The Digital Getaway

The Digital Getaway
On our journey this week we look at the hidden storytelling tools of Animal Crossing. What may seem like a game about nothing has far more going on than meets the eye, and achieves something many other stories can't.
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This week on Pathfinder we're trying something a little different and really trying to unpack what makes a story so special. Animal Crossing has been a big part of people's lives over the past couple of months, so we thought we'd look into what makes the game about nothing feel as good as it does.

If you liked this new format of the show, let us know. We'll do a deeper dive on some of the other stories of the moment to help you get to grips with what is driving them.


Episode 3: The Digital Getaway

Ollie: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pathfinder this week. We're going to be doing something a little bit different. We're going to be talking about storytelling that doesn't always make itself so evident. When we're growing up, we're taught that stories have a beginning, middle and end. And while a fairy tale ending can be satisfying.

[00:00:21] Mostly what we're looking for in a story is escape. The best stories are the ones where you just want to spend a little bit more time with the world and the characters. At the core of this escape is usually world-building. This can be a very grand scale, like stories about Batman. That aren't just about a guy who dresses up as a bat.

[00:00:39] They're more about the city. He exists in the Rogue's gallery. He comes up against, and the allies he works with to the smaller scale of stories, like the office, which. Builds up a sense of familiarity with a small group of characters who exist in the same space when writers, directors, and designers build worlds, they aren't just giving you the context for their own stories.

[00:00:57] They're also giving you the tools to craft your own stories in your head, in that fictional world. Those tools have to be built on something you understand. Which are usually emotions, storytelling doesn't always come from the speech of a character or a narrator. Sometimes it's just a feeling created by atmosphere.

[00:01:15] One of the hardest of those feelings to nail is that of safety and comfort. It provides no stakes or fear, but what it can create is a true form of escape for lots of people. A true sense of comfort comes from being at home with your family and spending time with the people that you love. So when katsu, Gucci over 34 years ago, moved across Japan to Tokyo to start working at the age of 21 without his family, a good, she started to look for a new way to bottle up that feeling, that feeling of being home, even when he couldn't be good, she managed to find a way to reduce that feeling down into something that's injured and evolved for over 20 years.

[00:01:55] And while the story he's told does have its fair share of memorable characters. It's the world he's created. That gives you the power to tell your own stories, but also for you to build your own world. This world. Isn't very big though. It's actually a rather small Island. Your neighbors might be as annoying as your real life ones, and you'll still have to pay off your mortgage.

[00:02:14] I'm of course, talking about the wonderful world of animals.

[00:02:21] Well, let's take you through the full history of this two decades. Spanning series, much better video game historians than me have done it better. His little primer for those who aren't familiar with the animal crossing animal crossing is a life simulation video game made by Nintendo. The basic premise is you are a human villager who arrives on a settlement soon to be occupied by yourself and a number of little animals almost as soon as you start the game, uh, to Nuki by the name of Tom Newark, very kindly offers you a place to live, but also very quickly follows that up.

[00:02:55] By burdening you with a mortgage to pay off. Animal crossing is a game about nothing. It doesn't have a plot. You exist on your Island with your animal neighbors. You go fishing, bug catching, do chores, and slowly upgrade your little settlement by selling your items and paying off your debts. Every now and again, you might have someone you dropped by, but largely animal crossing is the same everyday you play it.

[00:03:19] The game is very colorful and the animals that inhabit the homes and shops around you are engineered to be very cute. The world is very simplistic, not very big, but when you start playing, there's this wave of calm that washes over you. So you're probably wondering what to show about storytelling. We're taking a look at something that by its design, doesn't have a story.

[00:03:39] It fear comes from a lack of understanding of the unknown animal crossing does quite the opposite. It hones in on the comfort of knowing that you're home, the people in it. It's because of that feeling. Yeah. The over the last few months, you might've heard that the game has become the home of everything from chat shows to weddings, to even a place where some businesses are holding, not so very productive meetings.

[00:04:01] Over the last few days, I've been trying to understand what makes animal crossing so comforting, but also unlike any other video game has that enabled people to start telling their own stories in a much more personal and emotional way that start by exploring the world you inhabit. The game is designed for you to keep coming back day after day, the game works in real time.

[00:04:20] Flowers take days to grow construction costs, money and time, and the seasons come and go over time. You become very familiar with your town or Island, you know, where everyone lives and the spots that you like to hang out in. As you begin to settle into your routine each day, you begin to relax and find a certain rhythm.

[00:04:38] You probably start changing your real life routine to play the game almost as a form of meditation. A large part of that is down to animal crossings music. Each hour of the game has a different soundtrack or based off the same kind of undertone. But depending on the hour you play, you might find something a bit more peppy in the morning in contrast to some of the more slow jazzy tunes and evening the games atmospheric storytelling goes much further than that though.

[00:05:03] Along with the real real-time clock comes of weather, that weather can evoke all kinds of different feelings from the cozy warmth you might find from being inside when it's raining. Or to the freedom of a brilliantly sunny day, the world operates very much like our own with its own ebbs and flows, which all contributes back to what we know from real life.

[00:05:22] Us have moments of escape in the real world.

[00:05:27] Music: [00:05:27] On

[00:05:27] Ollie: [00:05:27] top of this comforting atmosphere, the game begins to lay on its next ingredient. Personality. Well, the general personality of the game is very calm and serene. The temperament of your neighbors on the Island can be anything, but from fitness, obsessed lines to grumpy hippos, animal crossing displays the full spectrum of personalities that inhabit the real world.

[00:05:46] It's in those personalities, so that you find commonalities with your own friends or experienced new ones. You love your family and your friends for the way that they treat you and the stories that they tell you, you quickly begin to love and sometimes hate some of your villages on your Island for much the same reason.

[00:06:03] Is this atmosphere of personality that really begins to build a sense of home, a place of known quantities. You know, what to expect from the game day in, day out, it creates the same kind of comfort that you would feel in coming home after a long day. There's one last piece of the puzzle though, that keeps you coming back and it's going to be a little surprising.

[00:06:23] It's emptiness animal crossing by its nature is a bit of an empty shell. The conversations you have with your villages are rather simplistic. Your home in Ireland are rather barren until you put in the work to fill them up. This starts out with you collecting objects from the game world, but it's through the exploration of looking to fill the emptiness that the game becomes, whatever you want it to be.

[00:06:44] It then changes to designing different zones of your Island. To inviting real life players to your Island, for them to experience your digital home much. Like when you invite people to your own house right now, the skeptics out there, maybe are you thinking, well, why don't you just pick up the phone or invite your own friends and family over in real life?

[00:07:02] Well, as we record this, we're in the midst of a global pandemic, but animal crossing has been around for far longer than COVID-19. Animal crossing. It allows people to express themselves creatively in a way that they may not be able to communicate in real life in the game. They can show off their love for gardening, Terraform, incredible landscapes, or even just create a nice place to spend some time on a beach.

[00:07:25] The game creates opportunities for escape that might not be accessible for people at that point in time. What makes animal crossing so interesting is the storytelling tools. It uses for music to recurring characters, but it's the empty shell that leaves you to fill up that creates what makes animal crossing fell so full is because of all these things.

[00:07:44] The animal crossing is a bit different. It's become a safe place from the madness of the real world for people to be themselves. And has it even gone as far as helping players improve their mental health? Where video games come under scrutiny for promoting violence or sucking downtime. Animal crossing promotes a steady state of calm that calm and the playful charm of animal crossing recently opened up a gateway of new stories to be told inside of its world where people have been separated by distance or opportunity.

[00:08:13] Animal crossing is help to close that gap. Recently a couple who at the time were not able to get married in real life. We're able to come together in the game with their family and friends to host their wedding inside of the game. Something that at the time wouldn't have been possible for months or even years in the real world, but the game that allowed them to design something special,

[00:08:33] Music: [00:08:33] what it has been.

[00:08:38] Ollie: [00:08:38] Those who are single and have been social distancing on their own. Looking for someone to connect with animal crossing is offered a place for people to connect by hosting dates on each other's islands players have even started listing their islands on their dating app profiles. The best moments have been when unlikely people have come together to create something truly unique, to illustrate the amount of joy this game can instill in people.

[00:08:59] Let me take you through a perfect storm of a moment. To give a bit of context in the game. There was something similar to a stock exchange called a turnip exchange. You buy turnips like shares and on different days and on other players islands, the price varies. It's a pretty common occurrence that people traveled to other islands to sell their terms.

[00:09:18] One of these people was a larger word of Lord of the rings fame. He found a tweet online, which led him to traveling to a goal called Jessica's Island to buy some turnips as a great price. He then set the internet on fire by being a very polite and lovely person on jet because Island meanwhile, on a different Island altogether, Gary Witter, screenwriter of star Wars rogue, one started a late night talk show, which has been doing much better job than other talk shows during a pandemic, Jessica and Elijah found their way onto Gary's talk show to talk about their experience.

[00:09:50] I'm going to play you a clip of a moment of that interview that could only happen in animals. What a moment

[00:09:56] Music: [00:09:56] I'd do is

[00:09:57] spin

[00:09:59] Ollie: [00:09:59] to explain what's going on. Gary. This talk show is slowly devolving into pretty much everyone in the cast spinning around in circles in the middle of the late night show set, the cost is made up of a larger word, Jessica.

[00:10:10] Gary. Wisser an action movie star, Danny Trejo for a brief moment, a group of adults come together like children justice. So let's do it.

[00:10:23] The magic of animal crossing lies in connection, your connection with the world, the connection with your villages and the connection to the people you invite to experience your story. Sometimes the best stories are the ones that let you tell your own inside of them. That's what leads to the greatest escape.

[00:10:43] Thank you so much for listening to Pathfinder. If you liked this new format, let us know and we'll do more of them. You can find out more about the stories on our and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Paul finder show, the show is written by me, Ollie Judge, and it is edited and produced by Roger Morley.

[00:11:00] We'll see you next.