On the IGN Animal Crossing message boards, I fight the good fight against cheating. Like all collection-based games, the lure of cheating is undeniable. And since the game unfolds extremely slowly (in real time), the pressure to cheat is doubled.
The baseline defense against cheating in AC - in any video game, actually - is that it wrecks the game's experience as intended by the creators. As noble as that argument sounds, it isn't a very good one, as most casual gamers aren't likely to care about heightening their game experience. Much less the intents of the game's designers. Most casual gamers (and younger gamers) have a strike-first-strike-fast mentality, where they simply want to get into the game, skip all the cutscenes, beat it, and move on to something else.
That attitude serves two purposes. First, it can minimize any embarrassment the gamer may have lingering over video games in general, especially in games that use emotion and drama to create a movielike effect. ("Metal Gear Solid 2 has the stupidest storyline... I just want to shoot terrorists.") Or in games like AC, where the graphical style can be easily dismissed as "kiddie." Second, it reduces the game down to its shortest path, meaning more time to quickly get to the next game... or to return the game under the three day rental period. Both purposes have the effect of compressing your gameplay into a weekend.
So if speed is your purpose, there's really no argument against cheating that will carry any weight. In Animal Crossing, the need for speed translates to doing whatever it takes to collect all the game's rare items. There are two popular ways of cheating in AC: time travel and universal codes.
Time travelling is obvious; once you realize how slow the game is, you start considering it about three days into the game. If you set the GameCube's internal clock to a different date, AC will load as if it is that date. This circumvents the lock into real time and allows you to skip ahead to future holiday events or backtrack to one you missed.
This is where I think the game's very nature should be noticed. Animal Crossing is specifically about the unique premise of living a "life" that takes place concurrent with your real life. And unlike other sim games - like, uh, The Sims - the game is perfectly synced with the hours of the day, the days of the week, even the holidays of the North American calendar. If you were to take away that element - the anticipation of what's coming next - you're left with a very ineffective item-collecting game.
The cheater's response to this is usually the misguided complaint of "I have a life and can't play the game during every holiday." Well then you don't get the rare holiday items. That's like saying "I have a life and can't play SOCOM often enough to get really good at it." Then you don't get to be good at SOCOM. If you go into Animal Crossing with the goal of collecting absolutely everything, you're going to come out disappointed anyway, given some of the insane criteria you need to unlock the rarest of the rare. Gathering items is the engine that drives you onward, but the true mission of the game is to see how well you can fare living in another world.
Many players fool themselves into thinking they're not cheating by having the game clock time-shifted a couple hours, so 6:00pm in real life will be 1:00pm in Animal Crossing. Make no mistake, this is cheating. It's less cheating than flying back to Halloween in January, but it's still subverting the game's intent. Lots of gamers who work/school during the day complain that there's nothing to do post 10:00pm in the game. They're right about that. Most villagers will be asleep, lots of minor holidays only run until 6:00pm, Nook's store closes at 10:00pm. I mean, there's still stuff to do - fishing, writing letters, planting trees, playing NES, building a snowman, finding the ghost - but a good portion of activities are closed off to you.
The true secret of Animal Crossing is that you can play for 15 minutes a day and be totally satisfied. That's what most cheaters overlook. The game just isn't designed to be played for eight solid hours. Metroid Prime, sure... you can play that for eight hours and beat it. You could even do Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in eight hours and see enough of the game that you could feel okay in returning your rental. If you've rented Animal Crossing, you've made a mistake.
But anyway, my point is that I work all day too. I don't get home until after 6:00pm most weekdays. That means I've missed events (Officers' Day, Sports Fair) and other random daytime happenings. And that's too bad for me. But I always find time to play in the evening, usually right before mealtime. I get in my 15 minutes, Rhonda plays for a bit, and we're out of there. 15 minutes is not too much to ask if you're serious about playing the game. And as for the event holidays, if you miss 'em, you miss 'em.
One aspect of the real time clock that I really like is that it turns your entire life into a reminder of a game. I'll glance at the clock in the living room and mention to Rhon that she has an hour until Nook's closes. We set an alarm to wake up in time for the Groundhog Day event (although we missed it anyway.) I realize this sounds incredibly psychotic, but it's all part of the fun. It turns my life into one big gaming accessory.
Also, having the game guided by a real calendar means that all AC players everywhere are experiencing the same events at the same time (or nearly the same time, accounting for different time zones.) So it has the effect of building a community around the game as players talk about upcoming events on message boards. Most (non-MMORPG) high quality games have community flare-ups around the game's initial release... and then die off. IGN's Animal Crossing message board is still the most popular gameboard by nearly 100,000 messages, almost six months after the game's debut.
As for universal codes, they contain an uglier threat. The codes themselves arise from AC's unique method of providing cross-player interactivity without going online. If I want to give you a piece of furniture, I take the furniture to Nook and mention your name and your town's name. Nook effectively deletes the item from my inventory and gives me a long, insane password. I tell you that password (through e-mail or some other real-life means.) When you tell your Nook that password, he gives you the item, along with a message that the item is a gift from JoeForever in Adamsvil. And that code will only work for you... or at least, only for a player with your exact name and town.
So when you trade an item like this, the code you generate contains five bits of information: the item, the sender's name, the sender's town, the receiver's name and the receiver's town. But, there are universal codes that only contain the item itself; these codes that will work for all names. Nintendo has already publicly provided some of these, as collectable e-Cards and as a fun bonus in issues of Nintendo Power. They're even a little more complex than the average code. When you enter in an NP code, Nook tells you that you have "won a contest in Nintendo Power" before you get the item.
These codes were unfortunately leaked well in advance of Nintendo Power's publication, which sullies them somewhat. To make matters worse, some kids have uncovered additional universal codes simply by trial and error. These codes often take a couple tries to work, or they cause Nook to spout gibberish when he gives you the item. Some codes are even rumored to screw up your game, glitch your inventory, make villagers move out, etc.
The wide availability of unscrupulous universal codes has ruined innocent trading. Unless you know your trader well, he could simply be giving you a universal code instead of actually buying and trading the item himself. Or he could give you a glitch code and you'd never know until you enter it. And of course people have found codes for most of the game's rare hidden items, completely negating the game's internal plan for holidays and special event giveaways.
Regardless of how my wife and I enjoy the game, many cheaters will turn defiant and spout "I paid $50, I'll play the game anyway I want to." And that's another argument with no convincing counter. If you're going to do whatever you want, all my flowery dialogue about the game's higher meaning isn't going to go anywhere. If you're going to wallhack in Quake, you're going to wallhack. But imagine cheating yourself to maximum levels in the first ten minutes of any Final Fantasy... you're robbing the game of its ability to entertain you.
Six months later, we're still finding new items in Animal Crossing. This weekend, one of my villagers buried a Garden Gnome for me. The Garden Gnome is one of the rarer items in the Backyard Lawn furniture set, and the surprise of seeing something new pop up means much more to me than if I had hastily used a universal code back in September.
What this leads to is that Animal Crossing is a deep game, but only if you choose to let everything unfold naturally. I just wish cheaters would recognize that 100% completion isn't intended to be AC's goal - nor is it even particularly feasible.