Joe Fourhman's Animal Crossing
town Adamsvil. Image credit: Joe Fourhman
is an Animal Crossing
documentarian with a shady past. His early exploits in the original Nintendo GameCube game cast a darkly humourous shadow upon its typically-bright world.
"I'm on the run," his first journal entry, posted in September, 2002, begins. "New name, new town, new life. They call me JoeForever (spelled J-o-e-infinity symbol) and I have just moved into Adamsvil, a town in Animal Crossing… I left the big city and began to melt into the countryside. On the train to Adamsvil, I met a simple cat named Rover. Already I am suspicious... a cat with a dog's name?"
Fourhman recalls that he was the first blogger to portray the kiddie game in a decidedly adult style. "It's funny," he says, "because back then, nobody was doing that with Animal Crossing
. The game was still such an unknown property. Since then, I've seen a lot of Animal Crossing
weblogs that put a dark twist on it. Which is, I think, a pretty natural thing when you stick 20-30something gamers in front of a game that contains absolutely nothing dark in it. It's an easy thing to poke fun at."
While the game was geared towards light and airy play, it received positive attention from critics and gamers alike. The game involves socialization with neighbours, holding down a part-time job, collecting items, growing food, and constantly renovating one's house. It is an open-ended but complex--easy to learn, but introducing pleasing nuances to gameplay over time.
"After my first night playing the original Animal Crossing
, my mind was just blown with what I could do... even though you're restricted by how the game works But you get the feeling of 'Well, whatever I do now is up to me,'" says Fourhman, noting favourite activities included planting trees, sending mean letters, and digging up fossils. "The extension of that was to fabricate a GTA-style criminal fiction."
Fourhman played Animal Crossing
every day for 13 months. "I was actually naive enough to hope that there was a bonus for playing a straight calendar year," he remembers, "because Nintendo built in a calendar that marked off every day you played and left blank any day you skipped. I figured, fill the calendar and win! Not the case." In one of his last journal entries, posted in 2004, he wrote "I'm positive I got more out of this game than 95% of everybody else who owns it simply because of the real-time [equals] real-life attitude I had when I played it."
When Animal Crossing: Wild World
(ACWW) for the Nintendo DS was launched, allowing online social interaction with other players, there was no question Fourhman would get involved. His early journal of Animal Crossing: Wild World
started late in 2005, and took a different, more analytical direction in documentation. "I don't know what kind of creature Dr. Shrunk is supposed to be, but he reminds me of the Heffalumps from Winnie-the-Pooh," wrote Fourhman in one of his first entries. "He's a random visitor, like Saharah or Wendell (how are we supposed to know when these folks are showing up?!) and he gives out emotions. Today, I received shyness
Since picking up the game, Fourhman has experimented with creating his own content and setting up a sort of weekly "open house" where invitees from around the world can visit the ACWW version of "Adamsvil," Fourhman's customized town. "Everybody's village has a Town Gate, which is basically your multiplayer control point," he says. "There, you tell Copper (the guard dog) that you want to open your gate to visitors or just walk out and see who else has their gate open. From there, it's all down to your Friend List. Only your friends will see that your gate is open, and you can only see open gates that belong to your friends." Managing invitees isn’t easy, as the Friend List only has 32 slots, so Fourhman juggles his list, shuffling out old names to fit new ones in.
Fourhman's weekly gatherings in Adamsvil can fit only three other players at a time. "Having played the first game, it is hilarious to be standing there and watching another 'human' go running off in the background behind you, and the other players can dig holes and post letters and such, so it's like a cute little sandbox, with a limited chat interface." he explains. Players in Adamsvil can chat with each other using a text system that filters out common curse-words, or use the game's emotion system. "What's neat about the emotions is that you gather those randomly, just like items," says Fourhman, adding that emotions can't be traded (unlike items) and that he's pretty sure only four emotions can be possessed at any time. "It's one of those things that Nintendo won't talk about, not even in the strategy guide. So until I reach emotion number four, I don't really know."
"I've had a lot of repeat visitors, all people who know my weblog," says Fourhman. "They bring gifts, which everybody shares." Part of the ACWW multiplayer culture involves passing items around among those gathered. "There's a huge number of objects in the game," says Fourhman, "and you can browse a catalog of everything you've ever touched. 'Completing the catalog' is like the mythic quest of Animal Crossing."
On reflection, Fourhman thinks Nintendo could have done more with the multiplayer aspect. He says "when you have people to your town, you can swap items and patterns. And chat. And run around. But that's pretty much it. I would have liked to see some multiplayer specific items, like a jump rope that triggers a jumping mini-game, or NES games that trigger two-player games of Balloon Fight
or Mario Bros.
There's a great early quote where a Nintendo spokesperson talks at length about 'playing tag' in multiplayer. Come on! Give us more than that!"
Joe Fourhman recommends the Animal Crossing
series and hopes for a sequel to Wild World
, but insists the series is not for the patience-impaired. "It's an easy game to 'not get,' you know? It's not for everybody, because it is, ultimately, a game you play for 15 minutes a day, for months. As opposed to most games where you sit down for an hour to bang through a goal-oriented level."