The Stress of Playing Animal Crossing
When Animal Crossing: New Horizons first dropped, millions of people flocked to its peaceful, pandemic-free islands, all spouting pseudo-science relaxation benefits.
Of course, I bought in to the hype. Even my partner was adamant I'd love the game: "It's right up your alley," he said. "You'll never want to stop playing," he said. Well, he was wrong. And so was the rest of the world.
Relaxation? I'm more relaxed the day of a major deadline after I have ten coffees which are pumping my heart faster than Sonic the Hedgehog would.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a gorgeous, tropical island game where you run around collecting bugs, watering flowers, and harassing your island residents until they move out. But, hidden behind its fluffy facade is a gloomy world of capitalism supported by a grinding system more tiring than trying to hit level 99 in Final Fantasy XV.
The game hooks you in with just enough to keep you going: a balloon! Fruit! New fish! Oh, look, you can swim now! But, ultimately, there's only one goal of the game. To have the biggest house, full of the best furniture, and to sell goods to the capitalist tanuki island owner's two sons.
It's been touted as the game we all needed in this apocalyptic 2020, especially with the pandemic locking us all inside. Its residents talk in cutesy mumbo-jumbo, there's a guitar-playing dog, and a bug-hating bird. The game has no antagonist (if you don't count Zipper visiting for Easter) and, excluding the odd bug, no threats to your character. Hell, you can't even fall off a cliff accidentally nor intentionally. Believe me, I tried.
Animal Crossing hooks users in as a relaxing, enjoyable game you can play for just ten-minutes each day that perfectly blends gaming with meditation and fun. Yet, I find myself racing around full speed, spending all my bells on turnips, and refreshing Twitter every two minutes for the best turnip prices. There's something about the game that perfectly excited the money-grubber in me.
If I'm not becoming a bellionaire selling day-old turnips, then I'm flying to friend's islands and secretly stealing their goods and comparing my island design to theirs. And here's the thing—I suck at design! My island looks like it was put together by a racoon with the trash it pulled out of Ikea's dumpsters, with a few badly-placed footpaths to go alongside it. I banned all friends from visiting because I was so embarrassed. The more they played, the better their island got and so I played less, because their islands were so much better than mine, but because I played less my island stayed horrible.
I upgraded my house using all my hard-earned bells only to realise I had no furniture to fill all those rooms! I only ever played during the day only to find out I missed out on collecting star fragments! I forgot to log in for a day only to realise I missed out on the Nook Miles from the ATM! I log in and my favourite resident says they want to move away! I felt stressed every time I turned on the game and watched the small, bobbing island in the corner of the loading screen. I was constantly overwhelmed because I just didn't know where to start. Do I collect my fruit? Move my flowers? Fix that path? What's going here? What about over there?
For some, this game must hit all the right points for some: cute design, simple structure, never-ending gameplay, and fun characters. For myself, though, the game felt like a ball and chain that weighed me down each day until I'd watered my flowers, checked the ATM, sold my fruit, and shopped around. Playing the game became a chore more than a pleasure.
When I stopped playing the game of the pandemic, I lost more of my social interactions than I'd like to admit. But what I gained back was my freedom from the clutches of Nintendo's most ruthless entrepreneur, Tom Nook, and the ability to play something else—ANYTHING ELSE.