Animal Crossing and the Wonder of an Aimless Gaming Experience

Earlier this year, near the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons and it got me thinking about how wonderful gaming can be when you’re not necessarily focused on a specific goal. After all, if we’re escaping into a fantasy world then maybe in addition to the monster slaying and the treasure hunting it would also be cool to just hang out, right? And of course the answer is “Yes, yes it is.”

Obviously this isn’t just limited to Animal Crossing. It was a large part of the reason I was always so attracted to the JRPG genre and one of the things I loved about Phantasy Star IV when I was younger was how I could just run around in the world, talking to the townspeople and occasionally discovering something new. Stardew Valley was another great game where you could spend most of your gameplay experience just hanging out, getting to know the nearby townspeople and exploring the countryside. But, while there are a lot of games that focus on letting you do anything at all, at least within the limits of modern technology, few games seem to give you the absolute freedom to do nothing that Animal Crossing does and there’s something really beautiful about that. 

I think this is something that should be embraced in game design more often. Not that I don’t enjoy more story-driven or goal-oriented gameplay, but while most games are designed to be exciting, Animal Crossing seems explicitly designed to be relaxing. There are no goals beyond the ones you set for yourself (and, I guess, the paying off of debt or upgrading of homes, but those are optional), no win state, no threats and no time limits. You just sort of do your thing, whatever that might be, even if it’s just planting a bunch of flowers and having a little garden to run around in and I’d like to see more games like that. 

You could even tie it in to your favorite franchises. Imagine being able to just vibe in Hyrule or the Mushroom kingdom? Just have a collection of pots for local chosen ones to come smash for Rupees or whatever. And then you get new pots, or decide you’re done with pots and plant some tall grass. Will it get cut by the hero of time? Or will pokemon start living in it? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out. Or maybe you want to go explore the countryside without having to worry about monsters ambushing you. Meet some friendly animals, find some pretty rocks and give them to Blathers. I don’t know, I’m not the friendly animal and pretty rock police, but my point still stands. I really like the phenomenon of Animal Crossing’s aimless style of gameplay and I want to see more of it in the future.

That’s the end of the article. If you liked this one, check out my archives here, or if you want me to pick then here’s me writing about Freedom vs. Structure in video games! If you want to support me then follow this blog or follow me on twitter here!

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