The Pursuit of NPC Happiness: Why ‘Animal Crossing’ Is So Important

Animal Crossing

For as long as I remember, I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I really, really enjoy the idea of making people happy, of being able to do what I can to make that happen. And Animal Crossing—from the GameCube entry all the way up to New Leaf—has been a series all about being a people-pleaser. By helping villagers with small tasks like delivering packages and gifts from one person to another, finding the fish or bug they want, or playing hide-and-seek and the like, this game perfectly offers the quaint, small town feeling that everyone who’s played has noted a thousand times over.

But far and away my favorite aspect of Animal Crossing are those moments of tranquility and bonding with your villagers. Making them happy by giving them a furniture item or perfect fruit and seeing them whistle, wear the shirt you bought them, or show off their new bed in their home was one of my favorite parts of 2013, and it was something I hadn’t really experienced in a game for a long time. Or at least, not the specific feeling that I’d get from Animal Crossing. That warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that you just made one of your animal villagers happy—when you receive that letter just at random, or a gift after you’ve gone and taken care of them when they’ve been sick. They’re such little things that feel so warm and nice and happy, and it’s a feeling I can’t get enough of.

I’ve always been a person that’s put others before my own self-care. Unless I’m pushed to it, I’ll barely eat breakfast, but if a friend asks to talk or they tweet about how down they’re feeling? I will do my best to be there for them, even with just a virtual hug, and even if I’m not doing as great myself. I like to be there for people and I like to help people—especially my friends. I don’t consider myself as important compared to friends, and as a person who has a large focus on their online support circle primarily on Twitter, taking care of my friends and making sure they’re okay has been a huge focus of mine in the past year or so.

I like to make people happy. It puts me at ease to know that friends of mine are at ease, whether or not it’s thanks to me. It’s hard to say why I’m such a people-pleaser—I’m sure it’s just a general obligation I’ve felt over the years, but I do genuinely love seeing my friends happy. Being able to help in small ways like treating them to nice things when I can and telling them how nice they are—they’re all very little things, but also things that are super important to me. I love to be able to do something to make a person I care about happy, even if it’s at my own expense.

That’s why Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer feels like such an important game to me. It’s right in the name: happy. It’s about bringing different Animal Crossing villagers joy. In recent times, I’ve felt rather uncomfortable in my own house with my own family, and the very idea of being able to make a villager happy feels unlike what you get out of most video games—not just in the present video game landscape, but in games in general. A lot of games have the focus of helping other people, but it’s also to help you—to get some tangible reward out of it.

Whether it’s items or an increase in experience, a lot of games tend to use helping others as a way to help yourself. It can even be said that what you do in most games isn’t done for the benefit of other characters, but for the benefit of yourself. Sure, you saved a village from destruction, but you also got a magic sword that’s far better than your wooden one. That isn’t so much the case in Animal Crossing—and from what has been shown of it—Happy Home Designer.

Animal Crossing

While, yes, you do get items from helping people out, and presumably there will be a similar system of rewards in Happy Home Designer, that generally isn’t a big part of those games. You get small items, like a piece of fruit, a shirt, or a stroller. It’s never something that is of too much value—it’s generally something small, cheap, and easy to get, but what’s notable about it is how it’s made to feel heartfelt. The rewards of note tend to be the warm, fuzzy feelings you get more than they do the physical items. These villagers, sometimes at random, give you these items. Maybe that dresser reminded them of you, or maybe they just wanted to give you something just because you two are friends. It feels so out of the norm for games where specific tasks give you specific rewards, at least in games that have quests and the like.

I’m one of the people that had to reload their New Leaf save file at least ten times during Toy Day. I honestly couldn’t deal with the idea of my villagers, some of which I still had in my town since the launch of the game, not having the Toy Day gifts they asked for. It didn’t feel right. Each time I messed up due to guessing wrong on which things they wanted based on the clues I had been given throughout the month, I couldn’t bear with knowing that their sadness over not getting their gifts stayed in my file forever, and if/when they’d talk about Toy Day, some would be happy, regaling over the teddy bear or couch they got the night prior, while others would be sad. Not all of them would have. And even if they’re virtual animal villagers, I couldn’t deal with that. They had to—they needed to be happy, too.

I had two different reactions when I saw the E3 trailer for Happy Home Designer. The first was a basic, “Oh gosh! This is so great! I really can’t wait for it! Oh, it seems like they added some new stuff too! Awesome!” It was a very run-of-the-mill reaction when people see things they like—especially during the fervor of E3. That night, I was definitely not in the best mood, and to try and improve how I felt before going to bed, I decided to watch the Happy Home Designer trailer one more time. I figured that, since I had such a positive reaction to it earlier that day, it would help lift me up and help me feel at ease.

And honestly, my second reaction? I went from tearing up to having to hold back from crying. It felt like that was when everything really clicked for me. Like another game Nintendo announced that day, Amiibo Festival, the purpose of the game is happiness. By building schools and giving these villagers the houses they want, you make them happy. Many games may make happiness a part of some objectives, but they are rarely the end objective. They are rarely a victory condition. I kept watching it, over and over, and least four or so times, because it just really struck a chord with me. This is a game that is about making others happy. You have the opportunity to interact with villagers from the Animal Crossing series, ones you may have spent a lot of time with or never seen before, and make them happy by giving them exactly what they want.

Animal Crossing

That’s why I think Happy Home Designer is so important—it puts happiness at the forefront. And not your happiness, but the happiness of NPCs. As opposed to other characters working for your benefit, the sole purpose of the game, at least from what has been seen and shown, is for you to work for the characters. You make them happy, not the other way around. Or at the least, you get happiness from this victory condition of making NPCs happy. Happiness is a key cycle in the Animal Crossing games: finding out what you need to do to make your villagers happy, completing that task or set of tasks, letting them know and/or giving them the item they want, seeing their happiness, and a tiny reward. It’s a very basic loop, but one that becomes rewarding due to the happiness involved—mainly the one from the villagers, but it also leads to yours as well.

And as a person who needs other people to be happy, who is constantly working at making sure their friends are okay, comfortable, and feeling happy, a game about happiness seems like a very Nintendo thing to do, when generally a lot of games don’t have this focus, or a focus anywhere near it. And I really appreciate that. A game where I can be a “hero” in the way of making people comfortable, at ease, and happy is one that I am ready for, and one that has been needed for a while now. I want to be able to play a game with an objective that makes me happy by making others happy—what I know and like to try and accomplish most. I know that the end goal of NPC happiness isn’t feasible or even necessary for all games, but I feel like Happy Home Designer breaks new ground in how the concept of happiness as a game objective can work. This idea that caring for NPCs as an end goal is one that has only briefly been explored in games, but I think that it is important, as I know the sheer importance of being kind to others and making others happy is a goal and focus of others as well.

As consumerist and awful as it is, my absolute love of not only making people happy and caring for people, but also Animal Crossing itself, will cause me to buy as many of those Amiibo cards as possible. And I will be spending hours and hours—just like how I do outside of games—focusing on making these adorable little animals have the best houses and lives possible, even if it means I have to skip a meal or two.

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One Comment on “The Pursuit of NPC Happiness: Why ‘Animal Crossing’ Is So Important

  1. I really like reading your article, totally recognize the people-pleaser part! Animal Crossing is often thought of as not real gaming, but to me, it’s still the very best a game can be, so I’m with you in anticipating a Happy Home Designer. I’ve got a Japanese 3DS, but still opted to wait for the American version. Because it’s too important for me to really understand all the animals are saying in the new game. That’s a huge part of the fun, interacting with them!

    Like

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