Single Player “Cheating”

The game I’ve been playing the most recently is the new Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ll be writing a bit more about it later, but something interesting came up in it recently, so that’s what this post will be about.

For a bit of context, I would consider Animal Crossing to be a fairly casual game. It has a huge amount of customization and content, and things to do, but it’s much more of a simulation game then anything. The game on the whole is fairly non-punishing. Your town will never get hit by a tornado. You will never get robbed. No one will steal your identity and use it to take out fake credit cards in your name, etc.

So when I say casual, what I mean is more or less the following: The game will not punish you for failing to learn its mechanics, and it also has no real win condition. If you are enjoying playing Animal Crossing, you are winning. You are having fun. It’s more akin to a toy/lego set. You can’t lose at LEGO’s. You can put something together wrong, or different, but you can then just take it apart and start over, and there’s no real punishment for it, except in terms of time investment, and again, as long as you have fun, it’s fine.

So…. can you cheat in Animal Crossing? Well, maybe. It depends on how you interpret “cheating” in a primarily single player game where you can’t lose in a traditional manner.

See, there are two main gates in Animal Crossing to interacting with new content. They are in-game time, and in-game money. Money in Animal Crossing is earned by selling things, and there are more and less efficient ways to get it. Time however, is tied to your game system time. And when I say in-game time, I don’t mean “Oh, wait a week, wait a day”. Some things don’t show up except during certain months. Some things don’t show up except during various seasons. So, if you’re willing to change your the time on your system, you can more or less warp around and massively speed things up, manipulate the prices of in-game items, and perform other such tricks.

For me, that feels like cheating. Right? For me, if you’re willing manipulate the games parameters to that extent, then you might as well just cheat. But when I reached out to some friends, I heard a few different things.

One friend told me they didn’t consider anything cheating in a single player game, and that for multiplayer, it really only counted as cheating if it everyone involved didn’t agree to it. Another said that as long as it was in the unmodified game, it was fine. So, for them, time travel is fine because it doesn’t involve actually hacking the game, just making changes to the settings of the hardware you play it.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion I had was with a friend who actually makes games. For him, whether or not something was cheating was heavily dependent on the intention of the game designers, and the intended role that something was supposed to play as a mechanic. He didn’t consider it to be cheating in Animal Crossing to time travel, as long as you didn’t go back in time, because, well, it doesn’t make sense to go backwards in time narratively, but forwards is fine.

I think the big takeaway for me is that what people consider cheating is a lot more varied then I had expected, even in digital games where you would expect the automatic enforcement of the rules to be automated. But I’m also surprised by how different the reasoning behind those standards were.

Woof! Long post. Less theory, more games for the next one, and stay safe out there folks.

The Tides Have It

I’ve decided to try to see if I can keep this blog updated twice weekly. Woo. That seems like it will be kinda tough, so I’m just gonna quickly talk about a few things about Animal Crossing New Horizons that have been bothering me. These are more or less extremely small nitpicks, and I’d suspect that overall, they’re not really worth thinking about for more then a few minutes, but they’re still interesting to me, so yeah, whatever.

Nitpick #1

You can release fish into areas of water that they didn’t come from.

Okay, so in terms of “Annoyed Complaints” I’d file this one up with there with “Zootopia is unrealistic because animals can’t talk” in terms of how much it actually matters, but the reason this bother me is really straight forward. The game doesn’t let us just kill fish by tossing them onto land to die, or whatnot, we can only release them with the implication that well, they’ll live. Despite this though, nothing stops you from chucking a sea horse into a lake pond, or a trout straight into the ocean. I’m not a fish person, it might even be that those kinds of fish can survive in those areas, but I feel like they prob wouldn’t do so hot. I dunno, really it just bothers me because the game on one hand says “No, you can’t just murder these animals” but on the other hand is like “Yeah, sure, cram that Sea Bass in that tiny lake pond. It’ll be fine!”

Nitpick #2

Going out and chopping down everything on a random mystery island isn’t just possible, the games mechanics almost encourage it.

I find this one “funnier” in the sense that I’m almost never bothered by content in video games.

There’s a subsection of the population that seems to think that Video Games are the Devil, but it seems like people thought the same thing about Rock and Roll, Dungeons and Dragons, reading Catcher In The Rye. I’m more of the opinion that “Shitty people are shitty people” and that if “The Youth” are being corrupted, its more likely that they went looking for it.

Point is, in terms of “Oh dear, the moral panic” I’m almost never bothered by content in games. Murder a dozen people? Sure! Blow up a boat? Why not. Kill your Minecraft villagers over and over again until you get one with the right recipes? Those books won’t make themselves.

The point is, simulated violence almost never bothers me, as does war, blood/gore/etc. It’s very easy to tell that it’s not “real”. However, the idea of just going to random part of a forest/island or something and just clear cutting it cause “Fuck it, it ain’t my home” actually does sorta rub me the wrong way. I feel like I was raised to have a certain respect for nature even digitally, at least as long as said nature isn’t trying to actively murder me. (That’s a different situation, more about Don’t Starve later this week maybe?)

There was an interesting post a while back on Penny Arcade that I can’t find at the moment, but more or less boiled down to the following:

  1. “It’s very hard to see people in games as real people, because eventually you’ll reach a point where they behave weirdly, or bug out, or start saying the same voice line or whatever.”
  2. But the corollary is “It’s a lot easier to make us care about dogs/cats/animals, because it’s not hard to make something that really feels like a dog.” If it wags its tail, run around, barks at stuff, you’ve pretty much nailed it. It’s way easier to make a digital dog that feels “real” then a digital person.
  3. As far as I can tell, this is how I feel about forests and wild places in Animal Crossing. They aren’t real forests, but they are real in the sense of the game, and to the characters of the game. So yeah, clear cutting a pristine bit of nature so I can have an extra axe or two feels bad.

Afterthought:

After thinking about most of this, I realized that it’s more then possible in AC to harvest wood and such without actually cutting down an entire Forest, but I still thought it was fairly interesting that I was more bothered by a game saying “You can cut down all the trees” and the message that it sends to our children. So yeah, time to get children back to playing Call of Duty, Animal Crossing teaches lessons that are far too dangerous about deforestation. Speaking of which, more about Don’t Starve later this week, a game with a VERY different game play loop, but some of the same occurrences.