My constant struggle between the game I love and the game that’s shiny and new

Infendo OpEd

About a month ago, I reached a breaking point. The beginning of a new year brought with it a startling reality – COVID wasn’t just going to disappear because the calendar rolled over to 2021. And so, I sat there, in my room, desperate to talk to someone… Anyone, really.

I didn’t have many friends before the pandemic hit – I had actually just started going to events and meeting people about a month before we all started quarantining. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to get anyone’s number when I had the chance.

Luckily, I have a few good friends around the world, including my co-hosts at Infendo Radio, but recent events at home meant I couldn’t communicate with them like I had been doing. My last lifeline to the outside world was starting to sever.

I decided I needed something to do that could at least make me FEEL like I was being social. And that’s where Animal Crossing came in.

I started playing New Lead right after college, back in 2013. It helped me then too, right after moving away from the friends I had considered family for the last 4 years. I had missed the Animal Crossing train until then. I was never really interested in the relaxing game – Always opting for adventures instead.

But all it took was a little time with New Leaf and I was hooked. Visiting my animal neighbors, trading items we’d find around town, celebrating holidays with them… It was great.

Then, New Horizons came out (FINALLY), and I was all set for my HD adventure with my animal neighbors.

In the beginning, the game hooked me in a big way. I had dropped 200 hours on it without even missing a beat. Now, I was never one of those players who went out of his way to decorate the island. I just enjoyed interacting with my villagers and living the life. And of course, seeing all the beautiful lighting, textures and effects an Animal Crossing game on the Switch could provide.

But, eventually, the dialogue started to get routine and repetitive, and I drifted away from New Horizons.

Fast forward to 2021, and I found myself diving back in to not one, but 2 Animal Crossing games, New Leaf and New Horizons, and starting my towns over from scratch.

Only this time, it was New Horizons that won me over, at least in the beginning. I decided to try to embrace what that game has to offer, rather than bemoaning it for what it’s missing, and set to work on designing a city on my island.

Progress is going good. Every day I unlock a new item or two that I can use to decorate my space, and I’m slowly populating my place with villagers I love, thanks to the awesome power of Amiibo. But, where New Horizons is giving me some purpose through this isolated part of my life, New Leaf is giving me what I really crave – socialization.

Full disclosure – I know my New Leaf town isn’t real. I know my villagers are just blips and bloops, 3d models brought to life by a series of pre-written strings of text. But given where we are right now, I’ll take it.

I’ve been jumping a lot between New Leaf and New Horizons – New Leaf is just so much more meaningful to me. The town, small and empty as it is, feels so full of life. Conversations, despite being over 8 years old, still surprise me.

That’s less so in New Horizons. I can talk to three villagers back to back and read the exact same line of dialogue. Yet, I find myself putting most of my time into that game, at least for now. I have to assume it’s because there’s just so much to do, in terms of building up my island. So many designs I want to make.

But I also know that in 6 months, when my New Horizons island is fully decked out and I’ve built the instagram-worth city paradise of my dreams, the core game is going to start feeling dry. And I’m probably going to start visiting once in a blue-moon, for that rush of dopamine I get seeing Coco or Hopkins in beautiful HD.

Meanwhile, I expect as I start running out of things to do in New Horizons, I’ll find myself spending more time in New Leaf again. Just hanging out on a park bench, talking to Dobie and making weekend plans with Pekoe.

Neither game is quite perfect, in my opinion. New Leaf is old and not all that pretty, and New Horizons is lacking in content beyond the glitz and glam of island decorating. As such, they’ve been competing with my time, and will probably continue to do so until my Animal Crossing itch finally gets scratched. Or until we get another game in 7 years, whichever comes first.

Gamer by day, game designer by night - Lukas studied Digital Arts in school, and grew up in the age of the N64 and Gamecube. He's the youngster of the bunch, but that doesn't keep him from shouting out at every available opportunity on Infendo Radio. He often finds himself at the edge of counter-culture (hates Metroid Prime, loves Other M), but isn't afraid to dive into the next big budget AAA title with the best of 'em. Favorite game: Sonic Adventure 2 Battle/Skyward Sword/Ocarina of Time/Zero Escape 2/You get the idea