Animal Crossing, for all of its wily charms and summer vacation spirit, is broken. Pulling you in with a one-two punch of cuddly characters and the ever-present allure of a perfect life, it will inevitably reveal itself as the true demon it is: a deeply flawed distortion of our own selves. The biggest mistake I ever made, was trusting in that reflection.
I was not always the wise sage I am now. No, there was a time when I was, in fact, quite stupid. I was stupid because the only reason I could fathom why my wife didn’t enjoy videogames was due to her fundamentally misunderstanding them. To her, I thought, they must appear as curious contraptions designed to, like a $60 Houdini, make hours disappear. Of course, that was preposterous! She merely lacked the insight that I was blessed with the first time I saw my sister punch her opponent’s head off as Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat.
And so, holding to my conviction that videogames are universal, I set out on a mission to find that one perfect game that would grant her the same revelation. The day I came home with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I could never anticipate that I would be the one with the insight to gain.
Brittany never stood a chance. That evening, she sat next to me on the sofa watching reruns while I dipped my toes into the beach of my very own Animal Crossing village. I named it Cinders. The hour that followed was a carefully choreographed performance designed to bait her as I giggled and awed while exploring my new virtual life.
“Oh, look how cute this is,” I’d say, leaning over to show her the screen of my 3DS so that she, too, could admire what Papi, a horse, had to say about apples. That moment her eyes met the screen, I knew I had done it. I knew that twinkle, that pregnant pause as neurons furiously discharged at this evocative new stimuli.
Welcome to my world, I thought.
The months that followed were, honestly, some of the most memorable I’ve ever spent with a videogame. Though I was acting mayor of Cinders, Brittany was my most trusted advisor. I deferred to her on all matters concerning our little slice of cuddly paradise.
Cinders became more than a village. It was a canvas for Brittany and I to paint on together. Even more than that, Animal Crossing became a shelter. For the first time in a long while, we felt like we had control over something. Our homes weren’t chosen because rent was cheap or because the commute wasn’t bad, the furniture that adorned them wasn’t regulated by how much money we could afford to spend. In a way, Animal Crossing represented our better – more perfect – selves, and we had total control over our virtual life.