Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Peanut

So for the last couple of years, in an erratic, incompetent, beautifully satisfying way I’ve been playing Animal Crossing New Leaf. Much has been written and theorised about this series because it is, in many ways, unique—even compared to broadly similar things like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley. All these games emphasise self-expression, personal and community narratives, and low-pressure play. But I think Animal Crossing goes further in having goals even more nebulous than “have a successful farm” and by happening, essentially, in real time. Truthfully, although I found Stardew Valley one of the most charming game experiences I’ve had for a very long time, and I was obsessed with it for an embarrassingly lengthy period, I never found it that relaxing: I was ragingly committed to improving my farm, I worried that I was planting the right crops to utilise my resources and maximise my profits, and I could play for literally hours, sprinting my little farmer from one end of the valley to the next, driving them to bed exhausted, only to chivvy them out of it again at 4am the next day.

The basic premise of Animal Crossing New Leaf is that you’re the disturbingly human mayor of a town of strange but not unfriendly animal creatures and … that’s kind of it. There’s a vague notion that maybe you should improve things, but absolutely no pressure to do so. In fact, things will develop regardless: spending money makes the shops grow, new animal-people will arrive and open new businesses, trees will fruit and flowers will bloom, the sun will rise and set, and the seasons will pass. In all honesty, my attempts to improve my town have been grossly questionable: I planted a random rose arch on a clifftop and stuck a café in a really stupid place. But such is the gentle resilience of Animal Crossing that it’s all good.

Of course, it’s also Dystopian as fuck. I mean, when the game opens you’re on a train, and the next thing you know, you’ve got off at the wrong station and everyone is claiming you’re the mayor of their town and refuse to believe you when you say you’re not. That’s the kind of situation I could have nightmares about. And let’s not even get started on the dodgy racoon who insists on building you a house and then charges you through the nose for it. And the fact that you have to pay for all improvements to the town yourself. That is not how government works. But then I’m pretty sure most governments can’t officially sanction you if you wear a T-shirt they don’t like which, err, I have been known to do to my citizens.  Oh Jesus, I’m a tyrant.

But, anyway, it’s remarkable how quickly you adjust to the rhythm of life in Animal Crossing. To fishing because you feel like fishing. To collecting fossils because you want to build up the museum. To wandering around the shops conspicuously consuming because, well, if you were the Mayor of a town of animal-folk wouldn’t you want to wander around in a gas mask and knee socks. Or maybe that’s just me. It’s genuinely pleasurable to watch your town evolve and, now that I’ve bothered to do the bare minimum of internet research, I’ve realised I’ve done it all wrong. I could have, for example, not answered the initial questions in a way that resulted in my character having demonic red eyes. I could have not put all my public works in stupid places. I could have made paths and orchards and gardens instead of just swamping my entire town in a completely uncontrolled deluge of plants and fruit trees. And, obviously, I could start again. Build a new and better town, efficient and beautiful, and bristling with facilities, by applying everything I’ve learned over the last two years. But I’m not gonna. Because this town is mine. And feels authentic to me in a way something less hopeless would not.

And I’ve got friends here. Very dear friends. Yes, oh reader mine, the time has come to speak of Peanut.

Peanut was a small pink squirrel and my bestie. She was the first weird-animal-creature to speak to me when I was non-consensually made Mayor. And she called me slacker, which I feel displayed an inherent understanding of who I am. Though, as we grew closer, she bestowed a variety of nicknames on me, including the short-lived Sweet M, and the much preferred and Bowie-esque Major M (M is my initial in Animal Crossing). Fundamentally, Peanut was a lovely person: she was always happy, never held a grudge, and, best of all, when she asked me to do something for her she usually forgot she’d asked. Also her house was next to mine so we were like special closest neighbour closest friends: she was usually the first thing I saw when I left my home. And so was so adorable, her chirpy pinkness, that I was always glad to see.

We had good times, Peanut and me. Like when I forgot her birthday and she invited me to her birthday party and the only item I had in my inventory was a Gentleman’s Toilet. But she acted like that Gentleman’s Toilet was the best present in the world, and told she would always treasure it because it came from me. Indeed, whenever I visited her, the Gentleman’s Toilet would always be there, proudly displayed. How many of us have friends so kind and true? In all honesty, if someone gave me a Gentleman’s Toilet for my birthday I would not take it nearly so well. And I certainly wouldn’t put it in the middle of my living room.

And then, then Paula happened. Paula moved into my village fairly recently. She is a bear with ill-advised eyeshadow and she built her house aggressively close to me and Peanut. And while I am, on some level, aware Paula is a virtual bear … I can’t stand her. Her personality is a strange mixture of pushy and cloying. She insists on greeting me with yodelay, interfering in my shit (like this one time, I had a hammerhead shark in my inventory and she was all commenting on it, when what I have in my inventory is none of anyone’s business, thank you very much) and talking to me like we’re friends. We are not friends, Paula. Peanut is my friend.

And if you think that’s bad, it gets worse. She viciously stole Peanut’s nickname for me and started calling me Major M too. Was nothing good in my life to remain untainted by this damn bear? There are supposed to be ways you can encourage villagers to leave your town – but no matter how many times I complained to Isabelle (my deputy), nothing changed. It got to the point that I stopped playing Animal Crossing as much because there was Paula, in my face, makin’ it weird.

Months passed. And Peanut would always forgive me. Make some excuse for me. Talk to me with all the old warmth. But I could tell it was getting to her. And, finally, one day I started up the game, and there was a message from Peanut in my mailbox. I guess it’s time, she said. You were pretty fun to have around. I hope the neighbours in my new town are just like you.

Noooooooooooooooooo.

My Peanut was gone.

There are, maybe, about a hundred potential villagers in Animal Crossing. When a villager moves out, another will take their place, chosen at random. Even if I found a way to drive every villager repeatedly from my town, which, as far as I can tell, is impossible the likelihood of me ever seeing Peanut again was negligible.

Paula had ruined everything. Invaded my space, destroyed my peace, driven away my dearest friend, probably forever. I’ve never engaged in hostile behaviour to villagers but I wanted to hit her with my net so hard. So many times. I didn’t, though. There are some depths to which I will not stoop.

I didn’t play Animal Crossing again. Until, very recently, an update came out that … well, I don’t know quite what it does. I’m not really up for having virtual worlds interface with accessories in the real world, but that’s a very Nintendo thing to do. In any case, there are things called Amiibo Cards, which you can buy fairly cheaply in randomised packs. Each represents a villager and by scanning the card into your 3DS you can … oh frabjous day … invite that villager to live in your village. I’ve been a committed nerd for long enough that I know buying randomised packs of anything is for the birds. I hopped onto Ebay and bought a Peanut card for the … admittedly slightly excessive rate of £6.50. But it was worth it. This was Peanut, after all.

Anyway,  the card arrived. I scanned it and, sure enough, Peanut moved back the next day.

Except … not back. She was the same Peanut, happy, bouncy, overly fond of pink, but she greeted me like I was a stranger. Called me slacker again. Our friendship… the memories of our friendship … lost like tears in rain.

What happened to you, Peanut? Are you a clone? Is this a Prestige situation? Did darkness take you. Did you stray out of thought and mind? Was the pain of our parting simply too much to bear?

I mean, okay … obviously it’s a different version of Peanut.

But still. I will not forget. She is still my Peanut. She will always be my Peanut. We are souls entwined and I believe, I truly believe, that, as the flowers bloom and the trees fruit, and the seasons roll past, we will find each other again.

Also, I still need to get rid of that fucking bear.

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20 Responses to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Peanut

  1. Gillian says:

    This is probably the most adorable post you’ve written. Also, it’s the first gaming post you’ve written that I completely understood. I’m sorry about Original Peanut (OP) but at least you have New Peanut (NP) now, and that’s not a bad thing. As for Paula. I advise you to be careful. I think she’s capable of going Single White Female on your ass. Or would that be Single Tan Bear? Either way, watch your back. She sounds suspicious. Is NP skilled in any martial arts by chance?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think one of the most fascinating thing about games as a medium is the way they allow you to both create and participate in story. Sorry that sounds wanky as fuck. More pertinently, I have an anteater in my town called Antonio who is basically Cash from the Bend or Break series. I think he will look after me, honk. (Um, he says honk a lot, I’m not just saying honk for no reason).

      And thank you for reading my very bizarre post 🙂

  2. Mary says:

    *sings*

    Memmmm’riiiies light the corners of my mind
    Misty water-colored memmmm’riiiies of the way we were

    Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
    Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were

    Can it be that it was all so simple then?
    Or has time rewritten every line?
    If we had the chance to do it all again,
    Tell me, would we?
    Could we?

    Mem’ries may be beautiful and yet
    What’s too painful to remember
    We simply choose to forget

    So it’s the laughter we will remember
    Whenever we remember the way we were

    The way we werrrrrrre

  3. EmmaT says:

    This made me smile. If one can’t relate to anthropomorphized animals I’m just not sure we could be friends.

  4. Regina says:

    This is the first game post I’ve been able to get through so, yeah!

  5. Lennan Adams says:

    Awww Peanut. She’s adorable. I hope you can make some new memories and that you get a moving-on email from Paula soon. 🙂

    We have this game—I’ve started it a few times but not gotten far. I’m going to look at it again today—I forget about the DS sometimes. Oh, did you see that Stardew Valley is out now for the Switch? Another reason for me to get one :-p (although SV stressed me out a bit. It seems like it’d be fun to play on the Switch though—the portability and all.)

    I love these game posts so much <3 I can’t wait for the next one!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I also forget my DS – I have periods of time when I play portable games a lot and then I … um … forget they exist. Also DS games, or at least the DS games I have, have a flavour to them that I am not used to – I find them very charming, but I’m not used to being incredibly stressed and worried all the time. So it doesn’t feel like gaming to me.

      It took me a while to get into the rhythm of Animal Crossing but now I’ve “got it” I’m a big fan.

      Also Peantu + Me 4 Eva.

  6. Catherine Dair says:

    This gave me life while manning a table at a convention yesterday. Thank you for making me smile!

    Paula,you suck. Mary’s singing does not.

    I believe in happy endings so I’m hopeful Peanut will remember they love you.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Aww, thank you. Hope you’re having fun at the convention.

      And Paula is the worst bear. For sure.

      I have had another bear move in recently called Kody and he is not awful at all. I was initially cold towards him because of bad Paula associations but he won with me by being cute and making me play hide ‘n’ seek.

  7. CA James says:

    I’ve never played a video game in my life-born early 1970s and when Atari etc. came on the scene I was a little person and I did try the games but the games made me horribly anxious so never played. Your adorable description of your friendship with Peanut in Animal Crossings makes me curious about playing, makes me think of trying but at 40-something that seems terribly silly. So I probably won’t try it but I really enjoyed your blog post.

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