Animal Crossing saw our gaming future back in 2001

Mornings have taken a weird turn in the Eurogamer office. My bus drops me in half an hour early, which gives me time to have a few runs on the Fortnite challenges. Then Tom Phillips is generally next in, often a little bleary-eyed because he likes to play Fortnite long into the night. Chris Tapsell turns up, and he and Tom will talk about what they got up to in Pokémon Go the evening before, and by that time a few other people will be at their desks, maybe having a round of Hearthstone.

You can scramble the games a little. Maybe I’ll be playing Clash Royale and Tom and Wes will be talking about Destiny. Maybe Chris will be talking about a new starship he bought in No Man’s Sky. Tom still plays Assassin’s Creed Origins pretty regularly. I still have a go at the daily run in Spelunky every other week. The point, I think, is this: games have been steadily working towards this for a while, and then you blink and all of a sudden here we are, all of us with actual commitments. We are surrounded by games that don’t just want us to keep playing but actively seem to require regular upkeep.

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I love it, I think. I love to return to Fortnite’s map again and again, recrossing my old paths and bumping up against memories of my old lives like a character in Cloud Atlas. I once loved watching my Hearthstone decks grow in richness and possibility, too, and I love hearing about the friends – real-world friends – Tom and Chris and Matt have made in Pokémon Go. There are moments – now is one, as I’m starting to tinker with Warframe – in which I wonder if I actually have room for another of these big, persistant games in my life, but these moments are few and far between. These games need your time, but they actually only need a little of it each day. The important thing is that you keep coming back.

It helps that I have been here before, of course. Long before I first played an MMO or tried a daily challenge I had a little world in the corner of my living room that I found a few minutes for every day. I would drop into the village, write a few letters, dig a few holes, maybe visit the lake for a moment’s reflection. Long before any of these other games, there was Animal Crossing.

The magic of Animal Crossing – so much of it, anyway – came down to the clock. Animal Crossing matched your world season for season, day for day, minute for minute. This meant you had to pop in every now and then just to feel like you weren’t missing too much. Then there were the appointments – the turnip market, the daily change-over of stock at the shop, the birthdays, the week that Tortimer went on vacation.

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All of this was fantastic, but perhaps the smartest thing Animal Crossing did to keep you returning involved weeds. Every day, a weed or two would sprout. You had to keep on top of this stuff because your village was your village. Its upkeep was a reflection on, what, on the state of your soul? Brilliantly, even if you let the weeds go crazy, there was a way to turn it around: wait up late and hunt for Wisp the ghost, who would grant you a favour if you did a little busywork for them. One of the favours was weeding. A ghost that did the weeding! I know, right? I know.

Looking back, I’m shocked by how brilliantly Animal Crossing plucked the same strings that today see me returning to Fortnite, No Man’s Sky, Clash Royale on a daily basis. These worlds have things to give you, but they also seem, in some strange way, to need you, too, and I suspect that it’s this need of theirs that truly keeps you coming back.

I am going to try Warframe for a month or so, but there’s another game I’m thinking of adding to the daily commitments. It’s Animal Crossing – not the mobile one, which I have already bounced off of, but the original, the GameCube one. What could be a nicer addition for the office than an old CRT telly stuck in a corner with a GameCube and Animal Crossing ready to run whenever anyone fancied a few minutes away from the rest of the world? It would be almost like getting a fishtank, I think: you step away from your desk, you adjust yourself to a different rhythm, and five minutes later you are somehow remade for the day.

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