While I realize the subject of Animal Crossing being a hardcore or casual game has been brought up numerous times throughout the series’ history, there aren’t many thorough articles on it, let alone on what really defines a “casual” game from a “hardcore” game. As a newtime player to the series kudos to New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS, I finally had been able to dive into the whimsical world of Nintendo’s version of Second Life before Second Life even existed. My verdict still stands as it had years before when the first game was announced.
I will admit I’m only discussing this now because I accidentally may have gotten a friend into buying the game out of sheer Grand Theft Auto-esque chaos, but needless to say if he wanted to run around with matchsticks and scissors, Minecraft and major MMO’s such as World of Warcraft have more devastating levels of grieving than Animal Crossing. Oh well. Any reason to get more friends into playing at my town of Slowpokes is good enough for me.
Ian Bogost wrote a great article on casual games, it can be found at “Persuasive Games: Video Game Zen“. (Have no fear; it isn’t littered with bogus Facebook/mobile play-to-win games, but it does throw in Chuzzle as an example). He points out that video games are generally seen as a “lean forward” medium – one that encourages interactivity, action, and puzzle-solving. Some genres that easily fit this definition are sports, racing, shooters, platformers. However, there are some games that also can be seen as a “lean back” medium, which focuses on relaxation and providing a more passive, mellow experience. While certain puzzle games may not fit this (like Tetris), a lot of more casual-styled games do. Bogost uses flOw and other Nintendo titles such as Pikmin and (of course) Animal Crossing, as some examples for other more mainstream titles outside of the nefarious play-to-wins that’ve now smothered the casual games genre.
Notice however, that these games still encourage the interactivity and brainpower that more “lean forward” (aka “hardcore”) games also possess. This makes sense though, since at the end of the day it still has to be a video game, otherwise if you go towards the edge of the medium (like of Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain), you’re better off watching a movie if you want that type of passiveness. While the general summary of Animal Crossing involves upkeeping your house and town, paying off your debts on loans, talking to your neighbors, and admiring nature as a whole, there are things to do and puzzles to solve to keep things from running into the mundana. Just like real life, you never know what’s going to happen next, and even when things fall into the every day rut, you’re encouraged to continue on for tomorrow to see what’s new in your E-rated digital life.
Therefore, despite its premise (heck, it won Best Casual Game in 2013 from SpikeTV’s VGX Awards), depending on how you play the game, it can be seen as a more engaging experience, and therefore a hardcore game. There are bugs and fish to collect, as well as rare, seasonal items (either through events or the shops). Some players even “trade” neighbors to get other desirable neighbors to match whatever theme their town has. (While I decided to decorate it after Slowpoke-ridden Azalea Town from Pokemon Gold/Silver, I have no neighbor preferences.) And of course, the game keeps track of what items you’ve had in your inventory, also known as Catalog, even if you gifted the item to a neighbor or friend, or sold it back to earn some extra Bells to cover other expenses.
Since Animal Crossing is a very social game, the online community for it is enormous, thanks to the help of social media. Nintendo has a Pinterest board for user-submitted clothing designs, and other designs and screenshots can be shared through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and their newly adjoined Miiverse service. Community blogs and groups through these sites, as well as other boards and forums elsewhere across the Internet, also dedicate to trading and selling of items and neighbors alike. If the player desires so, Animal Crossing can certainly become a title in the more “hardcore” genre of gaming very fast.
From my own playthroughs and experiences however, while I love trading with other players and friends, and hanging out with them at each other’s towns just for fun, I believe this series (and New Leaf in particular) can be a meeting point for both the casual and the hardcore gamer. I find it to be a relaxing experience, and even if I’m in a hurry one day, I find that I can accomplish my daily tasks in the game within an hour (I don’t recommend flying through the game at all though; this is not a race to the finish line!).
Whatever your feelings for this game, know that it satisfies both the need to relax while still accomplishing something for enjoyment. And while my Dream Address is not set up yet, I do have Kurt the Poke-ball Smith in my town as a second avatar, and my 3DS Friend Code is 4785-4704-8438. You can also follow my silly adventures as mayor at my Tumblr dedicated to the game.