Good fences do not make for good neighbors. Not in Animal Crossing.
I can hardly make it to the town hall without bumping into Roald, the training enthusiast penguin, or the melancholy lion, Leonard, in his favourite green vest.
The community in Kokari, my fictional town in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, is filled with neighbors I love. Some have atrocious fashion, or strange accents, and are always losing things or sticking me with fetch quests. I still find them endearing.
In real life I rarely see my neighbors. Driving home after 5:00 p.m I pull up to the driveway and for eight seconds, I wait for the garage door to open. Do I wave at my next door neighbour shovelling the walk, or keep my eyes down until I can pull into the garage and close it behind me?
On one side a kind, energetic couple in their 80′s moved in from the country. They hail from a very different time and place. In the country before telephones, your next door neighbor, even if they were a quarter mile away, was more than a friend. They were the closest lifelines in case of emergencies, the only company you’d have over during a long winter, and the first people you’d look to for help during harvest.
These days I still don’t know who is living across the street. Yet, neighbors have a special place in our hearts and minds. We feel a kinship, a responsibility, to borrow tools, spare some sugar or milk at a moment’s notice.
TV show Home Improvement encapsulates the idealized neighbor in Wilson, whom Tim Allen always sought out at the end of the second act, whose guidance and sage insight brought humility and acceptance to whatever problem needed to be solved in the final minutes of the show.
Wilson, and the gag that we never saw his face because of the fence, speaks of an unspoken trust and bond we have with our neighbors. They are not strangers; they are somewhere between friends and family, for what reason? Simply because they live next to us. These strange relationships are created by hundreds of tiny moments of vulnerability caused by proximity; we can’t help but have our lives spill into each other’s because we’re always rubbing shoulders.
Even though there was a fence between Wilson and Tim, there was always a connection, an interruption that brought them together. Wilson was always doing something noisy, chanting, or chainsawing in his yard, enough noise to attract attention from Tim on the other side of the fence.
“Wilson is that you?”
That kind of forced vulnerability is shared uniquely with next door neighbors. You never hear or see your neighbors a few doors down; lifelong friends are forged by circumstance. Often just a few digits in our house or apartment numbers makes the difference between confidant and complete stranger. We make life together with the people who share our garbage pickup days and mistakenly get our mail.
In Kokari, I am relieved of the stress of a job. Instead my life and livelihood centers on being a busybody around town. It’s this freedom that makes being a good neighbor possible again. I wouldn’t know Roald was craving an ocean carp unless I stopped to talk with him on my way to the museum. There are no fences in my fictional town of Kokari, and here I always have time for my neighbors and their problems; I am everyone’s Wilson.
It’s not always convenient to be invited to a mouse’s birthday party at 6:00 p.m. The game’s strict adherence to your real world 24 hour schedule can get complicated when you start interrupting your actual supper to buy a virtual present for a virtual mouse. There is no world to save from demon lords, only a chance to show someone in the community they are special by showing up at 6:00 p.m like you said you would, with a new blouse wrapped in a bow.
Animal Crossing represents a place that only existed for our older neighbours, a time when community meant you said hello to the people who lived on your street and pitched in to build a barn together or stopped by with a card on their birthday. Animal Crossing is the place where talking to your neighbors is equally as important as the task you came to town to accomplish.