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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Time Travel in Video Games Isn’t Really Cheating

Animal Crossing, like other games of its Nintendo Switch ilk, is meant to be grazed upon. It’s designed for short bursts rather than binge sessions. There’s only so much you can do in one day of play—hit your rocks, pick your fruit, check in at the shops to see what’s new—then it's done. It’s a nice reprieve from Assassin’s Creed marathons for sure, but it can also start to drag if you play for too long. Once you're no longer enamored with the game, it just feels like a chore, and no one has time for that.


But there is one hack that can save you from all that drudgery: time travel. It’s not allowed, really, and in some circles it’s downright controversial, but it’s a loophole that people absolutely take advantage of. Here’s how it works: Save and close your game fully. Toggle Airplane Mode, then go into the System Settings and change the date. Boot your game back up and voila! You don’t have to wait 24 hours to make forward progress.

The real question, though, is whether time travel is actually cheating. It’s freely and equally available to anyone (we’re not talking about the Game Genie here), and there can be good reasons to do it. Then again, it's a way of circumventing how the game is intended to be played, so it is technically rule-breaking. But you know what? I don’t care. You see, the issue isn’t so much whether time travel is cheating (it is) but rather the reasons people do it. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out last year, it became a hot-button issue because everyone was playing at the same time and some people (you know who you are) were using time travel to gather resources and get “ahead.” AC is the kind of game where someone being better or worse isn’t really a thing—it’s about the journey, you see—and in those early New Horizons days, people were using this trick just to create images of gorgeous houses and perfectly designed islands for social media. That’s gross.

But that’s not the kind of time travel I’m advocating for here. It’s not about making oneself look like a better gamer, it’s about saving your own gamer sanity. Some of us (ahem, me) just don’t have the time to play the game as it’s supposed to be played, and pulling off a little time heist is the only way to keep up.

Lately, time travel is the only thing getting me through Spry Fox’s Cozy Grove. Known around social media as “Animal Crossing but with ghosts,” it features a fantastic hand-drawn environment and soothing music and requires you to complete quests to help the ghosts who are residents of an island. Like Animal Crossing, it advances in real time and is meant to be played slowly, but unlike that game its pursuits are more fulfilling.


But just because the monotony hasn’t set in doesn’t mean the game can magically create new hours in the day in which to play it. Sometimes days go by before I can check in on my island—and by the time I do, I’ve lost out on days’ worth of story progression and gameplay. And when you’re on a slow-moving quest that requires 10 relic ashes and can usually only find one per day, that’s devastating! (Look, we’re still in a pandemic and my world is small right now, OK?)

These are the times I choose to time travel in Cozy Grove. (A quick disclosure: This goes against developer recommendations, and it’s possible that time travel will permanently screw up your save file and you might lose all your progress. You’ve been duly warned.) I make it standard practice to close out the game fully when I’m done. If I realize I haven’t logged in for a few days, it’s easy to just move forward one day at a time from when I last played and “catch up,” as it were. Does it go against the studio’s intention for the game? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Video games are a way to rest and relax; being stressed about my Cozy Grove island is antithetical to that entire aim. Time cops aren’t real, and no one is going to bust me for cheating in a game I’m mostly playing against myself. 

Studio and developer intentions absolutely matter. There is a way Cozy Grove is intended to be played, and as a rule follower I’ve tried to play within that framework. But it doesn’t always work, because not every person games the exact same way. To me, it’s not the end-all be-all. I’d rather have a satisfying, fulfilling, and fun gameplay experience, and I’m willing to bend—or even break—the rules to get it. If that sounds like a cheat code, so be it.

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