I thought today I might wax poetical on my love-and-leave relationship with the Animal Crossing Games. Why? Because, if I’m honest, its been bothering me lately.
I realized, more recently than not, that throughout my gaming career I have enjoyed and then eventually suffered through random bouts of loving to play one of the various Animal Crossing games. My preferred one has always been the original Game Cube edition as it was the one I grew up with and once shared a semi-thriving village with my older brother, my mother, and my father as neighbours. When the need to play hit me at the less convenient times to have my Wii up and running (in dorms where my space was already limited and perching my one and only – at the time – console precariously on a stack of boxes was less of an inconvenience and more of a hazard) I turned to Animal Crossing: New Leaf for my 3DS. I can remember even playing New Leaf this past year, having grabbed my dorm keys, a pair of pants, shoes, and my 3DS when the dorms fire alarm went off at 6:30 on a Saturday morning during reading week. It was rather nice to wander my village in the earlier hours of the morning, watering my flowers and catching a fish or two while I actually waited for permission to re-enter the building and go back to bed. It was less nice overhearing the group of first years (completing my MA means I may be first year in my program but I am decidedly not a first year) speculating whether or not they had set the fire alarm off while having a smoke in their dorm bathroom.
Quirky memories aside Animal Crossing has remained so much part of my life that I am not above admitting that it was something of a safety blanket on lonely summers away from my first university and the few friends I had that got me. Curling up on the couch in my parents’ house while they went to work and I whittled away the day catching bugs in a village far sunnier and friendlier than my own was how I told myself I wasn’t lonely. I’d keep friends in this village for a while and then the system would be packed up for another year while I returned east to actually have friends for the school year. It was a normal thing, even when I worked touring strangers through old houses and enthusing about famers and millionaires who once roamed my now dying home town. Who wouldn’t want to fill the Animal Crossing museum with works of art you’re never likely to see in real life and bugs and fish all proudly tagged with your name as the grand donator?
Then I went to get my MA. And summer didn’t end with a goodbye to the village and a welcoming of real friends. Summer ended with a terrifying city that wanted me less than I wanted it. A five person program with one girl who felt Aristotle’s slave system had “some merit”, two men who felt the need to mansplain everything to me, and the nicest old lawyer who was there because he finally had the time to complete the MA he started some 40 years back. I hated it. I couldn’t say two words without being told I was being completely subjective and that there was only one objective truth that I would never find but those two boys, they knew the truth and these classes bored them and they didn’t want to talk about them. Why wouldn’t I keep coming back to a little digital village filled with animal neighbours actually glad when I come to visit? What the hell is wrong with that choice?!
Sorry, sorry. It’s been a hard year and a half where my closest friends were a single one on the other end of the country and a village full of fake animals. That realization does things to you – a variety of things. Sometimes it was nice: a reassurance that eventually it wouldn’t just be animals on a screen but my real friends. But then it became the realization that that was never going to happen again. My summers of working and playing Animal Crossing to pass the lonely moments until September rolled around and there were really fucking people waiting were over. Even if I went east now, packed up everything and moved back to my little university town, none of my friends are there.
My best friend is closest but she’s moved to the nearby base town to live with her boyfriend. She loves him and that makes me happy, but I’ll never be able to walk to her apartment again. We’d have to arrange times to meet up like adults, maybe sit and talk at the little coffee shop downtown we sometimes frequented. But we’ll never spend hours walking the city and talking about everything and nothing. We won’t get the chance to spy cool graffiti someone wrote across the fence backing onto that one bike trial or walk so far out of town we get a bus back in because we’re exhausted and I’ve walked holes in my shoes.
My second closest friend is the one physically closest to me know. We met up for dinner some months ago because she had taken the four hour drive out to do a test at the one of the colleges in my town. We had supper but we didn’t linger, she had the drive back still. We talked about her dog mostly. About how she was applying for vet training. About how my PhD plans were falling apart. She doesn’t text me first. She never replies to my Snapchats or watch the vlogs I upload on Youtube (only my best friend does that, despite several people promising they would). I send little holiday presents, she only mentioned the fact that she received her Christmas present because we met up for dinner. I don’t know how to keep her in my life.
Two on opposites ends of the country. Hung out more often in groups than one on one.
There are two more. Married, or common law. They’re further east than I’ve ever been and we follow each other on Instagram which, if I’m honest, is the closest we’ve ever really been. We had a falling out some years back and a mutual friend apologized to each of us for the other. Then that friend fell out too and nothing really recovered from that point. I spend a summer playing Animal Crossing in the city I thought I loved, thinking maybe I was right to move on. Maybe I could stop playing Animal Crossing if I just had something else to work on.
I was wrong. I might have switched to my handheld but I kept playing that goddamned game. Kept trying to convince myself that the world was going to get better if I just focused on my studies and filled every other hour not hitting the books doing busy work in a video game. Maybe I’d actually finish my museum collections. Maybe I’d prove a better mayor in an animal village than a person trying and failing to socialize in the real world. And maybe I did.
I moved back to my home province this past summer; moved in with my parents who rented a two bedroom apartment in another university town so that I had a place to live. I still live here now. I worked full time and wrote my MA thesis, planned to head into a PhD program, maybe in England, maybe in my old university town. Then England said no and so did the town I can still picture myself getting my life in order in. That’s fine of course, the external advisor on my thesis pulled a hard no against me defending my thesis without serious revisions. Any hopes I had to graduate this academic year went down the drain with one email. My parents and my best friend know. They’d fix it all if they could. I’ll try and fix it too, eventually, but right now I’m just trying to squash the temptation to pick up Animal Crossing again because it isn’t going to help. But I want to play it anyway. I want the easy validation that comes from fishing and hunting bugs and building a new public works. Keeping flowers alive makes me feel good, even if its only digital (my friends use to call my Animal Crossing habit “gardening”). But playing Animal Crossing isn’t going to get the novel I want to write written. It’s not going to fix my thesis or find me a job. I’m not good enough at any video games to make my living off of them – yet I don’t feel nearly so scared of picking up a Legend of Zelda or Mario game as I do facing down the temptation of playing Animal Crossing again.
Animal Crossing has somehow morphed from a time-waster to get me through until my life effectively starts back up again to an admission that my life has stopped. And I don’t know how to fix that.