Take one glance at Animal Crossing and what do you see? You see a disproportionately-shaped boy and/or girl interacting with anthropomorphic animals and shaking oranges off of trees. Riveting, isn’t it? The truth is there is another dimension to Animal Crossing that can only be discovered by playing the game itself. This is one of those series doesn’t tell you what to do, but rather becomes what you make of it. Given the primary goal of paying off your mortgage and talking to animals, believe it or not, this is a lot more fun and complex than it sounds. There are different mechanics and even unsettling theories that suggest that this game is just as deceptive as it is strange.
At the heart of it all, the Animal Crossing series is about fairly simple maintenance. It may not seem like it, but there really are a plethora of things to carry out, day-by-day, as anyone would in real life. If you scour the Animal Crossing communities around the internet, you’ll see that the majority of players beautify their exclusively generated towns. Many take advantage of the ability to create your own clothing patterns, or just completely deck out their town. Sure, growing flowers is fun and all, but I find that the social interactions with these animals are where it’s all at. I can only imagine the metric tons of possible, mostly one-sided, conversations you can have with these furry or feathery neighbors. It really shows an unexpected complexity to just one of the game’s many mechanics.
Each character has his/her own unique personality from frigid bitch to unapologetic sweetheart. If you have played the series before, you will know that any given town has a random selection of animals living there. Out of a pool of currently 210 different animals, you’ll find ones you love, hate, and love to hate. Many have their own anecdotes that breathe a strange life into each respective animal. Plus, I can’t imagine how anyone would not want advice from a stoner otter:
I can understand why some people can get addicted to decorating their homes and towns. What some people don’t know is just how the Happy Room Academy scores your homes. Apparently, someone breaks into your home about once a week and checks out the place and gives you a neat little score. The variables that go into that score are pretty interesting as the game takes into consideration different aspects of the furniture that adorns your humble abode. What you might not know is that you may actually partake in the practice of feng shui, paying close attention to the colors that occupy your home as well as the positioning of your furniture. You can be rewarded for practicing these superstitions. Also, all furniture falls under a different category, like vintage or sporty, so grouping items of a similar class can prove beneficial.
If your home is hideous, not all hope is lost; at least your town can be gorgeous. While there is no scoring system, you can go to the Town Hall to find out your neighbors’ opinions of the town. They might range from passive aggressive to in awe to downright hurtful (Just don’t let them get to you; it’s the inside that counts). Similarly, the game considers the vegetation of your town, including where and how many of your trees are planted so that they grow properly, the flowers you have growing, no litter, and no weeds (but still weed, as everyone in Animal Crossing is probably a stoner)
It’s all a lot to think about when you thought all you’d be doing was picking up oranges to sell them to that son of a bitch, Tom Nook. Well, yeah, you’ll probably be doing a lot of that, but mostly to get yourself started. This all then brings about the subject of money, or Bells as they are referred to in-game. Animal Crossing has its own stock market, cleverly named the stalk market (hur hur). Instead of investing in stocks, you invest in turnips, purchasable whenever Joan the Turnip Lady, who sort of resembles a homeless lady, wanders into town. Go figure.
Just like in real life, the prices rise and drop. If you purchase any number of turnips, you’re gambling on that the market will rise within the next few days to resell them for a large profit. Otherwise, they will rot and you’re left shit out of luck with an empty wallet and a bag full of sadness.
Likewise, disappointment plays an overall great role in the Animal Crossing series. It’s something that can come across as a little strange in what would appear to be a children’s game. Several times, I have had a few neighbors, whom I thought were my friends, lash out at me because I didn’t perform the task that was asked of me correctly. Sometimes they might ask “So, did so-and-so like the carpet I had you deliver to them?” Maybe so-and-so actually hated the carpet. Do you lie to this animal’s face or do you say the truth? You’re making a gamble on any one response that can make or break you. They get over it fairly quickly, but they’ll still be pretty bitter for a while. However, disappoint your neighbors enough and they’ll just flat-out pack up and hit the road. I can admit to purposely treating a certain neighbor badly just so they would leave.
Then there are the theories about just what Animal Crossing is. There are all these mechanics surging through the basic gameplay, but does any of it mean something? There’s a long list of theories, but the most plausible one seems to be that you, the child, are essentially dead. The driver who brings you to the town at the beginning of every game is a kappa named Kapp’n. In Japanese folklore, kappas are prone to commit “mischievous” acts like raping women, kidnapping children, or drowning people. It is likely that you have been spirited away by this kappa and taken to a purgatory of some kind. From there, you can really come up with any number of conspiracies about the world and the animals who inhabit it.
However, I would say that another assumption of this theory would be the Gyroids that you find buried around your town. In Japanese, they are referenced as Haniwas, which are traditionally Japanese clay figures that are buried with the dead as part of a funerary ritual. The gyroids also greatly resemble haniwas. In Animal Crossing: City Folk, you will usually find spots to dig up gyroids after it rains. Somber, right? In this instance, it can be assumed that when a neighbor leaves your town, they are ready to pass onto the afterlife, leaving behind a gyroid/haniwa in memory of them. You can usually go to them while they are packing and beg them not to leave. Depending on how close you two are, they might stick around for a little while longer. These are simply spooky stories that may or may not have had any contribution to the meaning behind the game, but with all the depth tossed into the Animal Crossing formula, these conspiracies may not be totally ludicrous.
Growing up playing the first Animal Crossing on the GameCube, a lot of these concepts eluded me. I just put whichever thing wherever and dug up whatever to sell whatever, but taking everything into consideration now brings a profound appreciation for the series. As for the theories, you can thank the internet for deciphering all of that; it’s still all very interesting to keep in mind as you play the game. Overall, Animal Crossing comes together like a miniature version of the real world, with its own society, lore, markets, and stories. One glance at the cover and you really might not get that impression. If you’ve never given this series a chance, this is one instance when you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You might end up finding a lot more than you were expecting. Or you might get nightmares of kappas and talking animals dragging you to Hell. Either one is fine.
Also, don’t forget Animal Crossing: New Leaf will be coming to the Nintendo 3DS in North America on June 9th.