Animal Crossing's Time-Based System is Outdated
Everyone’s clammering to play the new Animal Crossing, the game that folks have been waiting for, especially now that most players have the free time to invest into the game. It’s hard not to go on social media without tripping over a post about someone’s village or invite offers to be friends online. Yet, it seems that in the excitement, many users have overlooked what I see as a serious issue that still plagues the game and makes it a generally frustrating experience; the time-based system.
I remember the first time I booted up the original Animal Crossing on the GameCube during a holiday. What a special time it was in my village around Halloween, with characters dressing up, presents to be obtained, and unique interactions to be had. It was a great afternoon spent with my electronic pals, giving me a taste of the magic Animal Crossing can have. For other holidays, however, booting up the game became more of a hassle. One did not simply run off to play a video game in the middle of Easter or Christmas, no sir. There were relatives to see, real presents to be opened, and sometimes travel as we made our way to whoever was hosting. So by the time we got home, it was bedtime, and there was no way to obtain those cool items or to see what my town might look like that one time a year.
Now that I’m an adult, this is, surprisingly, still a problem. In a day and age where we’re always moving and there’s constantly stuff that needs to get done, I don’t have the time to log in every day. Maybe a couple of weeks will go by when I can’t get to my town, after which the game guilts me for having been away for so long. Weeds sprout, villagers are sad, and the efforts needed to restore my world to its former glory seems so daunting I don’t bother. Animal Crossing treats its players in the same way something like Hearthstone does, trying to ingrain the idea that this game is a lifestyle. But unlike Hearthstone, I already paid $60 for this game; I don’t want to feel like the game is controlling when I should play. And now that you can’t change the time on the Switch, this becomes all the more pressing. Now you *have* to play on each and every holiday or risking losing free stuff. Now you *have* to log in every few days or feel the wrath of the townsfolk scorned. Much like real life, Animal Crossing looks to give you responsibilities that you have to return to again and again, becoming chores more than fun. Just the other day, my friend Kat was complaining to me that, after an hour or so of playing, she had exhausted all the things she could do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons that day because the items she bought, such as the shovel, needed to do many activities wouldn’t “arrive” in the digital, in-game store until the next day. The game was telling her she had to wait to have fun for no reason other than to immerse her into the illusion that in-game time was passing. In this way, the time-based system, while providing some neat ideas back in the day, hampers an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience. And what’s the best solution? To be honest, I’m not sure. But other games have found great ways of handling this.
Look at Stardew Valley. Players play in a time-based world, but each day only lasts 15 minutes or so, and when players feel like they have nothing more to do, they can go to bed to start the next day. Features like this could help still have that in-game time illusion while not making me wait 24 actual hours to get an item to progress in the activities I want to do. One thing’s for sure, the way Animal Crossing handles things now is not consumer-friendly, pressuring people with limited time on their hands to play daily or face the consequences. And I for one don’t like to be held hostage by my digital overlords, even if they’re a bunch of cute raccoons. What do you think? Is the time-based system still just as good as it was back in the day, or is it something you can’t stand to deal with anymore? Let me know in the comments, I’d be curious to hear your experiences with it.