Nintendo's Animal Crossing Update Turned Out to be Perfectly Timed

Who could have guessed a week ago how precious the dream of civil civic government would become?

Editorial by Jeremy Parish, .

Much like basically everyone I know — young or old, man or woman, white or not, straight or queer, born in America or abroad — I find myself dismayed (if not entirely surprised) by the results of yesterday's elections. I prefer not to get political here, but I will say that many, many people in my life fall into categories that our new president-elect openly demonized in his climb to power; while I'm rarely happy with the direction of politics in this country, this is the first time a political outcome has made me feel genuinely afraid for the people I love.

When I went to sleep last night, the presidential race was still in play. But I woke up damp with sweat at about 3 a.m. after a few hours of restless dreams, checked the final results, and sat awake anxiously for the rest of the night. I texted back and forth with my wife (who was staying with family for the night) to try and help her make sense of things, watched an outpouring of disbelief flood the internet, and resigned myself to the reality that I wouldn't be getting any more sleep.

Rather than fling myself in futility against insomnia, I decided to pick up my 3DS and tool around in my Animal Crossing: New Leaf town. Nintendo dropped a sizable free update for the game last week... not entirely without warning, but still, the scope of the update and the lack of any price tag attached came as something of a shock. Having spent a lot of time with the game back at the time of its release (and having had quite a bit to say about it), I was curious to check out the new material — especially since it pulls in last year's perfectly charming Happy Home Designer and all the work I completed there as well.

In truth, though, I haven't really been able to spend any time with the updates's new material. The rather sizable time investment I made with New Leaf vanished into thin air during the Great New 3DS Transfer Disaster of ’15, wherein some of my system's data made the move just fine while other info — such as the 100-odd hours I'd spent with New Leaf — evaporated. So, my return to New Leaf hasn't been a matter of picking up where I left off but rather a case of starting over from scratch.

I actually got a start on my all-new town (Jusenkyo, headed up by mayor Ranma) back over the summer, when Nintendo first announced a New Leaf update would arrive by the end of the year, but I didn't make it very far into the fresh save file. The process of going through the opening rigamarole all over again — meeting new residents, establishing my tenure as mayor, all of that nonsense — became a chore in no time at all. I didn't even manage to move poor Ranma out of her tent or even introduce myself to all the town's residents before wandering off.

Over the past few days, however, the journey has suddenly become a lot more compelling than it did months ago. It's not just the addition of the update; like I said, until this morning, I hadn't even experienced any of the Welcome amiibo content. But as tension surrounding the U.S. elections mounted, I found the game requirements that seemed so onerous over the summer took on an almost therapeutic spirit: Simple, agreeable tasks building toward small but positive ends. Shaking trees for bells, catching bugs and unearthing fossils anew, gathering mushrooms, planting strategic trees to brace myself for maximum money-rock exploitation, and having vapid conversations with my air-headed animal neighbors: All meaningless actions, but collectively each one a step toward a happier neighborhood.

There is, I think, a certain irony in taking pleasure in menial work as the nation elevates a man who, in Animal Crossing terms, was born with a million-bell cheat code active, lost them all in the turnip market, and kept going by sneaking into other people's villages and pawning off all the valuables he could get his hands on. But even more so the fact that New Leaf specifically revolves around the concept of civic involvement, of tirelessly working for the betterment of the community, of asking not what your village can do for you. This election feels like a repudiation of such high-minded ideals; I mean, the entire point of New Leaf is that a new person who looks nothing like the other citizens moves in, is welcomed with grace and good cheer, and sets about pitching in to make the town a better place. The new mandate established by the American people, by contrast, amounts to, "Get out."

There's no room for that negativity in Animal Crossing. It's a game that reminds you, gently, to be considerate of others' sensibilities when you create content to be shared with your fellow players. It's a game where everyone pulls together to make the system work. Where the largest and most opulent building in the entire town is a museum that thrives with the player's participation. Where breaking rocks, digging holes, and planting trees results immediately and obviously in a more beautiful world. And most of all, it's a world where weird-looking animals may chuckle about your appearance but are ultimately more than happy to invite you into their homes to show off their decorating sensibilities and share workout tips. It's menial and relaxing and satisfying and, above all, it's friendly.

New Leaf has been a welcome distraction in a time of uncertainty, and I'd never have thought to revisit it now if it weren't for the Welcome amiibo update. I guess the challenge now — for myself and anyone who values gentility over venality — is to translate those therapeutic virtual actions into reality. It may not be possible to bring Animal Crossing's harmony to life in the actual world, but surely the very least we can do right now is try.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #1 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Wow what timing. Someone just posted on Kotaku that this was her comfort game and she was going to play it. I put it in another article but im just not feeling games today. I am feeling a need to get some liver disease though.
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  • Avatar for roomtemperature #2 roomtemperature A year ago
    I don't want to speak for the dead but Mr. Rogers would be so disappointed in our nation
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  • Avatar for Thad #3 Thad A year ago
    I know what you mean. I've pretty much exclusively been playing Stardew Valley for the past few weeks in an attempt to calm my nerves.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #4 VotesForCows A year ago
    I guess you guys have caught up with us in the UK in the bad-decision-making race. I'm actually at a conference in Spain at the moment, full of depressed looking Americans, Canadians, and a few Mexicans. Interesting times we live in.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #5 Vonlenska A year ago
    I can't even escape into something like this right now. :\
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  • Avatar for scarritt #6 scarritt A year ago
    I hadn't thought about it, but playing AC actually sounds like a really good idea right about now. My husband's poured hundreds of hours into our town, so we're good on initiatives and the like, but I can at least fill out my big and fish catalogs.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @VotesForCows We need to play some Street Fighter soon! Do it for your mate over the pond cause these are dark times.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #8 Godots17thCup A year ago
    Yeah, I think I'm going to go back to New Leaf and maybe re-watch Parks and Recreation while I'm at it. Seeing civic-minded characters trying to do right by each other might do something to help ease my nerves, at least in the short term.
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  • Avatar for Namevah #9 Namevah A year ago
    @Thad I was playing Stardew Valley last night as my Twitter was exploding. Going from such a pleasant and relaxing game back to cruel reality was unfortunate.
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  • Avatar for Malignant #10 Malignant A year ago
    Great article.

    All those emotions that you're feeling at the moment are the same that we in the UK had to fight through a few months back.

    The only crumb of comfort that I can offer you, is that your country will have another opportunity to put things right in 4-years time....whereas we in the UK sadly don't have that opportunity :(
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #11 brionfoulke91 A year ago
    Great article. I think most of us are with you, Jeremy! (On Animal Crossing, too!)
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #12 Captain-Gonru A year ago
    I've found solace in Animal Crossing on multiple occasions, this one being no different. City Folk on the Wii, with the Wii Speak mic, kept my wife and I close to friends who had moved away, for instance.
    Great article as always.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #13 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @roomtemperature But he'd also say he loves us and that we should try to understand one another and all the things that make each of us special.
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  • Avatar for wii-bert #14 wii-bert A year ago
    I just started Ocarina of time on my 3DS. It's my happy place.
    First time playing on the New 3DS so excited for the better 3D!
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows A year ago
    @Malignant That's for sure. Though as an immigrant to the UK, I do have concerns that the decision will be permanent for me! I'm Irish, but who knows, we could be next after the rest of the EU lot are kicked to the curb.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #16 VotesForCows A year ago
    @cldmstrsn Terrible news to further darken your week - I've sort of given up on SF, at least for now! Playing two different RPGs at the moment, and juggling work, moving house, etc. I'll give you a shout if I ever get back on the horse though!
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #17 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @VotesForCows Sounds good! good luck on the move.
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  • Avatar for reptilio #18 reptilio A year ago
    I am reeling from the election. I haven't been able to pick up a newspaper or pull up a traditional news site since it was obvious who was going to win (I guess I can't avoid the fact even here, though). I have a feeling the sense, somewhat of escapism, described here in the article is going to be a valuable source of sanity over the next 4 years.
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  • Avatar for rottendevice #19 rottendevice A year ago
    I just wish the nation weren't so divided. The election ended. We can't change things now.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #20 VotesForCows A year ago
    @rottendevice Well there may be a parallel here in the UK. The referendum to leave the EU was bitterly contested, and even split some families up. But those of us who voted to stay in the EU are now starting to make efforts to get the best outcome we can out of leaving the EU - like you say, its a fact now, and we all have to get on with it.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #21 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    This was an uplifting read. I've been feeling like shit after Trump's win. It's forced me to look at my own beliefs and wonder if I've been wrong about people this whole time and my mind has wandered into dark places.

    But this reading this article, it reminds me that people made this game: cooperation, being kind to one another, respecting life in all forms, these are all values built into this game and all are values that the developers share. Sometimes you find good in odd places.

    Like Hillary said in her concession speech, "Never get tired of doing the right thing...because it's worth it." The next four years may be hard but I'm going to do my best to live by those words.
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  • Avatar for RunnersDialZero #22 RunnersDialZero A year ago
    Beautifully written, and worth revisiting. I just got my wife into this game, and it's such a nice break not only from the usual, but as stated here, the state of the world. Great stuff. Nobody but Nintendo could take this much charm and ideas so mundane, for lack of a better word and make it so meditative and captivating.
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