Term Paper: Animal Crossing: New Leaf: The Appeal of an Unbeatable Game

by Jessica Turcotte

AnimalCrossingNewLeafWayofLife

It is not uncommon for gamers to put over sixty hours into a single game, and never revisiting it again. Most mainstream games guide players from point A to point B, and congratulate them with a virtual pat on the back in the end; the player is satisfied, and so are the publishers. Life/community simulation games are inherently different. There is often no finish line, no ultimate goal to achieve, as the player strolls along the game, often living vicariously through their characters. I question how this game genre maintain long-term player interest, while offering the player a sense of agency? There has been an array of simulation games ranging from SimCity to Spore, but let us focus on one franchise that has been capturing casual gamers attention since 2001 : Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing is a franchise developed and published by Nintendo, stretching over 4 games, ranging from the GameCube to the more recent Nintendo 3DS system. In the earlier versions, the player controls a citizen entering a new town, spending the majority of the game paying off their debt imposed by a landlord named Tom Nook. In the more recent installment: Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the player arrives in the town , being mistaken as the mayor by all the citizens. As a silent and unassuming protagonist, they are forced into becoming the mayor, taking up various tasks pertaining to the betterment of the town (imposing town ordinances or financing public works projects). As the official website says: “It’s not just a game … it’s a way of life”. This tagline instigates the underlying reliance on long-term dependence to the game in order to maintain relevance in the gaming market. Animal Crossing: New Leaf demonstrates how the inclusion of “personalized” game mechanics and the sense of responsibility within real-time gameplay can reach players on a personal level, therefore securing long-term consumption of Nintendo’s product.

The new mechanic of playing as the mayor of the town was added due to the developers fear of players thinking “Oh no! Not again!”. They were mostly worried that players would think that it was just another game about paying off a loan, much like the previous installments. However, it is also a mechanic which incites responsibility from the player to continuously “consume” the game. By imposing the sense of authority upon the player, they are now more inclined to keep playing the game, having the need to fulfill responsibilities and taking care of the town. If the player does not fulfill these tasks, the town may become infested with cockroaches, weeds may invade the grass and citizens may become disgruntled and leave, Despite these responsibilities, Animal Crossing: New Leaf contains a relaxing, “go at your own pace” design. If the game would impose a stressful way of dealing with mayoral duties (construction funding deadlines, crime), the casual gamer would be turned off, having lost the escapist quality of the game. Unlike most other simulation games, the player must “grind” in order to pay off their debt, while being focused on gaining a 100% approval rating by the citizens through public works projects. In order to do so, players must collect bugs, dig up fossils and collect items in order to sell to the Recycling Shop. In order to diminish the tediousness of grinding, there is an option to place the bugs and fossils into the town’s museum, adding an educational benefit to the game, as you expand your towns cultural knowledge. Every creature or fossil collected comes with a description of it, as well as the opportunity to revisit your caught items in your in-game encyclopedia , or in the museum. The developers managed to create a game based on the player having to grind and being at a position of authority, while maintaining casual and stress-free game play. In Christian Nutt’s article The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, he commends the “flexibility of [New Leaf’s game system], but also the fact that your relationship with it can change over time. You can start doing something for one reason and change your mind. You can get interested in something, abandon it, and pick it up later when you realize there’s another reason to do it.1 He also remarks that “the currency is employed like experience points in an RPG: you have to play to earn then […] you put the points into the upgrade you want. It’s a progress-limiter. And the objects you buy are really tools for self-expression2”. This clever system of “upgrades” creates a sense of progress within the game, so players feel accomplished with every “upgrade”. Without the sense of moving forward, players would more likely feel stuck, and would lose interest. Moreover, the game functions in real-time, utilizing the 3DS systems clock: seasons pass, holidays come and go, creating anticipation within the player. Players must organize a schedule around the game, having to remember citizens birthdays, special events (fishing tourneys, bug catching competitions) as well as the opening and closing of certain stores and the arrival of town kiosks. This creates a long-term playability, as the player can pick it up and play without having to remember at what point they are in the game or feel lost, as it coincides with where they are in real life. Players are expected to organize their life around the games events, as it appeals to peoples inner need to please others; to not let their citizens down if they happen to miss a meeting. If the player happens to not return to their town for awhile, they are met with a scolding as well as saddened citizens claiming that you have forgotten about them and/or are avoiding them. Another event that may occur is when the player refuses a public works completion ceremony, in which Isao Moro, one of the games developers, states that your secretary “[becomes] so dejected in the way she speaks and acts that you’ll feel really sorry for turning it down3”. Animal Crossing: New Leaf reaches the player on emotional levels, not only creating a sense of community that will always be waiting for them when you return, but also toys with the players fear of disappointment. This reinforces the dependence on the game, especially for those searching for a sense of belonging and acceptance.

YearLongVacation

Similar to Gamefreak’s Pokemon series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf appeals to the players desire to collect. With the seemingly endless amount of furniture combinations, players will spend months creating different combinations of items, in order to earn points from the “Happy Home Academy”. Players may even encounter a type of furniture only after months playing it, as seasonal items come and go and new events are held. The randomization of items received by villagers or available in stores force the players to constantly check, day after day, to see if the Nookling store finally has a specific item for their set in stock. Building sets can take weeks or even months, as the player is faced with not knowing how the amount of items in a set, and do not receive any notification whether it is in stock or not (with the exception of the few rare items which the shop owners advertise on the town board). Customization has always been present within the Animal Crossing series, but mostly for the players home. An addition to New Leaf that was unheard of in previous Animal Crossing games is the customization of “ordinances”. With a game so heavily based on real-time, it was crucial for developers to consider the real life of the player. Moro comments that “this time, you can adjust things to fit your own lifestyle4”, meaning that the player may choose to have shops open earlier or later, if the town is more focused on having rich flora as well as being a “rich” town. Furthermore, with the addition of online-play, players can now visit other towns from players across the world. Moro states that “[the developers] wanted to make it much more fun to explore other players’ towns by allowing each player to bring out their own personality in their town5”.

By being able to customize and show off your town, it actively encourages the player to spend more time grinding for bells (in-game currency), in order to create the best town possible. Players are now able to customize and create patterns for their outfits and share them online via QR codes; they are able to look like virtual any video game/film/literary character that they please. Aya Kyogoku, a member of the development team, states that “this Animal Crossing game isn’t simply about enjoying everyday life. The game becomes a stage for creating a town and a world where everything is just as you want it6”. By appealing to the audiences desire to customize and create their unique town, and by including an online-mode to induce amicable envy of each others towns, players will be more inclined to spend more hours on the game, as opposed to it feeling like a chore. The player may do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without being harshly penalized for the things that they did not do. This is not only enticing for new players, but appeals to the established fan base by improving on the core gameplay of customization; not only being able to customize your home, but your whole town.

Players have managed to counter the long waiting periods between events or holidays by “time traveling”. Essentially, the player can set their clock to a different time in order to bypass the real-time mechanics of the game. The player no longer has to go through the process of waiting day after day for an unwanted resident to leave, a building remodeling, etc. This mean that players no longer have to schedule themselves around the game, but rather schedule the game to fit their needs. However, if they make a simple mistake by setting the clock to a full year later, the town can be completely ruined. Once-loved villagers might have moved out, flowers may die amongst many other consequences. Moro says that it “ is a shame as a really nice aspect of Animal Crossing is the sense of unity that comes from time passing in sync with the real world. It means that everyone gets to share that sense of the seasons and the time passing, so we were keen to retain that element of the game.7” Despite players cheating, it does not affect other players, as it would in most online games. The cheating is merely for the players own benefit, without hindering others. It does not discourage others from playing the game, which might be the case for other games that heavily rely on competitive gameplay, such as Counter Strike or StarCraft. This form of “cheating” does not hinder the long-term consumption of the product, as it does not affect the core gameplay of collecting and interaction.

In conclusion, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a prime example of a life simulation games that manages to engage a new audience while tending to their established fanbase through improved customization, engaging real-time activities and by imposing a sense of responsibility and authority upon the player. Despite the fact that the player is the mayor of a town, New Leaf provides plenty of leniency in order to negate the feeling of playing the game as a chore. With New Leaf being one of the most successful games amongst the franchise, it is no doubt that the appeal lies within the clever game mechanics and stress-free gameplay.

Work Cited

Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Animal Crossing. Nintendo. 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://www.animal-crossing.com/newleaf/>.

Nintendo. Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Nintendo, 2013. Nintendo 3DS.

Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games. UBM, 28 June 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <http://gamasutra.com/view/news/195157/The_quiet_genius_of_Animal_Crossing_New_Leaf.php&gt;.

Takahashi, Koji, Isao Moro, and Aya Kyogoku. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/3ds/animalcrossing-newleaf/0/0&gt;.

1Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games. UBM, 28 June 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

2Nutt, Christian. “The Quiet Genius of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

3 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

4 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

5 Isao Moro. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

6 Aya Kyogoku. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Interview by Satoru Iwata. Iwata Asks. Nintendo, 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

7 Isao Moro,. “Iwata Asks: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.”

Micro-Essay #2: “Gotta Buy ‘Em All!”: From Pocket-Monsters to Global Masters

 

All_Nippon_Airways_Boeing_747-400_yellow_pokemon

by Jessica Turcotte

When you think of Pokémon, many things can pop into your mind : ranging from video games to theme parks (Poképark, a traveling Japanese theme park), it is no wonder that it is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. Appealing to a wide range of ages, the simplistic idea of trading and collection is, what I believe to be, the basis of its popularity and success. Pokémon began simply as a video game, expanding to new heights with mangas, trading cards, movies and even dedicated stores (Pokémon Center in the United- States). One would think that creating a video game would be the last piece of the puzzle in terms of transmedia narratives, but it seems that working in “reverse” has brought the Pokémon franchise to global success.

Creating Product Dependance

One key aspect in order to turn a profit within the global market is based on what film historian Thomas Schatz refers to as“pre-selling” products, as well as creating dependance on said products through multiplatform storytelling. In Revisiting Globalization Through the Movie and Digital Games Industries, Kerr and Flynn state that audiences are “[attracted to the] pre-sold property […] even though they have not consumed it in its adapted form”. Essentially, consumers will lean towards products which they are already accustomed to (through different platforms), creating a safety net for companies launching said product onto a new medium while dealing with such an unpredictable market. Furthermore, since the basis of the Pokémon game is collecting and trading, it is a perfect method for other means of attracting an audience across different platforms (collecting cards, collecting figurines), appealing to a wider range of consumers across the world. The films and trading cards actually enhance the players gameplay experience with information on the Pokémon’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as add personality to the “pocket-monsters”. These different products are advertised to give the illusion that they are a must if you are aiming towards a complete experience.

pokemon

Seen on the official Pokémon website

This franchise by no means challenges the status quo, as it is already cemented into the global market. It merely improve upon itself by expanding the roster of pocket-monsters and create their games based upon different “generations” of Pokémon. These simple adjustments not only maintain the interest of their old-school audience, but allows for easier inclusion of newcomers by keeping its successful simplistic gameplay. “Gotta catch ’em all” is not only a simple catchphrase for the franchise, it is actively enticing the audience to reach the seemingly unobtainable goal of collecting all of the Pokémon. With this catchphrase looming over their head, as well as the constant expanding roster (starting out at a humble 150, bloating to a whopping 720), the consumer must “catch ’em all” by purchasing the flood of newer products in order to fulfill their ultimate goal. Only then, will they become a true Pokémon Master.

Accessibility Issues and Video Games

The Pokémon franchise was within reason to expand its range of products, due to the difficult accessibility of video games within certain countries. In Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide Thomas Apperley brings up a crucial point in terms of accessibility. He states that some children in underdeveloped countries are “reduced to watching interactive media […] – locked out of participatory culture […] observers in a media paradigm characterized by action”. This is where the transmedia narrative of Pokémon comes in to play: marketing their product using different platforms in order to increase accessibility to their brand. Accessibility can also be defined by censorship and translating issues. These factors contribute to creating barriers between the player and the interactive nature of the game. If a child faces a badly translated game, it hinders their fundamental understanding of the gameplay and story. Moreover, if you put a child in front of a Pokémon movie with bad translation, then this child may still be interested and understand the story , due to movies ultimately being a visual medium, aiming to make the audience understand the plot by showing, rather than telling. It is easier to have access to films, books and toys rather than a video game, and by expanding the franchise to these mediums, the creators of Pokémon have encapsulated a wider range of consumers. These products not only act as entertainment, but allow for the consumer to have a proper “complete” experience. Through randomized booster packs (sealed package of cards) and Pokémon encounters, players are encouraged to buy more and play more in order for them to create their ultimate personalized “arsenal”. With removing the option of picking and choosing specific cards, players are encouraged to buy and trade their unwanted cards with their friends, creating not only an interactive experience, but also dependance of consumption.

pokemon2

Official Pokémon Website’s explanation of many duplicates within a single deck. Actively encourages the purchase of numerous types of decks, while strategically excluding essential cards from certain decks.

Local and Global Play

Online play appeals to the players desire of trading and comparing with friends on a whole new level. It is no coincidence that Satoshi Tajiri, the game’s director, released the initial Pokémon games on the Game Boy. This handheld device came equipped with a cable, allowing the ability to link between two devices, thus allowing the option of trading Pokémon. The aspect of trading within the Pokémon video game franchise is what drives the player to “complete” the game, which reflects the ongoing process of international “trading” of products across different platforms. Globalization allowed for the expansion of this concept, enhancing the ability to trade with people from around the world. This not only expands the possibilities of collection, but also allows for the sharing of information, challenges and tactics. For example, in the Nuzlocke challenge, players are given a strict set of rules to follow as well as the option to add their own . The challenge adds an extra layer of difficulty to the game, and encourages the player to form a closer bond with their Pokémon, as they are not as “disposable” as they once were in previous playthroughs. With these extra set of rules, dusting off your old Pokémon cartridge will not seem like such a bad idea, perhaps even rekindling your long-lost Pokélove. With global online-play introduced in the newer Pokémon games (Pokémon X and Y) players are not strictly limited to battling with NPC trainers, but with a wide-range of challenging opponents. Pokémon’s “evolution” to online-play not only serves as a platform for meaningful and fun social interaction, but also allows for the expansion of new marketing strategies (Now you can battle opponents from around the world!).

Conclusion

Pokémon has been one of the most successful franchises due to the company’s excellent marketing strategy, both appealing to children and adults alike. Building upon the success of the original game, the company has created a need in the consumer to buy their wide-range of products, as these products stemming from different mediums add to a “complete” experience within the franchise. Remember kids: if you would like to “be the very best” you must first purchase their games, trading cards, movies, mangas, clothes, accessories, drinkware…

Bibliography

Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital

Divide.” IE ’07 Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment. Eds. Martin Gibbs and Yusuf Pisan. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.

Game Freak. Pokémon Red Version. Nintendo, 1998. Game Boy.

Kerr, Aphra and Roddy Flynn. “Revisiting Globalisation through the movie and digital games industries.” Convergence 9.1 (2003): 91-113.

Micro Essay: Gone Home and the Female Conception of Space

The Fullbright Company’s award-winning game Gone Home has received much praise for its engrossing story within emotional and poetic environments. The interactive-story nature of the game reaches to a broader audience, allowing vast exploration within intimate spaces, catering to both a male and female audience of all ages. The eeriness of the atmosphere is emphasized within the first minutes of the game. The player is greeted from a trip abroad by a dark and empty mansion, heightening the anxiety of the player, ultimately leaving them isolated within a large space. The stress of the situation leads to the player asking themselves: “What exactly happened here?” .

The use of secret space within Gone Home is what is most appealing about the game. Players are invited to discover and explore the secret spaces of the mansion, which in turn reveal secrets about Kaitlin’s sister, Samantha, as well as other members of her family. Players discover secret passages , which connect to new explorable areas of the home, while piecing together the narrative. In A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space, Fullerton, Morie and Pearce state that “[…] female-framed secrecy presents a very different set of play mechanics and design possibilities”, which is apparent in Gone Home‘s design. For instance, you cannot access a certain area of the mansion without X in order to discover Y. The base of this mechanic relies on the player’s innate desire to discover pieces of the narrative, which ultimately is the point of the game. This ties in to the atmospheric design of the game: a domestic labyrinth which, despite being a familiar environment to the protagonist, contains information unknown to her, which we, as a player, must discover. Unlike many other games, in which further exploration outside of the main missions are meekly rewarded (bonus EXP or goods), the player in Gone Home is greatly rewarded through the discovery of different plot points, which tie together loose ends within the narrative. The addition of secret passageways and the narrow attic lead the player to sympathize with Samantha, as these environments reflect her inability to express herself within the household.

Fullerton, Morie and Pearce explore the possibilities of the domestic space as being “a site of play and pleasure […] [yet] it can also connote stifling captivity for women”. The authors relate the captive domestic space with Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper “in which a woman is confined in a deteriorating room by a loving yet paternalistically controlling husband”. The element of a woman in captive space in The Yellow Wallpaper can be paralleled with Samantha’s character, in Gone Home. Her antagonizing parents dismiss her homosexuality as simply being a “phase”, and she cannot express her love for her secret-girlfriend Lonnie within the privacy of her home. She expresses her feelings for Lonnie outside of the domestic space (school, friends party). However, unlike in The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the narrator is “freed” yet remains trapped within her madness, the culmination of the suffocation within Sam’s home leads her to run away with Lonnie, as she is finally free. Asking only of her sister not to go through the trouble of looking for answers, but that she will be seeing her someday. Her message to Kaitlin reveals that she ultimately does not want to return to a life of secrecy, and that she has finally reached independence.

Furthermore, according to the article, “domestic space […] has been largely absent from gaming”, as compared to most literature and film. Not many games contain adventures within a domestic space, and most homes in games provide extra items or information about the quest, but do not go much further than that. In Gone Home, the quest is strictly within the grounds of the mansion, as your character is unable to step outside. Some gamers might find this mechanic constricting, but within the context, it works. There is no urgency to step outside, due to all the secrets being inside the home. There is no need for a DLC allowing you to search for your sister and Lonnie, as the purpose of the game is to explore the mansion and to discover information using the objects within the space as clues. Moreover, Fullerton, Morie and Pearce relate the domestic space to “ [a depiction] and [embodiment of] a transitional space between girlhood and womanhood”, which, in this case is Samantha’s sexual coming-of-age. The intimate setting allows the gamer to better understand the emotional undertones of each interactive object, whether it be a note or a picture frame, as they delve deeper into the lives of Kaitlin’s family. The player’s choice on how much extra information he/she is willing to discover about the family relies on the player’s willingness to interact with every piece of furniture, door, object or note.

As Polansky explains in The Poetry of Created Space, “[there] is emotional power in finding the scrawlings and journal entries and garbage of the people who used to be here, and the relationship they had with their environment”. The heavy reliance on atmosphere and environment interactivity within The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home allows for a game containing rich character development and exploration within the domestic space. The developers meticulously created environments containing narrative-driven objects, which, in other games, would have been merely reduced as fillers.

Jessica Turcotte

 

References

Fullerton, Tracy, Morie, Jacquelyn and Pearce, Celia. “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space.” Proceedings of perthDAC 2007: The 7th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference: The Future of Digital Media Culture. 2007. http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-074-a-game-of-one%E2%80%99s-own-towards-a-new-gendered-poetics-of-digital-space/

Polansky, Lana. “The Poetry of Created Space.” Bit Creature. 5 October 2012. http://www.bitcreature.com/criticism/the-poetry-of-created-space/

This is Not a Micro-Essay

Hello everyone ! Here are some of my reflections on video games as an art form relating to the readings of last week. This was supposed to be a micro-essay but I found that I strayed away from the topics discussed a bit too much and it had no clear structure (plus I did not submit it on time). Anyway, here are some of my thoughts ! Cheers.

Video Games: A Synthesis of Art Forms?

By Jessica Turcotte

Not long ago, “video games” were not synonymous with “art”. Most critics dismissed video games as solely being a novelty, and while some games contained artistic elements, they were not seen as an art form. It has been a fairly recent debate, which has been put to rest, spawning a series of sub-questions regarding games as art:Which definition of “art” is appropriate in order to identify games as an art form? What do we need to study in games right now? Does storytelling in games have an affect on how credible it is in the artistic world? Since the medium is relatively new, it is difficult for some critics to free themselves from the thought that games remain a novelty. However, the notion of novel entertainment blossoming into an art form has been proven mainly through the study of film as an art. Video games have since been a mimesis of film, but do they have the potential to be considered as a higher form of art than their predecessor?

From the 1890s until the 1910s, films were barely seen as anything other than novel entertainment. However, the integration of stylistic elements deriving from German Expressionism, French Impressionism (among many others) as well as different techniques employed by lighting, editing and camera movement, challenged the idea that films were simply a bland entertainment. Compelling narratives flooded the film industry, developed from novels, plays and historical events, combining different styles stemming from various countries, pushed film to eventually be seen as an art form. Video games are no different: they started out as novelty, and, throughout the years, started pushing the boundaries of what a game could be. However, unlike its predecessors, it is not simply a passive way of viewing art. Video games are a culmination of many different art forms, ranging from literature to sculpting. As a gamer, one can actually have an effect on how the story is told; they can choose how much information they receive through the game. For instance, in Molleindustria’s Everyday the Same Dream, the player can choose to go about the story in many different ways. They can either continuously repeat the same scenario, or they can branch out and challenge the obvious route of the game. It is as if they had a say in how a film ends, or in which order they will edit the narrative structure and character actions in order for it to be a complete experience. This invites the player to become a creator, which few art forms can achieve.

One might think that video games lack potential in terms of storytelling, which would hinder their artistic growth. In Juul’s Games Telling Stories?, he argues that “games are not part of the narrative media ecology formed by movies, novels and theater”. He states that there is a heavy reliance on cut scenes in order to include character development and story elements, which diminishes their capability of storytelling. I would like to note that in some games there is no need for heavy character development because the player becomes said character. They project themselves onto the character within the game, in a sense they are the character. The character develops depending on the players choices. This creates a bond which may be stronger than any viewer/character connection while watching a film. Film relies heavily on expository dialogue and narration in order to convey character motivations and storytelling. How is that any more credible than cut scenes in video games? Despite the fact that a novel’s description of a character can easily be translated to film via narration, does not make it beneficial to the film. Film is meant to visually represent something, not spoon-feed the viewer information about a character or the story for that matter. Video games approach this differently by giving the player a choice on how their character will act facing certain situations, and this is how character development occurs within a game.

Video games synthesize sculpting, painting, music, literature and film, allowing not only the developers to create, but also the player. With computer generated imagery and narrative inspiration appearing with each passing day (current events, literature, film), the possibilities of artistic video games are limitless. The interactivity with the player, as well as their ability to create, add a deeper connection to the art; the player then has agency within the game, their actions matter. In my opinion, not one art form is superior to another, but video games do carry the potential to be as important in artistic history as painting, literature and film.