It’s a famous story, but a good one. When Robert Louis Stevenson was writing Treasure Island, he started out by drawing a map – a map of the island itself. One of his biographers – I think it was Claire Harman, and if you walk away from this piece with anything it should be a desire to read her perceptive and generous book on Stevenson – has pointed out that the map looks a bit like Scotland. Anyway, he drew the map and then he wrote the book, at times the map actually guiding the narrative. The land was sacred and the words had to fit it. Stevenson!
Then he sent the map to his publisher and it was lost in the post. He had to draw another version, returning to the text and pulling the map back out of the book. He did a good enough job, clearly – the rest of us have only ever seen his copy. But still: “Somehow it was never Treasure Island to me.”
I think about this story almost every day at the moment, and not only because I am permanently dizzy for Stevenson. It’s because every day I log into Animal Crossing and I walk around and I do the weeding – Stevenson loved weeding, incidentally, and wrote about weeds thrillingly – and I pop balloons and I find Gulliver’s phone parts for him and send him on his way. And all the time Animal Crossing reminds me of Treasure Island. I like to play with the camera set high above me and looking down on everything. This is the classic Animal Crossing view, and as much as I like the rolling drum perspective of the later games that allows you to see the sky above and the stars at night, it still feels like the right way to play. All around me the landscape is basically a map. Like Stevenson I find something truly energising about looking down on the terrain. I love games that have this perspective: top-down games!