I have joined the Animal Crossing party quite late, in the second half of 2023, although I had been considering beginning my adventure on a tropical island for quite some time. I can honestly say that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a unique game and one that I will probably play for many years to come. What made is so special for me?
First of all, Animal Crossing is beautifully uncompetitive. In a world dominated by ever-present rankings, competition and rivalry Animal Crossing takes a firm stand in the domain of peaceful, casual gaming. It shows that a game can be successful without a leaderboard and without putting the constant pressure on players. It is a very interesting approach, not very popular among modern titles, which often use rankings as a way of increasing players’ engagement. I believe that Animal Crossing approach is more fulfilling and adequate, though. In a world dominated by the constant desire to be the best at all cost there is something inspiring in an approach focused on cooperation and sharing common values.
One way in which Animal Crossing shines is, in my opinion, its way of instilling kindness and positive emotions in people. All interactions with other inhabitants of our tropical island are based on kind, peaceful gestures, help and support. I cannot find a single thing that would emanate negative energy in Animal Crossing, which is simply beautiful. We need more games showing us that goodness and kindness not only have place in this world, but they can be the foundation of modern world.
Throughout our adventure on an island we help our neighbours build their houses, we reunite them with lost items, can exercise together, have pleasant conversations and share many milestones in island’s development. The gameplay is fairy simple at its core: we do not have any strict objectives and limitations. There are certain tasks that we are expected to perform, but it is entirely up to us whether we will do that straight away or take our time. Repaying the home loan, for example, can be done in a fairly fast manner, or whenever we feel like it. There are no interests and no penalties for not paying the mortgage. heck, we don’t even need to pay the loan at all, unless we want to expand our house.
As for other objectives, we can hunt for bugs, fishes and other sea creatures, we can collect fossils and donate them to the museum, we can try our luck in gardening, planting trees, flowers and bushes of various kind. We can even decorate the entire island if we feel like it, not to mention decorating our own home in any way we see fit. The possibilities are almost endless. I believe that at least some of Animal Crossing success comes from a simple fact that every player can play this game in their own way. You want to focus on the expansion of the village and bringing new animals to live in your paradise? You certainly can. Or maybe you would like to decorate your home according to the newest trends in interior design? Have a go at it. Do you want to be a nature lover and collect all the land and sea creatures that can be donated to the museum? You are most welcome to do so. You decide what you will do and how you will shape the future of your island.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the least stressful games one can play (if not the least stressful). Unironically, it makes it especially useful for adults, since we tend to have too much stress in our daily lives, and every chance at getting away from the troubles of everyday life in such a friendly environment is precious. Some games can be emotionally taxing, especially if they are associated with online activity with huge doses of competitiveness (Escape from Tarkov is a perfect example). Animal Crossing, on the other hand, makes one calmer, happier and overall more relaxed. There were many days when I returned from work tired and not really in the mood for playing any games, and while I often resigned from turning on my PC, I frequently grabbed my Nintendo Switch and played Animal Crossing even for a couple of minutes. It definitely helped me unwind after a long day.
The structure of Animal Crossing gameplay will not be perfect for everybody, though. The game is pretty open, but every day there is limited amount of resources one can collect. Many processes happen over several days, as the time in game flows at the same rate as in the real world. There are certain vendors or NPCs visiting the island only on certain days and one needs to learn to be patient in order to not get frustrated by the waiting. But that waiting is also what makes Animal Crossing so perfect: things happen in an organic way. One does not feel any artificial time gating, which is pretty popular in Fallout 76, for example, and one’s patience is always rewarded. I read that some players change system time on their consoles to make things happen faster in Animal Crossing, but in my opinion such action completely misses the point of playing that game in the first place. 95% of other games are fast paced and competitive, and so is the real world. We do not need to transfer that attitude into a game which main purpose is to calm and relax us. Not to mention that observing how things change in game can be a rewarding experience. For example, seasons on our tropical island are linked to actual seasons in the hemisphere we are located in. I started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons in Summer, and it was so lovely to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of my island. But observing how its features, weather and colours change as the seasons change around me in real life was definitely satisfying. Of course purists would say that there are no four seasons on tropical islands, and there is virtually no snow there at any point throughout the year, but it is a game, and games do not need to be a perfect reflections of reality. In fact, the games I enjoy the most are, in one way or another, quite different from real world. I use games as a form of escapism, and for that I do not need them to remind the real world.
Right now I am still at a fairy early stage of my adventure in Animal Crossing. I have paid all my home loans, but I haven’t progressed various tasks and quests much. I still have mostly empty rooms in my house and I need to gather some resources to craft furnitures and appliances that would fill the otherwise empty interior. I still need to connect all parts of my island with bridges and ramps, instead of carelessly vaulting through the river to explore the distant areas. I have donated dozens of various creatures to the museum, making many exhibitions possible, yet there are many more bugs, fishes and other creatures that still elude me. It will definitely take months, if not years, to catch them all but I don’t mind. I love Animal Crossing for the adventure, and the road is what matters here, not the end point.
This is article no. 6 from the 100 Days To Offload series.