Nintendo's Animal Crossing series of games provide some of the most personalized experiences in video gaming. Playing an Animal Crossing game casts players as the newest resident of a town after which the town grows and changes based on player action and input. Stop playing, however, and conditions in town deteriorate. Everyone's Animal Crossing experience is distinct. That's why it's so damn depressing to move into someone else's town long after the original player has abandoned it. Just ask Joey Davidson at TechnoBuffalo what it's like to take over someone's long-forgotten town, as he recently bought a used copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World and had to deal with a dead village.
I bought a used copy earlier this week. Rather than delete the save file within and start my village from scratch, I decided to see what the previous owners had done before trading the game. The sadness of the traded town was more overwhelming than I could have imagined. Firing up the game for my first brief session meant I was made to walk through a virtual wasteland covered in weeds and, believe it or not, garbage.
As I made my way around Philly, I was approached by each resident and asked the same basic question: where the heck had I been. Rob and Joey hadn’t visited Philly in more than 60 months, one particularly cranky duck told me. The result was a dilapidated city and a host of very lonely villagers.
What made me turn the game off, though, was something that I honestly didn’t think would bother me. Villagers in Animal Crossing send players correspondence from time to time. Since Rob and Joey had traded their game in, the villagers had taken time to send them each a batch of letters. The subjects of those letters? They’d moved.
I've wiped out my share of saved data on used and rented games over the years, but I've never known a genre that makes me feel bad about that practice like RPGs. For instance, when I rent an RPG, I become choosy about which data I delete. My general rule is to delete the save file that has the least amount of progress on it. You know the type; there's always one save file that's finished the game with near 100% completion, a second file that's about 40% of the way through the game, and one pathetic attempt that gave up after seven minutes. When it comes to time sunk into a game, I respect effort. Quitters find their data deleted (not that they'd care, I bet). When I buy a used game, however, I purge everything. The game in question is mine now, and I have no desire for the previous owner's data to stick around like an old bookmark inside a used book. Of course, with the rise of saving data to console instead of a cartridge's internal memory, this kind of thing is on the way out, but in the meantime we can continue to peep into abandoned towns and forgotten quests for a little while longer (and then delete them!).