Saturday 9 February, 2008
One of the most noteworthy effects I experienced playing the game was the affinity I felt for the individual animals in the game. Each animal had a different personality and thus related to me differently. Although the interactions are much more limited and simplistic than real life interactions with people, the characters bear eerily realistic personalities at times.
I only really noticed how much of a connection I felt with these fictional AI characters when I realized that simply playing the game could completely affect my mood. Initially, the jovial nature of the game made it the perfect stress reliever to play during study breaks. There is just something about picking fruit and talking to your neighbors with no major goal or complex challenge that is very serene.
The second time I really noticed a connection to the game was when, I was playing the game on my birthday. I was sick with the flu and nobody was around to celebrate with me. Nobody, that is, but the characters in my town who kept track of my birthday through the DS's internal calendar. The animals in my town claimed that they pooled their money together to buy me a present, which they presented to me as I exited my house. I also received birthday cards from each of them in my mailbox. Not all of the animals in my town sent me letters, however. A couple of new comers to the town who had recently moved in just days before did not send me any card as I did not make any efforts to talk to them much.
The most significant symbol of my connection to the characters came when one of the townsfolk, a bear named Teddy, moved out. I had grown very attached to this character as he always had funny and interesting things to say to me both in person and through mail. He would often challenge me to fishing or bug catching competitions to see who could capture a certain species of fish/bug first, and sometimes he would give me free stuff for my house.
Then came the day when he decided to skip town. It was a sad day indeed. I went over to his house only to see that all of his belongings had been packed away in cardboard boxes. I talked to him and he told me that he needed to move on with his life and that he was leaving town. I begged him to stay, hoping that I could change his mind. My efforts were in vein, however, as the next day he was gone. I was devastated and felt like I had actually lost a friend. I almost felt as if my day was ruined. You could say that the line between the "Magic Circle" and reality had been blurred and that the game was starting to have real world consequences. Needless to say, this game's ability to connect with players on such a personal level is what makes this game so appealing to me.
My observations of the design elements in this game will focus primarily around the design of the game system itself and not the visual environment. As explained earlier, the game is designed to emulate the real world in a miniature, more manageable game world. This game world focuses most specifically on accurately emulating the social interactions that take place in the real world as well as some other things such as consumerism and mercantilism. Most of the game revolves around interacting with the neighbors in your game, buying cool stuff for your home or as gifts for your neighbors, and figuring out a way to have a steady enough income to slowly pay off your mortgage.
These design elements are a much more simplified version of the real world, but still accurately represent them enough so one gets a feeling of immersion. The characters are all designed to be as spontaneous and intelligent as possible, a credit to the way real people interact and behave. To achieve this effect, the game uses a complicated combination of game scripts to keep track of decisions the player makes in order to adapt and learn to a limited extent.
The game is also designed with the intent of propagating consumerism, so it seems. Aside from the fun that can come out of interacting with characters and exploring your town, there is not much else to do but buy and sell things. A character can spend all of his money buying things at whim until his house is too full and he can't put anything more inside; he can save money in the bank and accrue interest, eventually with the hopes of paying off the mortgage; he can invest in the "stalk market" an emulation of the stock market in which turnips have fluctuating prices; or he can donate all of his money to charity. The financial system of the game is designed very much around the same lines as modern day capitalism.
Lastly, the game emulates real world consequences. This is achieved through a system where the game penalizes the player for playing without saving. If a player were to play, even for a few minutes, and turned off without saving, he would receive a lengthy complaint from the town mole named "resetti" telling the player not to turn off without saving. The mole explicitly explains that you shouldn't turn off without saving because in the real world, you can't just turn off reality and reload from an earlier point to try something again. This game is designed with the notion of making players responsible for the actions they make in the game world and have them live with the consequences as they would do in real life.
Overall, the developers did a good job of designing a world within and apart from the real world. You are able to play the game with the knowledge that, aside from some minor emotional distress, there are no real world consequences, yet the game never ceases to link itself back to reality by copying real world phenomena in the way of in-game consequences.