Among the many dark and twisted secrets of gamers, perhaps the darkest and most twisted is that we are unparalleled connoisseurs of the adorable. Consider the evidence!
And so on. Yes, that’s right, a lot of the HARDCORE GAMER CLASSICS, the Zeldas and the Final Fantasies and the Dragon Quests and the Pac-Mans and the Portals and the Katamari Damacys and the Super Meat Boys, tickle the same part of the brain as BuzzFeed Animals. In fact, if you think iconic design plays as big a role in making classic games classic as I do, the cute factor may be a defining one in the medium.
Well, I’m here to report that the game I have been playing for the last two weeks, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, could well set the new standard in being adorable in video games. New Leaf, out in June, is the latest in the series of “social simulators” from Nintendo, and the easiest way to think about it is as a tyke-sized Japanese Sims in which, strictly speaking, you don’t have to do anything. You have a village, and you can shake the trees for fruit, and make friends with the animals there, and go fishing, and sell stuff. But you can also do bupkis. You’re not going to die from having to go to the bathroom or anything.
Because the Animal Crossing games run on a 24-hour day-night cycle, New Leaf lends itself to daily playing at different times. Let me describe what I just did in New Leaf, just this morning, on my 3DS, on the subway. OK, so the first thing that happened is my avatar, also named Joe, who has a head the size of a stop sign and eyes the size of grapefruits, walked outside and smiled. In the game, I’m always smiling. A new day! Then I picked up some peaches. Bethesda, my town, grows peaches. They are plump peaches. Then a pink, big-noggined kangaroo named Marcie, who ends every sentence with the word “pouches” and bears around a tiny Joey in her pouch at all times, invited herself over to my house for a chat. OK, Marcie! Once inside, Marcie complimented me on my kiwi-shaped stool, my tricycle, and my vintage phonograph, all while bop-swaying in time to the ambient xylophone music. Later, Marcie informed me of her plan to wear a pink tartan tee today. It’s fun to dress up and look so cute on occasion, she explained. Agree 100%!
Then I came across a baby bear named Cheri who ends every sentence with the word “tralala” and asked me if I could catch her a river fish. Sure! So I trotted over to the river and caught a black bass, which seemed not very unhappy at all to be caught, and then I trotted back over to Cheri, and talking to Cheri plays a funny trombone version of the New Leaf theme, and I gave her the black bass and she gave me a present for my trouble, which was really no trouble at all. Thanks, Cheri!
Then, because I am the mayor of Bethesda (approval rating: 100%), I waddled over to my office, where I greeted my assistant, a puppy with a ponytail named Isabelle. Isabelle appears to have a schoolgirl crush on me. Aww, Isabelle! Anyways, she doesn’t let it get in the way of her duties as the mayor’s assistant, such as planning a really nice fountain for the town’s main square, which is going to be built by a baby mole.
OK, so now I walk outside and start catching butterflies and —
DING-DONG 23RD STREET PLEASE STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS.
Twenty-third Street can honestly go fuck itself.
Last week, at Nintendo’s New York office, which features in the waiting area a Dove soap-colored orchid that would look lovely next to my kiwi stool, I got to talk to, via the kind of video conference I thought only existed in IBM commercials, three of the main people behind New Leaf.
Asking hard questions of the people who made this game is like asking hard questions of a golden retriever. And also, during the first 20 minutes of the interview, Aya Kyogoku, the codirector of the game, invited me to her village to take a tour. So I pulled out my DS and skipped over to the train station in Bethesda and before I knew it I was in Aya’s village, while, of course, looking at her and her two coworkers at Nintendo HQ in Kyoto on a screen in front of me.
It was here that my conception of the boundaries of adorable in New Leaf were shattered. The first thing that happened after I got off the train is I saw a little flag at the station that had the BuzzFeed logo, and at this point I was pudding.
“Do they know what BuzzFeed is in Japan?” I asked the translator.
“No,” she said. Thanks, Nintendo!
So then Aya’s little avatar padded over and walked me around the town. We saw the coffee shop, and the vegetable garden, and the cobblestone bridge, and her house, which was so cute it made my adorable house look like an actual rotting shanty. Full journalistic disclosure: I got, and kept, a lot of presents. I got a bushel of apples. I got a bushel of peaches. I got a flagpole covered in waving carp, which apparently makes reference to a Japanese holiday for children. I felt like an ambassador, magnanimous.
By the time the tour had ended and I had returned to Bethesda, I thought of virtual Aya as a better bud than most of my New York “friends.” When was the last time one of them bought me a present? And, once this game comes out in America, I will be able to visit all of my 3DS friends — well, once I get some, and visit their villages, where mood disorders don’t exist. Katsuya Eguchi, the game’s director, told me that he plays the game with his family, and that every night at the dinner table they discuss the progress they’ve made in their villages. While maintaining a mask of journalistic neutrality, on the inside I considered the whole of my childhood in a new and negative light.
Did I envy the Eguchi children? Yes, a little. More than that, I envied the life of Joe, the always-smiling little guy living inside my DS who was friends with kangaroos and Japanese game developers, not ironic deadbeats and boozy nincompoops. But I guess a little envy is a small price to pay for a game that literally makes me angry at my subway ride for ending. And I have played this game every day for the past two work weeks on the subway rather than reading, which is what I usually do, but reading doesn’t have Blathers, the museum dosent owl that naps at all the worst times.
So what I’m saying is that, yes, this is the most adorable game I have ever played. And I think that it will make your life happier and more full of magic, when you’re not thinking about your life, or you know, being a hardcore gamer.