What Do You Do in Animal Crossing?

I really fucken hate this question.

Pretty Much Everything You Do in Animal Crossing

“What do you even do in Animal Crossing?

I’ve heard that question a lot since the game’s release. Part of me is annoyed at the skepticism here — that it’s just so unfathomable that a simple, slow game with no definite goals has become so popular.

And then, part of me really understands the question. To those of you who’ve seen your friends, roommates, people sitting at the barstool next to you, pull out their Switch and seemingly do nothing for an hour, or two, or four — I really do understand why you’re so confused. The game is, after all, simple. And slow. And there’s no goals it really sets out for you.

So, to break it down kind of bluntly, I’m putting together a quick list of what your friend sitting next to you is doing on their Switch instead of holding a conversation with you.

  • Willingly move into some remote hellhole with two other suckers
  • Pay off house debt to the raccoon who organized this remote island home
  • Upgrade house — pay more raccoon debt
  • Get more neighbors
  • With the neighbors: talk to them, give and receive gifts, write them letters
  • Buy and sell stuff from the raccoon’s twin sons
  • Buy clothes from hedgehog sisters who had a very sad childhood
  • Collect decorative items (by making them DIY style or getting them by other means)
  • Go fishing
  • Catch bugs
  • Dig up fossils
  • Donate new fish, bugs and fossils to an owl who talks too much
  • Interact with daily visitors
  • Play the seasonal events
  • Design your island
  • Visit other islands

And yeah, that’s mostly it. Badass. At least, I think so. I think New Horizons has been the best thing this year — and it’s kind of hard to explain why I’ve put more than 400 hours into it, but for all the fun of it, I’m going to try.

The Appeal of Animal Crossing

There are no monsters to kill. There’s no minigames. And the only timer running is the one on your microwave.

I’m not some PR rep for New Horizons or Nintendo, nothing like that. I just assume that when people ask players what they do in Animal Crossing, they expect an answer that will make the game seem fun. I can’t say my answer is convincing, but at least I can tell you why I think the game has gotten so popular.

Aesthetic

The game is relaxing. The designs are cute, and the dialogue is 14 times faster than the game itself. I’ll say that because the game is so slow, it can be stressful, sure, but that’s on you if you let it get to you.

It’s a game where you’re meant to appreciate the things you’ve done.

Building an Island

You first arrive on a remote island, and there’s nothing. There’s some rocks, a few flowers, and trees. Some of those trees have fruit, but that is all.

And that’s where you start. Everything after that is on you. Your neighbors don’t help. If there’s a beach ball on the sand, it’s there because of you. An orchard behind your house — because you planted it.

Pride

When people ask me what makes Animal Crossing fun, what I usually end up saying is pride. Maybe I say that because I’ve gotten through the main storyline — where Tom Nook (that raccoon I mentioned) asks me for money for house upgrades, and where Isabelle (a dog who tells me how good my island is on a hyper-specific scale of 1-5 stars) presses me for higher ratings so another dog can come play a guitar on my island every saturday. 

Now that all that’s over and done, what keeps me playing New Horizons is the fact that the best part of the game is after the ending. I set goals for myself, what I want to design or whatever, and there’s some feeling of pride when I meet those goals after days, weeks, or months. 

Animal Crossing is a slow game — but that’s what makes things worth doing.

Understanding New Horizons

I guess what I really hate about that question is the fact that Stardew Valley and Minecraft don’t get the same backlash. I mean, yeah, you can mod the hell out of Minecraft to do whatever, but the combat at its core fucken blows and other than that, it’s just a world-design game also.

People are playing New Horizons to relax, to improve a world they built, and to accomplish things they set out to accomplish. And really, that’s what people want out of life. But those things are hard to do in life, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that people want those same things from a video game.

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