Musings about Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Digital Version) came out last Friday for the Nintendo Switch, and I purchased it on Saturday morning with some apprehension.

Whoever that chose the release date must be doing summersaults for their good luck at picking a release date that directly coincided with the “Shelter in Place” policies streaking through the nation as direct consequences to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The game is filled with naked (raccoon) butts, uncompensated labor, deforestation, capitalism, and fellow island-dwellers with absolutely no sense of personal space. And yes, I’m completely obsessed.

I bought the Nintendo Switch last Wednesday, and it’s my first ever gaming console. Having never played any Social Sim Games other than during my brief stint with the Sims on my iPad back in college, I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it. I like puzzle games (like Dots, Tetris 99, and 2048), but have never been a board games or “sims” person.

Well, from the hours logged with the game in the past five days, I think there’s any question; If I don’t “like” it, I’m at least “addicted” to it. I don’t even know why.

I’ve had some thoughts about my first sims game (that’s not the Sims), and while I feel like I am finally joining a cult of people who lead a life previously foreign to me.

The Setting is Ironic

The first thing that stood out to me from the get-go was the irony of the “staging” of this game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is set in a deserted island so that players can “get away” from life and create a relaxed and isolated “new life” for themselves.

The irony rests in the fact that, as far as I can see, many of my friends bought Animal Crossing to socialize during the self-quarantine because we aren’t able to go out and hang out in person.

COVID-19/Coronavirus isolated us, so to cope with our sudden Social Isolation, we are turning to digital games. But turns out, the premise of the game we turned to is that we want to get away from society.

Talking to Naked Butts

Every day, I go into my shop, and talk to two raccoons wearing only half aprons, brandishing their naked butts. It’s weird. It’s really weird.

Like, I’m pretty sure they wear clothes at all other times in the game?

Freelancer Trauma

The leader, Tom Nook, keeps on asking for free labor. Every time he says something like, “Oh! I’ve just contracted for three more people (animals?) to come move to our island! This is fabulous! (So much income!) … Oh! But silly me! I promised them all FULLY FURNISHED HOUSES FOR FREE! … Will you help out? (You’ve got nothing better to do anyways, right?)” I get the heebie jeebies remembering how you get pushed around for uncompensated labor and products as a freelancer.

Especially because I had to pay for my own home and build my own furniture… Why are these people getting this for “free”? Did they pay for it? If they paid for it, why am I not getting paid for it? Why is Tom Nook pocketing all the profits and then handing me some flimsy pieces of wood as a token of appreciation??

This is epitome of how the outsourcing pyramid works!!!!!!

There’s also an Owl who wants me to continue donating valuable assets for free for his collection… And I’m supposed to be happy to donate them just for the satisfaction of seeing his collection expand… What! Exposure don’t pay the bills!

Environmental Catastrophes

The mini-quests are so weird and unsettling to me, because you are basically going to an uninhabited (and untainted) island and encouraged to strip it of its resources before flying back. I spend a good chunk of an hour every day directly participating in deforestation (and then planting saplings everywhere like that makes it any better).

I’m making countless trips to small islands, rich with nature, and leaving them all with every last bit of valuable natural resource sucked out of them. The game is so cute in its graphics, but so gory in its implications.

Hardcore Capitalism

I was really surprised when I was handed a fake iPhone to keep track of my tasks, messages, and skills. I was even more surprised when I was presented with what is essentially Credit Card Milage Programs. What I do in real life with my credit card points is happening in a video game that seems like they are meant for children.

They encourage you to spend money for points, and gives you ways to fulfill categories of tasks to get more points that you can transfer to items or trips.

They provide you almost unlimited lines of credit, and keeps on encouraging you to taking out more and more money to upgrade your home. Capitalists! Tom Nook!!

The moment you pay off a debt, they’re taunting you with more shiny things and more debt. The Hedonic Treadmill is live and well in this digital world! And it’s not calming at all!

Doing Chores

I hate chores. In real life, I try to do as little chores as possible. And yet, I’m spending hours every day weeding, chopping wood, planting trees, watering plants, and building furniture.

As you probably know by now, I take daily walks (yes – I keep my Social Distancing etiquette of 6 feet at all times). When I first began playing the game on Saturday, I saw a lady on my walk weeding and pruning a garden.

My first thought was, “Oh – I guess she didn’t want to spend $60 to weed her digital yard, so she’s doing it in person instead.” My husband’s response was, “That’s her job!!!!”

Nosey Neighbors

Your neighbors have absolutely no sense of personal space. They just walk right up to you and start talking, or walk into your house without asking for permission.

Fresh View

Because this is my first video game, and also my first time playing Animal Crossing, I had a lot of thoughts. I had no idea what to expect, but the game has definitely proven to be a lot more complex and “dark” than I expected.

It’s “too real” in so many ways, but also painfully naive (0% interest on all loans?). I’ve spent way too many hours playing it, but I think what will keep me coming back for a while is that every day, there are new developments. And it’s definitely somewhat of a puzzle game.

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Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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