Let's Set The Scene
Full disclosure, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the first Animal Crossing game I have played in over ten years. Animal Crossing on the Gamecube was a quintessential moment in my gaming development, and its colorful world and charming characters supported me through several rough patches during my younger years. However, after effectively walking away from portable gaming, my ability to follow the series became limited. I missed all of the DS releases, and for a variety of reasons, City Folk wasn't my cup of tea. Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and I decided to give New Horizons a try!
So far, I'm in love with the world and look of the game, but have found the endless number of sub-systems incredibly overwhelming. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I feel like New Horizons funnels me into a gameplay feedback loop. Whether it's exploring islands or interacting with neighbors, the game constantly reminds me of unfinished business, and that occasionally makes appreciating my surroundings challenging. On top of that, the new mechanics are finicky enough that I sometimes don't look forward to physically playing the game. The classic example many have bandied about is not being able to make multiple items, like bait, in a single session. Nonetheless, the game is a delight to play and a welcomed break from my work obligations during the global pandemic.
Hence, why I think it is vital for me to establish my approach to playing Animal Crossing. Personally, I view Animal Crossing games as a year-long commitment, and very rarely do my sessions last longer than an hour. Additionally, I don't make an effort to get all the bugs, fruit, or fossils immediately because I enjoy playing the game at a slower pace. Furthermore, the collecting aspect of Animal Crossing hasn't been my favorite aspect of the series. For me, it's the day-to-day interactions and sense of exploration that gets my motor running. That said, I want to make something abundantly clear: there is no right or wrong way to play Animal Crossing. To the people who power level and mine resources like their lives depend on it, you do you.
Nonetheless, there is a "wrong way" in expressing why you enjoy how you play Animal Crossing, and that's what I want to talk about on this blog. As I said earlier, I've been out of the loop when it comes to Animal Crossing for a while. As a result, I never had previous interactions with the surrounding sub-groups that closely follow Animal Crossing. And I have to be honest with you, some of these run-ins have not been entirely positive. In fact, some of these interactions have soured me on the prospect of playing the game online with other people. Now, before you ask, I'm not going to "out" anyone in this blog because that would be infinitely shitty on my part. Likewise, and this is more than what I want to say on a gaming blog, some of the people I'm about to talk about are long-standing childhood friends and family members. I thought I knew these people, but for some reason, Animal Crossing brought out a side of them I had never seen before, and I'm not entirely sure why that's the case.
Interaction #1: I Know Someone Who CONSTANTLY Talks About The Clock Exploit
It goes without saying, the "Clock Exploit" is a controversial topic among Animal Crossing's fan-base. However, I'm not about to pick a side in this debate. This hill is not something I plan to die on, but I will raise a concern that I have not seen others address. My only complaint is that people who use the "Clock Exploit" will not stop talking about it. Seriously, "Pro Clock Exploit" fans are on par with Raspberry Pi users as people who find ways to weave their exploits and experiences into every conversation. For example, when I consulted the Animal Crossing Reddit, I found the same users over and over again, citing the exploit as a solution to every question posed by community members.
Lo and behold, one of those people happens to be a part of an online chess club I frequent. And goddamn, this guy is driving me crazy. I asked him once for tips on fishing, and he will not let go that I didn't catch all of the fish from the previous month. He's even sent me multiple DMs with links to YouTube videos showing how I can reset the internal clock of my Switch to go back and get missing critters. On top of that, when I dared to say I didn't mind the Easter Event, he told me all about every single holiday event in the game. And let me tell you something, that is not cool.
Look, if you enjoy going through the hoops needed to get everything in the game before the end of month two, good for you. I'm not here to rain on your parade. What I do ask is that people who take the collection aspect of Animal Crossing seriously, to leave the rest of us alone. On top of that, I view every day as a new "surprise." The fact I now have to avoid forums and Discords for potential "spoilers" is a bummer. There's no other way around it; I'm not psyched that I now have a perfect picture of the Christmas-day event. Sure, everyone's experience is guided by the town and citizens you manage to collect on your island. But goddamn, come on people, there has to be a better way to share how you've "gamed the system," than telling everyone you know about it every single day.
Interaction #2: The Family Friend Who Gave Me Crap For Not Having All The Fruit
I want to address my earlier point about me only playing this game for about an hour per day. I understand that it may not seem like a ton of time, and that's because it is. However, I do want to mention I am a full-time teacher when I'm not moderating this website. And if you wanted to know, "Distance Learning" isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world to develop or administer. Instead, I'd argue this is the hardest I've ever worked, day-to-day at least, for my profession. However, this isn't a contest, and I know others are working around the clock to make daily comforts in society possible during this pandemic.
How any of this information relates to Animal Crossing is simple: my town is mostly a mess because of my inability to play the game for long swaths of time. Weeds still litter the fields of my island, and there's a distinct lack of foliage wherever I go. Again, I want to make it clear that if you have turned your island into a teeming metropolis or manicured wildlife reserve, you are fantastic! I will not deny scouring Twitter and fawning over your majestic works with envy. However, I'm proud of being able to "tame" one corner of my island as nature continues to reclaim the rest of my map. It's not a lot, yes, but it's what I've managed to accomplish given these trying times. And I think I'm afforded that sense of pride.
So, color me a bit peeved when I let some of my personal friends on my island, and they would not stop talking about my lack of upgrades. I warned them that I hadn't been able to put in a ton of time into my town. Nonetheless, the first thing someone said was a snide remark that I did not have any peaches on my island. If you must know, I held my ground and said I'd get around to collecting the fruit on my own time. As I said that, each of them dropped fruit I was missing next to my house, and the rest of the session became an elongated quest to see what else I was missing in the game. This ordeal went on for about ten minutes, and I think we can all agree you should NOT be these people to anyone. The world of New Horizon is self-absorbing and occasionally awe-inspiring. To many, it's the only part of their day-to-day routine they maintain full control over. Nonetheless, you should never assume everyone you know can dedicate the same amount of time to their tropical abode, and that's certainly the case with me.
Interaction #3: I Posted An Image Of My House On Facebook And Had Multiple People Give Me Shit About My House
I understand the most likely response to this blog is to recommend I be more careful about who I interact with when it comes to video games. It's a fair point, but I want to reiterate that all of the people I interacted with were friends and family I was acquainted with for years. I didn't brazenly post my Switch ID as a random post on an online forum. Furthermore, most of the people who have set foot on my island are my own family. Which reminds me, be careful about which members of your family you share your island with because my experiences almost sent me into a fit.
I want to say I'm careful about who I friend on Facebook. Given my line of work, I have to be vigilant. So, for the most part, the only people who see my Facebook are close friends and family. On a whim, I decided to share a screencap of the exterior of my house. The first three comments, all boiled down to people giving me shit about how my house wasn't fully upgraded. Two of those three comments came from my extended family. I felt so bad I ended up deleting the picture. I know the intent was to be humorous. Trust me, I know my family. That said, after everything proceeding me posting that image, I finally just had enough. I didn't have the energy to stand by my way of playing Animal Crossing. If I wasn't safe to network my slow but steady approach on Facebook, then there's probably nowhere for me to share my island.
Before we move on, I want to underscore that family-induced anxiety is a real thing, and I don't want a mostly humorous blog about Animal Crossing to make light of that issue. I still maintain an incredibly healthy relationship with my family, and that's something I am eternally grateful for every day I wake up in the morning. I know that's a privilege not everyone has on this site, let alone around the world. Hell, despite this "incident," this pandemic has brought me closer to some of those very commenters that convinced me to stop playing Animal Crossing online. Indeed, I wish the circumstances were different, but in the end, my family comes before a fun game with anthropomorphic animals.
My Final Takeaways
At this point, I've realized that Animal Crossing works on the same systems as mobile games. The only difference with Animal Crossing is that the solution to its roadblocks is to dedicate even more of one's time to get back into one of its myriad of Skinner Box sub-systems. Mercifully, it's designed to not sucker more money out of its audience outside of its initial asking price. All the same, every time you fall off a positive feedback loop, your experience sucks shit. My driving theory is that because of that, people take the Animal Crossing games seriously, and I mean REALLY SERIOUSLY.
As such, I've just come to terms with the fact I will never play New Horizons with other people. It doesn't help the networking options are GARBAGE, and Nintendo's Draconian online policies are bananas. But in the end, my messy little island was always for me in the first place. Once I closed off my island from the outside world, I finally felt like I could appreciate it more. My paltry few neighbors didn't become an indictment against my lack of time. My lack of amenities stopped being an embarrassing point of contention. And in the end, if I love my weed-covered underdeveloped island, isn't that all that matters?