;-)

All these games interest me, and I intend to more fully explore each. But a funny thing happened Thursday afternoon, and I didn't see it coming. I played a game that's been sitting on my shelf for over a year, and I immediately knew what I'd be writing about on Monday: Animal Crossing.

Wait, don't run away. Let me explain.

First, the obvious question. Why, with a cornucopia of new games beckoning me, would I return to a game I've thoroughly played? Because it was Thanksgiving, and the question suddenly occurred to me "I wonder what happens on Thanksgiving in Animal Crossing?" When you stop to think about it, the question itself is a pretty remarkable thing.

I've pondered Animal Crossing's strange allure here before, but I don't think I've fully appreciated its special magic, particularly compared to other games. Animal Crossing's simple blocky abstractions communicate a living world that exists on its own. It invites me in and offers me opportunities for interaction, but it's fine without me too.

As I discovered when I returned to my little town on Thursday, the residents don't sit around moping while I'm gone. They go about their little lives and, if they're not satisfied, they move out. What's more, before they go, they sometimes leave you a little note saying, basically, "Too bad we couldn't have been closer friends. I'm out of here."

This past Thursday the City Folks edition of Animal Crossing celebrated the Harvest Festival, and Mayor Tortimer entrusted me with a knife and fork. I proceeded to distribute these among the town's residents before discovering a very jittery turkey named Franklin who expressed grave concerns about being invited to a feast in his honor. "Can you believe it?" he says, "You could even see where the word 'dish' was erased and replaced with guest'! I should never have come. I should have stayed at home and locked the doors."

Animal Crossing is filled with such little moments, to be found only on certain days and for a limited time. Sure, I could manipulate the Wii's clock and game the system, but such behavior feels like a betrayal to me. Despite my awareness of all the ones and zeros whirring beneath its surface, I gleefully accept the game's invitation to move in and mix with the locals, plant flowers, run errands, catch fish, decorate my home, and keep silly appointments with friends.

I do it because the game holds up its end of the bargain so beautifully. It rewards me for embracing it, and it plays with me in wonderfully clever moments of self-reflexivity. One of my favorite characters in the entire game universe is Resetti, the angry mole who pops out of the ground to berate you if you don't remember to save before quitting the game. Animal Crossing: City Folk contains 10 separate rants from Resetti, each increasingly unhinged and hysterical.

If you do nothing else in Animal Crossing, you owe it to yourself to reset your Wii before saving, just to experience the madness that is Resetti. Here's just a taste:

After your first reset:

Resetti: Ah, so it's you...
Oh, I ain't surprised, kid. Nah, I had a feelin' in my gut you'd pull a stunt like this. The gut don't lie. I can see ya thinkin' furiously over there, right? "How'd that sly mole catch me? Is he a ninja?" No ninja.

Nah, over at the Reset Center, we got us a switchboard that lightsup when someone resets.
No magic, no ninjas. Just the way of the world. Bad deeds don't go unpunished for long, get me, kid?

But hey, even a bright kid like you makes mistakes, am I right? Or heck, maybe ya just misheard me.
Yeah, so today I'll just run down the basics for ya again, hopin' deeply that they sink in this time. Ya still remember my whole speech about the right way to end your time in Animal Crossing, right? Right. Ya either sleep in the attic bed, or ya hit that save button. Either way's just peachy by me. Look atcha, noddin'. Ya do remember. Maybe try usin' that noodle to remember the rest of my advice, huh?

Listen good, [name]. Ya live life, and all that time ya spend, that's what becomes your memories. Memories are precious, kid. And same goes for your time in Animal Crossing. Every second is precious. Now, since everythin' is so precious, don'tcha wanna make sure ya preserve those precious moments? There ain't no bigger waste than just throwin' away a whole page of memories just like that. That's why I want ya to make sure ya save before quittin'. Simple enough, ain't it, kid?

Wonderful. Helpin' kids like yourself see the light makes me a happy mole. I'm ecstatic over here. Now, allow me to hammer this message home so it stays in that brain of yours. You can save your game by catching some Zs in the attic bed, or by pressin' the save button, OK, kid?

Don't forget it! Now...


After your 4th reset:

Resetti: .........Cripes, do ya ever learn, kid?
......... ......Phew...... ...............

Man, been a while since I had to yell like that. I'm seein' spots over here. I'm startin' to think I ain't never met someone with a melon as hard as yours, but that won't stop this mole!

Look... Let's forget about other games for a sec, huh? See, we're talkin' about Animal Crossing: City Folk. It's unique, kid. And as such, I get sent here to suggest that ya hold off on frivolous resettin'. And then, uh... Oh yeah, then I tell ya about how there's no resettin' in real life...right?

And sure, you're probably all bent now, wonderin' why some mole's gotta yell atcha while you're playin'. Well, games got rules, kid, so excuse me if I ask ya to get unbent, and quick.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm mostly like that one company prez who just wants to make folks smile... But when that reset alarm starts ringin', I could be in the shower, sittin' down to eat, sleepin'... It don't matter! When it goes off, I gotta get up and go stick it to whatever punk just pressed that button.

You probably can't tell, but I'm wearin' a T-shirt for undies under here! Think it feels good?! Whatever.

I think ya got somethin' to chew on now. Heard me? Quit resettin'! Got that? Good.
Oh yeah, one more nugget of advice for ya. If you're gonna take a bath, make sure ya get the water up to your shoulders, ya grubby little potato! ...Of course, it don't do no good if ya don't scrub, too.

Anyway, I said my piece. Now...


Animal Crossing fits no particular game genre. It contains no story, 3-D characters, puzzles, platforming, or vast explorable worlds. The town it builds for you is quite tiny and offers a fairly small number of things to do. And yet, in its own indelibly peculiar way, it lives.

If you're curious about Animal Crossing's charms, you may also enjoy this short essay over at Games Aren't Numbers.