Jesper Juul and “Animal Crossing”

Blog Post Type B: ChatGPT first, then me

ChatGPT Prompt: “Write a 250 word blog post discussing if ‘Animal Crossing New Horizons’ fits into casual gaming, using the characteristics of casual games outlined by Jesper Juul in his book ‘A Casual Revolution : Reinventing Video Games and Their Players'”

Title: Is “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” Truly a Casual Game?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is often hailed as a casual game, but when examined in light of Jesper Juul’s characteristics of casual games outlined in A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players, it becomes apparent that the game might not fit the mold entirely.

Accessibility and Simplicity:

Juul asserts that casual games should be accessible and simple. Animal Crossing certainly boasts a user-friendly interface and charming aesthetics, but the game’s mechanics and intricacies, such as hybrid flower breeding or island terraforming, can be surprisingly complex and demanding.

Short Play Sessions:

The game does encourage shorter play sessions, making it manageable for people with limited gaming time. However, Animal Crossing can also become time-consuming, especially when players strive to create and maintain an elaborate virtual world.

Low Consequences for Failure:

While Animal Crossing is forgiving in terms of failure, it lacks the clear objectives or challenges typically found in casual games. It is more open-ended, and players must set their own goals, which can be daunting for some.

In-Game Assistance:

The game does offer assistance through in-game characters and tutorials, but some may find it overwhelming as the game doesn’t provide step-by-step guidance for the multitude of activities available.

Varied Gameplay:

Animal Crossing does offer diverse activities, but it doesn’t always cater to all gaming preferences. Some players might find certain activities repetitive, especially in the long run.

In conclusion, Animal Crossing: New Horizons exhibits qualities of casual gaming but doesn’t perfectly align with all of Juul’s outlined characteristics. It exists in a unique space between casual and more traditional gaming experiences, offering a leisurely and open-ended world for players to enjoy at their own pace. The game’s versatility makes it approachable for a wide range of players, whether they’re seeking a casual escape or a more involved, creative endeavor.

My take:

While reading through this assignment, I was curious how life simulator games fit into Jesper Juul’s “casual vs hardcore” model, so I asked ChatGPT for its opinion, using Animal Crossing: New Horizons as my example video game. While the general aesthetic of the game makes it look like the poster child for casual games, there were some aspects of the gameplay that didn’t quite line up with Juul’s established criteria. For the most part, I felt that ChatGPT was accurate in its analysis, if a bit simplistic. 

In my analysis of the game, I found it interesting how Animal Crossing has changed to become easier for casual players to enjoy. For earlier titles in the series, in order to save their progress, players had to either sleep in their attic bed or press a designated “save” button, confirm their decision, and then wait for the save to complete. Failure to do either of these would result in the player’s progress being lost as well as a lecture from a talking mole about the importance of saving data in a life simulator. While you could play the game whatever way you wanted, the only rule was to always save your game. New Horizons was the first in the series to introduce automatic saving, so even if you forgot, your Switch would still have a backup. This change made the game more accessible to newcomers to the series and removed the only negative consequences of true failure in the game. Another fish can be caught, friendship with a villager can be restored, but data is irreplaceable. 

While the game directly introduces specific quests for the player, such as donating every specimen to the museum or buying the most expensive accessory in the game, there is nothing preventing the player from not doing any of these. These goals are not hard to achieve but involve more of a grinding approach, as well as having a good grasp on time management. A million Bells are not impossibly hard to earn when you take time to catch rare bugs and fish at certain times of day. These skills are characteristics of more developed and hardcore games, like those described in Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good For You, further complicating the game’s “casual” status. 

The charm of many life simulations, like Animal Crossing, stems from the genre’s adaptable nature. As Juul wrote, “Casual game design must be usable, but the level of difficulty needs to match the player’s skill and preferences. Contrary to the stereotype, many players of casual games actively enjoy difficult games.” (pg. 40) Those that want a simple, relaxing experience can do so, while players seeking difficulty can challenge themselves as much as they desire. The genre bends the rules of both casual and hardcore games to provide a customizable game for a wide variety of players.

Image credit: Personal image


  • Garrett Mast

    I think ‘grinding’ is a good element to bring up in this discussion. Is a game casual or hardcore if it’s grindy? Going back to something classic like Runescape, doing the various actions in the game are not hard, you literally just click to begin an action and that’s all, however you have to do that same action for real life months of time in order to level all the way up in a particular skill. At what point is a game so grindy that it becomes hardcore just because it requires enough of a time investment that its adverse to casual players? Animal Crossing NH is a great example of something I feel is still casual because immense grinding isn’t required to technically ‘beat’ the game, just to 100% all your collections, which isn’t something necessary, but gives something to work towards (somewhat like Pokemon).

  • Brian Croxall

    One of the things that Animal Crossing does a lot is probing. There’s very little discussion about all of the different mechanisms within the game. You just have to find them out on your own. For some people, this makes it the perfect game. For others, it’s a nightmare.

    The fact that AC wants you to play every day seems to make it a more hardcore experience.

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