Oh to be a human mindlessly fishing on an island full of anthropomorphic animals
Oh to be a human mindlessly fishing on an island full of anthropomorphic animals
Nintendo/Mike Falco
By Logan Mahan / April 3, 2020 8:33 am

Sometimes the internet goes over our heads. Luckily, we have a college student on staff to help us navigate those times. This is Animal Crossing, youthsplained. 

Between dose after dose of frightening coronavirus news, often followed by an even more frightening dose of coronavirus news, there are a lot of people talking about, joking about and actually playing a highly anticipated, newly released video game: Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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From an outsider’s perspective, it appears to be sorta insane. There’s talk of owing money to raccoons, collecting iron nuggets and harvesting peaches in what looks to be a serene little farmland. So if you’ve been trying to make sense of it or just wondering what the fuss is all about β€” or are actually considering picking up the game for yourself β€” we’ve got you covered.

So what exactly is “Animal Crossing?”

Like The Sims before it, Animal Crossing is a social simulation game developed by Nintendo and created by Japanese game designer Katsuya Eguchi. The Animal Crossing franchise launched in 2002 and has since released four more installments of the game, available for an assortment of gaming consoles, selling over 30 million units worldwide and gaining a massive following in the process.

In the game, you play as a human who lives in a rural village inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. You perform a number of activities like fishing, planting plants, bug-catching, chopping wood or just socializing with other residents in the village, all in order to collect various items β€” fruit, seashells, turnips β€” which can then be used to trade for the game’s currency: Bells.

Bells are used to buy furniture and clothing, invest in stocks, expand your property and more. This high level of customization is a standout feature in Animal Crossing. Players can add personal touches to their home and avatar by designing furniture and clothes β€” and these DIY customizations have only advanced with New Horizons, and seem to be playing a large role in the game’s popularity.

Another integral part of Animal Crossing is that the gameplay is open-ended, meaning players have no defined objectives and can complete challenges however they choose. You’re encouraged to just mill around your village and perform the activities noted above. The game is, however, played in real-time, tied to your console’s internal clock, calendar and geographical location, which are presumably the same as your own. So the passage of time in the game reflects that of the real world β€” and as seasons change and time passes, new opportunities arise, along with in-game events like holidays or the growth of a tree.

Why is everyone talking about it right now?

The game was released for the Nintendo Switch on March 20th, seven years since the last version had been released. So while there was no shortage of people awaiting its arrival β€” Chrissy Teigan counts herself among the game’s huge fanbase β€” that arrival also came right around the time stricter stay-at-home orders were being implemented around the country. And given the open-ended nature of the game, it’s sort of the perfect, stress-free quarantine companion.

So should I start playing?

While Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the quintessential time-wasting game, it also can be a much-needed dose of serotonin in these uncertain times.

Tons of news outlets like Vox and CNN have written about the remedial aspects of playing New Horizons. The game takes place on an island β€” it’s relaxing, sunny, there are glistening blue oceans and a soft breeze blowing through the trees while you tend to your cute little farm. You can socialize with other beings and participate in outdoor activities. There are zero bad vibes.

You have the agency to expand your property and improve your village however you want and over whatever time frame you want. And while doing the same menial activities everyday will seem boring for some gamers β€” Animal Crossing is giving a lot of people something they miss dearly: their everyday routines. It’s a small chance at regaining some normalcy, and I’d say you take it.

Wait, one last thing … what’s with the raccoon?

Tom Nook (the raccoon you’ve been hearing about) is a recurring character in the Animal Crossing series. He’s been described as a “capitalist crook,” “patriarchal tyrant,” or by some (including the creators of the game) simply “misunderstood.”

At the beginning of the game Tom Nook sells you a house, but in order to expand your house, you’ll need to pay off ever-increasing loans which makes you pretty much indebted to him. Some say he’s greedy, others argue he’s a nice dude because he takes a risk by hiring someone who’s new to town .

So get to work. Start sprucing up your island. Catch some fish, plant some fruit and pay back your debts. And let that sense of accomplishment wash over you. Pants optional.