Animal Crossing, Delayed Gratification, and the Appeal of Waiting Simulators

Every Animal Crossing game is full of things I’ll never see. There are bugs I’ll never catch, items I’ll never buy, and events I’ll never experience. This is a problem of my own making — I’ve been known to abandon towns wholesale — but it’s still incredibly frustrating. Animal Crossing dishes out its content at an incremental rate, and I can’t stay invested long enough to see it all.

At the same time, delayed gratification is what makes Animal Crossing so entertaining. I love the way it feels when you eventually unlock the hair salon, or when a longed-for item finally shows up in a shop. I’ve never been tempted to time travel or save scum — these games are at their best when they’re experienced exactly as they were meant to be experienced.

Animal Crossing is part of a genre I like to think of as waiting simulators — games in which anticipation is a core part of the appeal. In games like these, you can get as much enjoyment out of waiting for something to happen as you do from playing the game itself.

animal crossing gamecube

Animal Crossing might be the only example of a waiting simulator done well — after all, its closest companions are Facebook games and crappy social sims. No other game has mastered the art of giving gamers something to look forward to.  Its delays almost never feel forced. Waiting for things in its virtual world is just as exciting waiting for things in the real one.

There are plenty of other things that make Animal Crossing great, like the hilarious dialogue and kickin’ K.K. Slider tunes. But the skillful way in which it defers gratification is what really gives the game its magic. When I’m under Animal Crossing‘s spell, all I can think about is checking my shops and digging up new fossils. The slim chance of something special happening is what motivates me to turn on the game each morning.

I wish I was better at sticking with Animal Crossing, and I wish there was an easier way to enjoy everything it has to offer. Still, instant gratification is something I never want in an Animal Crossing game. Animal Crossing is all about waiting, and sometimes, waiting can be pretty fantastic.

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