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May 1, 2007
3 Min Read
For latest feature for Gamasutra sister educational site Game Career Guide, Azurelore Korrigan presents the first of a series analyzing the game design of landmark titles, explaining exactly why Nintendo's classic anthropomorphic village DS life sim Animal Crossing: Wild World is "Shenmue without the plot."
In this excerpt, Korrigan notes that, running directly opposite most practices of modern game design, none of Animal Crossing's mechanics serve any functional purpose other than eliciting player emotion:
If Twilight Princess boils down to "favors for retards", as Heather Campbell so famously put it, then Animal Crossing is exactly the same thing. The games share the same basic ideas; what differentiates them is the player's sense of compulsion. Animal Crossing offers no bottled reason to even talk to one's neighbors, or to take advantage of any of the town's activities, beyond what meaning the player might assign to doing so. Deliver the panda's letter, and maybe he'll be happy. Maybe he'll give you an awful shirt that isn't even worth selling, so you bury it instead. Then why deliver the letter? Well, do you need a cookie every time you do something for a friend? When you wash the dishes, do you expect to find, under the clutter, a magic artifact that will unlock the next activity of the day?
Animal Crossing is the antithesis of modernistic, compulsory design - what some people may describe as "tight" or "clean" design, in that every element has a specific mechanical purpose. (If there's a gun on the mantelpiece, it must be fired by the third act.) Instead, the only thing compelling the player is emotion. The only value to objects and actions is the player's own satisfaction from compiling or doing them. In this sense the game breaks from Pavlov to venture a few small-scale, candy-colored stabs at humanist design - an idea that the game industry is only slowly, only recently beginning to wrap its head around, now that the "sandbox" fad ("I destroy, therefore I am") has kind of run its course.
So there are a couple of levels to the game's ambition. There's what it directly seeks to do for the player, and there's the greater, unstated experiment regarding what that means for game design as a whole. That so few developers - particularly any as visible and influential as Nintendo EAD - are paying attention to this sort of design kind of puts Animal Crossing in a category of its own. Consider, though, that the game's most prominent character is a shyster capitalist raccoon with an ambiguously homoerotic name. It's probably best not to get too excited here.
You can now read the full Game Career Guide feature on the subject, with more from Korrigan on Animal Crossing's anti-game design, and precisely how the game creates its ideal, stress-free personal space (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).
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