This month, I moved into a new town. The town's name is Canada Water, and I'm not sure what its fruit type is yet. I'm getting used to all the trees and water and the way everything feels nice and new and quaint. I'm learning the roads and the shops and what to do.
In a few days, I'll move into a second town. Animal Crossing: New Leaf will arrive, and I'll use it in the 3DS XL I've bought specifically for the game. I might as well superglue the fucking SD card in, for all the good that console will be for anything else. I don't even see it as a console for many games at this point - it's simply my Animal Crossing Machine, my window into a small town that also has trees and grass and is quaint and has water. I'm sure I'll find out what type of fruit it has more quickly, too.
The thing about Animal Crossing that grabbed me as a child was how badly I wanted to be a part of it. It's the first time I had a game shipped in from overseas - Australia, specifically, as the UK was yet to see its release and I was impatient. It came with its own memory card, and I started a town called Abnoba - a town name I then transferred to Wild World when I got a DS Lite. I was utterly obsessed, and I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to play the game.
My life is very difficult right now. It wasn't very difficult back then. Back then I was a child, and things were pretty peachy. Now I've had to move out of my childhood home at short notice and find somewhere, watching my savings take hits that make me feel significantly less secure. Right now I need that town more than ever. I need to be able to stand on the shore, and fish for ten minutes. I need to dig up fossils. To reorganise my furniture.
It sounds so mundane, but that's what's lovely about it. In Animal Crossing, nobody gives a fuck if you're bisexual, no one's waiting on you to deliver on deadlines you wish you'd never agreed to, and you can essentially buy a fucking house in about ten hours by catching and selling fish. It's a wonderful place that makes me feel safe and content, because in that world the biggest social problems I have to worry about is talking to the townsfolk regularly and (this time around) being a good Mayor. In real life I have to deal with OCD, depression, social anxiety and the fact that I feel like I'm simply existing sometimes, rather than actually living my life.
Videogames have long had the power to pull me away from dark places for a while. The other night I returned to SSX (2012) for the first time in months, needing to feel the same serene calm SSX 3 granted me in my youth. It wasn't quite the same, but it was enough. I tried to zone out. I could feel the pressure of my state of mind, pushing down on me and forcing me to endlessly confront how I felt. The SSX franchise is flawed in that it's a challenging series in which there are multiple failure states and quite a lot of pressure. Even just soaring down the slopes didn't feel the same.
Conversely, Animal Crossing is warm, and welcoming, and positive, and full of curiosities that make me feel that little bit better. I'm a child of the metropolis, but sitting in my green Animal Crossing town, while sitting in my green Canada Water town, is a laser-beam of contentment I can focus on my own brain.
One of the things I like most about it is that it actually disables large parts of what make my life stressful on a regular basis. The AI of the townsfolk is straightforward. I can grasp quite quickly what they want, what they need, what sort of relationship we will have, and there's never any reason to let my obsessive over-analysis of other people take over, because it's all there, laid out on the table. The Rhino is mad. The cat is sad. The dog is happy. Everything is obvious, and nothing leaves me confused or hurt or offended.
I wish my life was as simple as fishing. I have a regular saying when I'm stressed - that I'll just move to Alaska, get a fishing hut, and just live out my life in relative solace away from all of the things and people that hurt and confuse me, able to be as obsessive and dark as I need to be without anyone becoming confused, weirded out or offended. I suppose in a lot of ways New Leaf is my fishing hut.
Come to think of it, I don't even like fishing. I don't even like eating fish. I guess it's better that a 3DS game is replacing my dream of venturing into Alaska.
Due to the fact New Leaf will run on a real-time basis like its predecessors, most of my play-time will occur in the evenings. I'm surprisingly okay with this. There's a beauty to the evenings in Animal Crossing. Glowing bugs appear, the insects rustle and chirp, and everything feels calmer, cooler. I'm a night owl myself, and I feel like my most significant moments of clarity, in life, have come after the sun has set. Animal Crossing provides me with an environment to put those moments of clarity to one side, but allows me to enjoy the environment in which they would occur. The peace of the night.
As I feel myself get older, changing, becoming slowly more introverted and drawn towards spending more time just being content and working away alone, the idea of becoming a Mayor in New Leaf is somewhat daunting. In the previous games, you were just a citizen - some kid showing up in town with nothing but the clothes on your back. You earned everything. You became a member of the community.
Now you're expected to lead it, and it changes the dynamic of the game quite significantly. Can I be a Mayor who spends his evening fishing, or will I have to deal with a cute reformat of actual problems? Disagreements, planning decisions - anything that takes away from wandering around amongst the trees with a bug net. It's worrying.
I feel like my era as Animal Crossing's Peter Pan is coming to an end. That I must mature, take responsibility. It's beginning to mirror my own life, and that makes me uncomfortable. My escape may begin to slightly resemble what I seek asylum from in the first place.
I suppose there's only one way to tell - to venture into this new town, as I have with Canada Water, and adapt. Change. Become better, bolder, more accepting of experiences in the hope it'll defuse the stress they would otherwise thrust upon me.
I also want to know what kind of fruit I'll get.