Yes, Animal Crossing

Hello, everybody. After writing for KTR for a little while last summer, the blogging bug has bit me again, so here I’ve returned!

I thought I’d share this comic I spotted on Digg just now. Go ahead and read it first.

It’s really touching, and I think a wonderful example of the emotional reality of human relationships in virtual worlds. Funny, too, since Animal Crossing (Wikipedia) isn’t even online, much less massively multiplayer. (Does the world even count as “persistent” since it doesn’t exist while the console is off?)

The topic of the realness of relationships in virtual worlds has been covered beautifully in Julian Dibbell’s book My Tiny Life. Raph Koster did a short touching essay, A Story About A Tree, and I’m sure there are countless others. To me, this comic presents the same potent theme, now in an extra-brief, more non-gamer-friendly form.

6 thoughts on “Yes, Animal Crossing”

  1. You know, the game sends you “presents from mom”…

    Heh.

    Anyway…

    “Persistent” is easy – just load the same world into memory today as you loaded-in yesterday. As far as the world goes, that about all most MMOs are doing. They persist character data, which is dynamic, but whereas the world in Animal Crossing doesn’t exist when no one is playing it, the players in most MMOs don’t exist when they aren’t playing it. I don’t see why one should necessarily be more valid than the other.

    Meanwhile: “Persistent State World” doesn’t mean anything if the state never changes. Not really. In the average MMO, called a persistent state world, the state was “persisted” at launch and persists still. Maybe that’s technically still persistence, but what’s the alternative? Random world-generation every time the server reboots?

    Technically accurate or not, it’s just not useful to utilize a label that describes everything anyone is actually doing, and only excludes some hypothetical process that doesn’t exist.

    People shouldn’t apply the term “psw” to an MMO unless there’s something dynamic in the world to persist.

    So… that’s basically just UO, SWG, a Tale in the Desert… isn’t it? Everyone else just saves character data?

    Maybe DAoC, too… I don’t know how their housing system works. And I think the intention behind AC2 was to have a world altered by players to persist, but I didn’t play long enough to see if anything changed before it died.

    Well, anyway, WoW’s all that matters, and the world there is pretty static.

    Animal Crossing does a better job of delivering the illusion of a dynamic world than any MMO. The seasons change. There are bugs and fish around in the winter that you won’t see in the summer. You play in the same game-data town as up to 3 other people, so you’ll see the museum complete this or that skeleton because while you weren’t playing, someone else was. NPC’s come and go, remember the players they’ve met, and even send letters long after they’ve left town just to let you know they’re doing ok.

    So… “Does the world count as persistent”? It’s about the only one that does.

    It even has fans interacting online – buying and selling via a system which allows you to convert stuff into a key-code for the recipient, which can be converted back into the ‘stuff’ in their game.

    It had active community forums and even people buying and selling in-game currency on eBay even before it came out on the DS.

    On the DS, you can go online to other people’s game/towns. You hop on a train, ride a better simulation of long-distance travel than most MMOs offer, and arrive in their town – on their DS, multiplaying online with them and anyone else there, that is.

    You’ll never be in a ‘zone’ with hundreds of other people – or even dozens – but you will be in a shared-world with millions of other people, all just theoretically a train-ride away.

    And NPCs that know you will even move out of your town and into someone else’s town – maintaining their ‘memory’ of you and keep-sakes you’ve given them, along with letters. They’ll share those with other players.

    My ex-mother-in-law played the way that comic describes her mother playing – fanatically, like a hard core gamer. She was also getting on in years (she died just 3 or so years ago), and was not a “quirky gaming old lady”.

    More the traditional sort of old lady, of a generation that hadn’t the slightest clue how to relax.

    Yet, she played Animal Crossing more fanatically than my boys. They played it for a bit, moved on, came back and played it just every once in a blue moon, sort of thing.

    I’m sure playing it now would be an emotional experience for them. They were pretty close to their grandmother, and since Animal Crossing saves “the town” (which is the save-games of up to 4 players), were they to fire it up they’d see her old in-game house, flower-garden, statues of appreciation from the town, etc. right there in their game.

    Then the NPCs would occasionally remark about how they haven’t seen her in so long, maybe share a letter they’d gotten from her, and so on. There’s no way to make the NPCs understand that a person is dead.

    If my ex-wife logged in, she’d get all that and presents “from mom”, even if her mom didn’t send them.

    That was really touching – even knowing the game might have sent those gifts to her and signed them “love, mom” – but ultimately it’s just an example of the emotional reality of relationships, period, isn’t it?

    On the other hand, it’s also really frustrating that Animal Crossing does such a better job of being an MMO than any MMO.

    Don’t be shocked when “Animal Crossing Online” on the Wii comes along… it has the potential to be an order of magnitude larger than the entire MMO audience of today.

  2. I’m a bit confused — so the “gifts from Mom” are automatically generated by the game?

    I didn’t know nearly this much about Animal Crossing, but love the fact that there is basically one logical persistent world consisting largely of user-generated content. Sure it’s very hard to travel around, but still.

    As far as persistence goes with games like WoW, while it’s true that the game “environment” (in terms of NPCs, mobs, time, season, buildings, etc.) is barely changing, the other players are changing a lot. And they are an important part of one’s experience of the “world.” So in this way it does seems to me that most MMO’s have a meaningful form of persistence that is very different from Animal Crossing’s (also meaningful) form of persistence.

  3. I’m a bit confused — so the “gifts from Mom” are automatically generated by the game?

    Well, yes…

    But pointing that out just totally ruins the story there, doesn’t it?

    Forget I said anything about that. Her mom could have sent her those things, too.

    So in this way it does seems to me that most MMO’s have a meaningful form of persistence that is very different from Animal Crossing’s (also meaningful) form of persistence.

    This is what’s so frustrating about it doing a better job of maintaining the illusion of a persistent world than MMOs.

    It’s world doesn’t exist when the console isn’t powered-up, and the typical MMO is “always-on”… yet Animal Crossing blows away MMO’s on that front. A-Xing seems a heck of a lot more like it is always-on than the games that actually are always on. The NPCs do a better job of remembering me than the players in Guild Wars, if not as good a job of it as the players in “last gen” games like UO, DAoC, EQ and AC, and a better job of it than the NPCs in any game.

    But how crazy is that? It’s a console/handheld game. And those NPCs aren’t even human.

    You are right, I think. In Animal Crossing the game world is playing a much bigger role so it needs to “play better” than the typical MMO. The typical MMO doesn’t need to do an A-Xing level of virtual-worlding in order to have something the players will pay to be persisted between play-sessions.

    Whether A-Xing should be counted as a multiplayer game, or as an online game, or as a massively multiplayer game strikes me as legitimate topics for debate with fairly interesting points in both the “pro” and “con” side of the argument.

    Pro: It does such a great job at it, in so many ways.
    Con: But it’s not an MMO!

    But I find it a little ironic that the MMOs are considered PSW’s across the board – from Tale In the Desert to Fighting Legends – but yet there’s a question as to whether or not A-Xing should be counted as a PSW (and not just in this post here just now, but in my own mind from time to time).

    Only because it is not an MMO?

    So the question is whether “PSW” is a feature separate and distinct from “MMO”.

    I think so.

    Not that it’s bad for a game to offer one feature and not another, or that an MMO which is no way delivering a PSW is not worthwhile… but rather…

    Well, I don’t know the answer to “but rather what?” – so I’ll just say thanks for entertaining my brain for while with your post.

    Not only was this an interesting thing to think through for me, but I got to ruin really sweet story for everyone else.

    SCORE!

  4. Hah, you’re welcome!

    And yes, I see the irony you’re talking about, with Animal Crossing beating out MMO’s at their own game in this way. striking.

  5. Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has been the subject of much the same sentiment. Of course, the world of ES:O didn’t evolve at all outside of actual gameplay taking place, but the number of variables involved in modeling the world and the interesting butterfly effects caused by player actions gave a far better impression of a dynamic PSW than most MMOs manage.

    I also figure it’s far easier to write suitable dynamic dialogue for Animal Crossing NPCs, seeing how a home owner / farmer / gardener is a more reasonable character to interact with than would be an Exalted Avatar Paladin proudly wielding a claymore resonating with the cries of a hundred slain daemons. Mudflation isn’t just a problem of economics, but also of immersion, coherency and suspension of disbelief.

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