The AIAS (Academy for Interactive Arts and Software) is an industry group whose membership is made up of working game industry professionals. And every year, they award Interactive Achievement awards in a peer-voting process in a number of categories. Guess what the “Best Console RPG of 2003” was?
Guess who the runner ups were?
Animal Crossing beat out Squaresoft’s Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X. It beat out KCET’s Suikoden 3 and Media Vision’s Wild Arms 3..
Now, there’s no accounting for taste, and obviously there are gonna be people out there who have their own ideas about what should’ve happened that year. But the mere fact that enough industry professionals approved of the game to place it in consideration should speak volumes, not to mention the fact that it actually won. And, let’s face it, they’re all winners to have gotten that far. (Oh geez, that sounds like something my mom would say!)
Now, some of you are thinking, “This is an outrage! Animal Crossing isn’t even an RPG!” I could say that it focuses on the role-playing aspect of the game, forcing you to interact with your fellow townsfolk as you build relationships and set and achieve your own open-ended goals. After all, not all RPGs have to about killing things. Innocent woodland creatures being slaughtered wholesale is NOT what marks an RPG.
But someone once said “An RPG these days, quite frankly, is what a company actually says is an RPG.” …Okay, that was Duke Otterland from the message boards responding to a classic editorial about the difficulties in defining what an RPG is. But for all intents and purposes, his answer worked for the AIAS, and it should work for us. RPGs have sort of become a catch-all for games that have a focus on npc interaction and/or story without fitting into any of the other genres. Heck, Harvest Moon, a “Farm-Simulation” is covered by RPGamer. So why shouldn’t Animal Crossing be welcomed into the same fold too?
But after trudging through the uselessness of trying to outright exclude certain games from being worthy of the RPG moniker, we come to another question. Is Animal Crossing a game?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that Will Wright, the Sim-Master himself, doesn’t believe his own titles are technically “games.” The reasons he gives is that there are no clear objectives, no way to win, and no way to lose. Animal Crossing has no clear objectives, no way to win and no way to lose as well.
Thankfully, the AIAS doesn’t have the word game anywhere in it’s name, so they don’t need to worry about this. But let’s think practically for a second. If Animal Crossing is designed to provide fun, and succeeds, does it not qualify in layman’s terms as a game? Would calling it “interactive software” change it’s nature? No. I’d argue that it’s really splitting hairs once you have something that’s meant to be fun, but is lacking a clear way to win or lose.
Heck, look at Tetris. Is that a game? You can’t really win at Tetris can you? Yet we freely acknowledge it as one of the most successful games in history! And let’s not forget, so many of the first arcade games lack winning objectives, just keep playing pac-man until you die and record your high score.
Bah, this is really a moot issue too.. Animal Crossing can be considered a game for all intents and purposes, and until the industry can adopt a “not-an-RPG-but-focuses-on-story-and-character-relationships” genre, then Animal Crossing will have to stay labeled as an RPG as well then.
So when confronting the astounding idea that Tidus and Yuna were really outdone by low-poly anthropomorphic characters who run errands and write and receive mail and lose their toothbrushes and ask you to find it for them… it really is a moot point to consider whether Animal Crossing can be considered an RPG, or even considered a game.
It’d be better to ask what qualities a game needs in order to win Best RPG 2003 from a series of game industry professionals?
Or, for that matter, to win the AIAS’ Interactive Achievement Award for Best Game Design 2003, or for Innovation in Console Gaming 2003. Care to hazard a guess as to what game won those awards?