04 December 2008

Injecting Imagination

Animal Crossing: City Folk came out recently, and I’ve had the chance to play the game the last few days. Historically speaking, I’ve played the two previous Animal Crossing's. I played the Gamecube version a great deal and the DS version only a little bit. I felt the DS version didn’t really offer anything the Gamecube didn’t, aside from being portable. And going over to “friends'” towns was a difficulty hard to overcome. However, with the release of City Folk, I once again find myself enthralled in the world of fruits and villagers, trying to appease the raccoon God day in and day out.

There is something intoxicating about this world, this empty world that breathes around as constantly as your real world does. Every day, I get up and go about my laborious tasks: search for the money rock, sell some fruit, sell some shells, check the recycling bin, check the lost and found, talk to some villagers, and lastly, visit the city.Then I stop in my tracks. What am I doing? I answer this question with one word, reward. I am in the process of upgrading nooks store, expanding my house, saving up for a well and most importantly, building up an orchard. Ah, the orchard, a fickle thing indeed. Only fruit of the international kind can grant me any amount of wealth I desire. But how do I do this? I have to venture outward, pass my rolling log of a village into other's, into unexplored territory. What would I find in these strange worlds? What kind of cool villagers would I meet? What kinds of exotic fruits would they have that my native town did not? I am eager to discover.

I log onto a website in order to acquire “friends." Within 3 days, I have almost 30 friends. My gates are open to them, and their gates are open to mine. We travel between frequently, exploring each other’s Nooks and Able’s often. Roughly 4 days have passed. I have a large amount of exotic fruits sprouting up everywhere across my town of Odin. Soon enough, I will have a bounty of gold coming in waves from Nook's all but bottomless pockets. In just a short half-week, I am quickly developing an empire. My village will be a mecca among towns, my name will reach far and wide as others will want to visit this diamond in a rough. At least this is what I tell myself.
Animal Crossing is asks something of us, of all gamers who breathe in its seasonal air. Imagination. It requires it. I can go about my self-appointed mandatory chores for weeks on, but what am I achieving? Maybe I am enjoying myself. Maybe the call to fill the museum is too irresistible. Maybe there is nothing more I enjoy doing than watching good ole’ Shrunk perform one of his legendary comedy acts. I guess all of this is possible, but more so than not, it is incredibly unlikely. Not without an injection of imagination.

I have a thing for my neighbor. Not my real neighbor, no, my virtual neighbor, her name is Gala, she is a pig. She is adorable. After waking up each morning, I go and say “Hi” to her. She is always there to say something back. She wants me to find her a fossil, and find her a fossil I will. Derwin has a thing for her though. I hate Derwin, he is my anti-existence, and not good enough for her anyway. I try my best to kick him out of the town. I’m hoping Wolfgang the wolf will eat him.There are other villagers, like Tom; he is a cat. I secretly hope that he will invite me over for dinner so we can kick it old school, watch some Garfield or something. But I secretly know this will never happen.

Animal Crossing offers little depth. You can say “Hi” to your villagers, and they will respond. Maybe they will ask you for a catchphrase, maybe they will want to buy that piece of furniture you have on you, but anything past this is an impossibility for them.Luckily, there are friends, real live people that exist elsewhere in the real world that we call Earth. I visit them; they come and visit me. Some can actually communicate via voice. I don’t have this luxury, but nevertheless, I type what I desire. It is good to hear a laugh or two though. Ah, laughs, what an incredible thing. We are mere avatars, but there are people behind those bee-stung eyes. We will don silly costumes and get-ups that reflect who we are behind the game. That enough is a laugh-full. But aside from communication, and stealing others fruits from time to time, there is little to do with others. There are no low-budget mini-games that can pass the time, invoke enjoyment from those behind the controllers. But this doesn’t stop us.
“Let’s play Hide n’ Seek”, someone will offer. Hide n’ Seek, oh boy! 3 of us scurry away while the 4th counts down from a given number. We hide behind trees, houses, or even other villagers. I hold a net to a fellow hider. I am his captor. When the seeker finds us, he will touch my captive first while I make my escape. My captive can ignore me if he wishes, but he doesn’t. After all, who would want to be hit by a net?

Later on in the day, while skipping through my own town, spinning my leaf umbrella in quick succession, one of my friends threatens me. He is holding my only coconut tree ransom. Either I give him my leaf umbrella, or he cuts down my tree. I stand there with a look of shock that Shrunk gave me. I love my umbrella; I don’t want to wait for Nook to send me a new one. One Chop. NOOO, I cry. I hastily drop my beloved rain cover on the ground. He knew I would give. I quickly chase after him with an axe as he circles Nooks place. It was all in good fun, everything is in this world of Animal Crossing.

What is Animal Crossing but a hollow shell? Repetitive tasks, 24/7. It is a game that invokes and forces imagination upon the creators of their worlds. It is a genre unexplainable. A mother may tell their child to go and play. I tell them, go fish for a pike with some friends out-of-town. There isn’t a plot to follow, a depth of character development or even pretty effects and animations that dazzle the eye. Animal Crossing is a world within a world, where you must stretch what you see into what you believe.

By Fletcher Haverkamp. A My Game Story Exclusive.