How do you want to escape the current global situation? The biggest video games to come out at the start of 2020 are Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so realistically, there’s two ways of distracting yourself: you can either blast demon hellmonsters with big guns or catch fish, do some landscaping and sell fruit. Animal Crossing is the latter. For those who don’t know, you wander an island, shaping it to your ideal, chatting to other residents, catching bugs, fruit and resources to craft and sell in order to clear your debt to the island’s owner, a tanuki (or raccoon) called Tom Nook.
It is the perfect escape vehicle during, well, everything that’s going on, because it’s so relaxing and everything is within your control. It’s nice. And, for such a delightful and whimsical game, it does contain some valuable life lessons. I’ve certainly developed as a person while playing it, and I’d like to share my insights with you.
At least, I want to justify the hours I’ve spent plugged in.
- Patience is a virtue
You’d be scared if someone ran towards you with a big net, and so are the island’s bugs. If you want to catch them, you’ve got to be patient and creep up, select the right angle and grab them before they take off. Similarly with fishing, you’ve got to be patient and trust that the fish will spot your line if you wait just a moment.
- Eating fruit makes you strong
In the Animal Crossing universe a single fruit makes you strong enough to dig up an entire tree and replant it somewhere else. Admittedly, normal apples don’t have the same power, but they are good for your health (and keeping any lurking doctors away).
- It doesn’t matter how bad your puns are
Look, if someone at Nintendo has the confidence to programme your character to say “I’ve caught a carp! If I catch another, they can carpool!” or “I’ve caught a sea bass! No wait – it’s at least a C+” over and over until the heat death of the universe, you should have to confidence to say whatever dumb pun has entered you head. Say it proud. I guarantee you it’s better.
- Sometimes a fish is actually an egg
It looks like a fish silhouette, it moves to follow your rod, it struggles when it’s caught but you pull it out the water and – it’s an egg. A decorated Bunny Day egg. What the actual hell.
This is true in life. Sometimes you think you know what you’re getting. You struggle to achieve, you persevere but when you get it, it’s not what you really wanted after all.
Sometimes your fish is actually an egg.
- Traditions aren’t always good
Speaking of Bunny Day, I love a traditional festival. However, they aren’t great when preparations for said festival override everything else you’re doing and destroy whatever fun they were meant to create. Such as Bunny Day, the secular Easter festival, where for two week you couldn’t hit a rock or shake a tree without getting a blasted egg. All you could do was craft the eggs into items and once you’d crafted all the Bunny Day items you won a disappointing prize from Zipper, the frankly terrifying Bunny.
We still gritted our teeth and collected eggs, because sometimes we tolerate traditions thinking we’ll get something good out of them. This is not always the case.
- Think about the ecosystem
I never really considered our real ecosystem’s delicate balance until we started talking about bees dying off a few years ago. Similarly, in Animal Crossing, you’ve got to consider that emptying the rivers of fish, netting every butterfly and mining all the rocks will have an impact on the flora and fauna of your island, so you should tread lightly and give your land time to recover. You don’t want to cause any lasting damage.
Oh, everything just respawns? Grand, I’ll keep catching everything in sight and selling it for sweet, sweet Bells.
- One person’s trash is another’s treasure
While fishing, you’re likely to come across tin cans and rubber tyres. These can be crafted into items but are more easily sold as rubbish. I, however, am obsessed with making succulent plants from weeds and cans. I don’t know why but it’s rather pleasing. Consequently, my boyfriend has stopped selling his trash and started leaving the cans he finds right outside my house as an offering. Love, eh?
- Accepting gifts from strangers is fine
The worst that can happen is you have two of the same t-shirt. No problem really.
- We are all slaves to capitalism
Here’s a biggy. Everything you do on the island stems from the need to pay back the debt of your tent to Tom Nook. And once you’ve done that, he builds you a house. And then, surely you want to upgrade to a bigger house? Another room? That smooth-talking raccoon gets you every time. Even island amenities like stairs and bridges you have to pay for. But we want to. We agree to his loans because we like what we get, and crucially, it seems easy to earn enough Bells to pay back. And we keep working because we enjoy it – shaking fruit off trees and catching butterflies gives an instant result and is much more enjoyable than the majority of jobs in real life. We see that we get what we want, but we also enjoy the act of grinding.
Debt becomes almost a background noise. Unlike in reality, these debts can be paid off. And as far as moneylenders and landlords go, Tom Nook is actually pretty good: there’s no interest on his loans, no repayment timetable, and you do see exactly where the cash goes on the island.
Don’t get taken in though, he’s still a major capitalist who enforces a monopoly.
- If you want to escape your past, find a deserted island and establish a megalomaniac empire
So, Tom Nook. We know very little about the businessman who owns the island and a limitless supply of resources. For example, it’s unclear whether Timmy and Tommy, the tanuki children who run the shop, are his sons, nephews or employees. He has claimed the latter, but they look exactly like him.
Timmy and Tommy are clearly related to Tom Nook. He’s taken these children – perhaps to escape an ex-wife, allegations of fraud, mafia retribution or he simply kidnapped them – moved them to a deserted island and put them to work. True, they look happy, but so would you if it was the only life you’d known.
Tom Nook even controls the sole way of getting on and off the island: you can only leave by plane, and you have to buy that ticket from Nook using Nook Miles. A currency he has invented. Sure, Dodo Airlines isn’t a Nook company, but I bet if you go through the accounts you’ll find he owns a controlling stake, or has some blackmail material on Orville the receptionist and Wilbur the pilot.
No-one can enter the island without Mr Nook knowing. He’s master of all he surveys and can stop any vestiges of his dark and bloodsoaked past following him here. Timmy and Tommy are trapped, and couldn’t escape even if they wanted to.
Just like you.
But you don’t want to leave, you’re a willing accessory to Nook’s fantasy island kingdom. It’s set up so you’ll have a lovely time, but if you think you’re in control of yourself here, you’re wrong.
You might decide how to spend your time each day, and how to remodel the physical landscape, but you’re on a leash held by Mr Nook. Those little messages “There’s not enough space to place something here”? It’s subtle, really. You enjoy the freedom that the raccoon behind the curtain allows you. Gently, he limits you, directs you so you don’t deviate from the core of his design, until one day, his plan for a Nook World Order will be put in motion. IT’S A CONSPIRACY, PEOPLE, WAKE UP –