'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' is Not the Game We All Need Right Now

In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, there is a bench at the end of your little main street that overlooks a cliff. Sitting on this bench does nothing. For ages, this drove me crazy. You can sit on the bench, which means the developers programmed that capacity into the game. Which means it's there on purpose. But try as I might, no matter the time of day or circumstances, I could never get sitting on the bench to produce anything.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jgezwk/animal-crossing-new-horizons-is-not-the-game-we-all-need-right-now
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One of my favorite quotes from a video essay last year: “Nintendo have always been good at giving people something they didn’t think they wanted yet. Here’s my attempt at that: people think they don’t want inconveniences, but I think they do, to a certain extent”

Most of the convenience changes are great, from the tool ring, to the more elegant UI, to giving options so that a villager’s house isn’t plonked in front of yours, and letting you freely place objects instead of having to go through a construction process just to place down a water fountain.

New Horizons overcorrects itself though, when it tries to make everything a utilitarian interaction like a mobile game design. Minimizing villager interactions and personalities basically makes them walking mannequins, the crafting and Nook Miles systems push you towards treating background elements of the space as resource dispensers, all of this on top of being able to dictate villager home locations and even the literal terrain of the island pushes the player to view the town more as a personal tableau than a place with any sense of interiority.

I think Nintendo listened too much to the complaints of AC being “games where you don’t do anything” and went too far in trying to smooth over any points of friction. This was a series where multiple characters would try to scam you, and the game would spawn pitfall traps every day purely as a devious gag.

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Watching people LOSE THEIR MINDS over Albert Bunny or whatever his name was on Twitter was easily, like, the eighth best happening of the past couple weeks.

Every day I think to myself, today I will play video games, and I will like them. And every day I move further from the light of Christ as I recall that video games are Bad, everything that surrounds them is bad, and nobody is allowed to have fun.

Real talk tho, is there anything incisive to be said about how quickly a bunch of intelligent, anxious adults will suck the simplistic joy out of something in an effort to create a sense of personal accomplishment and, I’m guessing, critical superiority? I’m not fooling myself into thinking that this wouldn’t have happened if many of us hadn’t been been in quarantine–twitter still would have been full of people complaining about the easter eggs, or asserting that individual campers are sapping them of their emotional labor–but it speaks to how people are shifting their discourse legs exclusively online that my TL (which is not even mostly gamers) was just inundated with discussion about how they’re falling behind in animal crossing, they hate the rabbit, the rabbit is creepy, they want the cherry blossom recipes, making fun of people for going all in on hot takes about AC, defending people for going all in on hot takes about AC…

Is it that people no longer have semiprivate outlets for this kind of discourse? Or have I been blind this whole time?!

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This is really it for me, honestly. It’s not how I’ve been playing it but New Horizons feels like the first Animal Crossing game that has finally moved 100% into the attitude that everything is “yours” rather than coming in with the assumption that the player character is an outsider to the space. Of course it’s always been a game and you could argue that everything in AC has always been the players, so to speak, but I don’t think the previous games make it text in the same way New Horizons does.

This game lets you dictate everything about the space to the point where if I happen to have a villager in my town someone wants, I can make millions in in game currency to “trade” them to another player so their town can fit their perfect aesthetic. For the first time ever, and I’ve been playing since the first NA release, I feel like the game wants you to do this.

There’s stuff I don’t mind, like placing objects outside and being able to lay down paths and such, but it really feels like New Horizons took a game series about chilling out in a new place that you basically had no control over, flipped it 100% the other direction, and then social media ran with it, making the game pretty genuinely stressful to play if you approach it with any sense of leisure, or want to lean hard into the procedural randomness that made the series so charming (to me, at least) in the first place.

My solution has been to completely ignore Animal Crossing posts unless it’s fanart, but the coincidental intersection of everyone being stuck at home and using Twitter too much and the game coming out has made that really difficult and I’m sure it’s been really weird for some people to see a side of the fandom thats so focused on grinding and optimization that they had fully upgraded houses within a week of the game coming out when there was an assumption that the game was about taking it slow.

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The weirdest bit of meta-gaming I’ve heard around ACNH is the tactic of intentionally using tier 1 tools so that you rack up broken tools as fast as possible to unlock the golden tools, which still eventually break but at a slower rate than the tier 2 tools.

I don’t like how the contemporary trends of macro-level progression and achievement systems have created this outcome where a person will try to collect a thousand korok seeds or tediously cycle through hundreds of broken tools to receive a “reward” that these games don’t actually want you to go out of your way to get.

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Waypoint Mod 2Mello communicates what I said in my previous post better than I did and in less than 240 characters

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I get the most exposure to “the grind” of this game through the different group chats I’m in dedicated to Animal Crossing. People are recommending different apps/methods of maximizing turnip profit, and were discussing how to maximize points per entry of the fishing tournament so they could get all the items in one day. That’s wild to me!! If I think back to Wild World, I cant remember ANYTHING like that aside from planting money trees.
This change in approach feels like a result of the strange times we’re all playing this in, as well as the character’s shift from being a drifter rolling into town to The Resident Representative, Play God. Maybe I’m misremembering my childhood experience, but I remember villager interactions being a lot more meaningful in earlier entries? I’ve been asked ONCE to make a delivery between villagers in New Horizons; it feels like that would happen once a day in earlier entries. I want to start up a town in New Leaf to compare, maybe after I get through FF7…

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I went from being mad I don’t have a Switch to “do I even want to play the new Animal Crossing?” in record time because of how people talk about this game. I haven’t played it so I can’t speak to how much of this is due to the game signalling to people that this is the way they should play it, but I feel like all I hear people talk about now is turnip prices. It feels like people miss work so much they turned the chill vibes game into a day-trading simulator.

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Stalk market goes back to Wild World, though the inconvenience of using online functionality back then and the lack of knowable patterns meant that you would be better off taking modest gains over waiting for the rare occurrence of massive spikes. Like the insurance scam, I think it was meant more as a lesson about being financially careful.

new horizons is a perfectly chill game and i have no idea what’s making people ruin their enjoyment by obsessing over bells because you absolutely do not need it anyway, like, there’s so few big bell sinks that I can’t even fathom what people need the cash for anyway.

edit: i’d even say this game is a lot better than new leaf was for grind. i fell off new leaf in the end because eeeeeevery single decoration for your town cost a ridiculous amount of bells, at least in new horizons most of it has been moved to secondary currencies like resources or nook miles, so i’m rarely feeling like i’m starving for bells

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I feel like the problem is almost entirely about how Engaged we are, in quarantine and on a console where it’s not a huge pain in the ass to visit other people, with what other people are doing in this game. I haven’t bothered hitting stones or trees for days because you don’t need the resources; I finished the Bunny Day grind on April 1st; I play modestly in the stalk market (no more than 20 stacks of turnips - half my inventory space) and only visit others’ islands if I am going down in price.

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This game feels kinda soulless. The Gamecube game had heart, man. Haven’t connected with an Animal Crossing the same way since. Blathers and the museum are the only things in the game I truly like.

I posted this in the discord but I’ll also post it here.

Maybe I’m coming at it from a competitive gamer’s perspective so I might be able to temper my expectations and reactions better. When I see really cool time-travellers’ towns in Animal Crossing, I think they’re neat/sometimes inspirational. When I go back to my town, I happily work my way through it at my own pace. I’ve spent decades training myself to know my limits and manage my expectations.
I’m no more behind in Animal Crossing than I am behind in competitive Smash or StarCraft. Which is to say it’s fine that there are hundreds of thousands to millions of people doing better than me, which is perfectly acceptable.

Maybe this is a really roundabout way of looking at things.

To the point about this being like the real world economy…someone’s island is entirely separate to my own. Their millions of bells gained is not at the expense of my well-being. Also in just my own experience, I have been engaging with the stalk market on a small-ish scale (I made 1 million bells this week). My girlfriend has not engaged with the turnips in any way, and she paid off her entire loan maybe 10 days ago, through efficient fishing and tarantula collection. She made about 800,000 bells in 3 hours of fishing one time.

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If I’m being honest, I really do think this is more about the players (and the current moment) than the game (and I think that means I’m agreeing with Gita’s overall point). The mobile mechanics that are somewhat shoehorned into ACNH are a fair complaint but they’re also completely ignorable. Almost every system the game engages with is entirely optional. And yes, there are absolutely flaws to that argument—Nook Mile Islands are entirely optional but can really help progress towards internal goals, maybe you feel the game is nudging you down a certain path, etc.—I really have not gotten the sense from this game that it’s pushing, itself, any particular grind. It feels like it wants to be played in the same relaxed and sandboxy way that I remember from playing Wild World when I was 10—something that was honestly way less of what I wanted then than what I want now. We’re just in a place both with quarantine and with social media (which already amplifies wild and unrealistic expectations for everything else in our lives), where playing the game that way might lead to a feeling of missing out?

Idk, maybe it’s because I’m just very solitary in how I play most games, but I haven’t really felt any of the FOMO that seems to be driving people up a wall when it comes to not having X or Y or not having the same wildly advanced or perfectly terraformed island as someone else on Twitter might have. I was fine not finding all the cherry blossom recipes because it seemed obvious that it was designed that way—that the game wants people to trade and interact with each other, and that it shouldn’t be about just collecting everything possible. The one grindy thing I have been doing is making tarantula islands, but that’s because I find that kind of thing very relaxing and fun. It’s given me something twitchy to master, and it’s a great way to feel like I’m doing something productive while I listen to a couple of hours of podcasts. In the meantime, I got all the other fruits by visiting with a couple of IRL friends and spent the last good while figuring out and coordinating a big-ass orchard, which took a good solid week to grow from saplings into full-grown trees. And it was nice to have a task in a game I couldn’t finish in a day, and was forced to wait for. Soothing, really.

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The experience of anything going viral is at once both fascinating and terrifying. Animal Crossing suddenly became a cultural phenomenon and it’s had all kinds of odd effects.

Personally, as someone who mostly crossed over from other genres with little Animal Crossing experience other than about 30 hours in New Leaf, this is a perfect balance for me. My problems with the game are largely weird UI issues, like the 20 questions you seem to need to answer every time you want to check if your friends’ gates are open, but the grind itself has felt rewarding to me. I’m someone with a history of getting an idea in Minecraft then spending the next 8 hours happily creating it, so this feels kind of like the customization/personalization aspect of Minecraft, with the validation of being able to invite friends over to see your creations, and a bit more direction and pacing-support provided by the game.

I too haven’t hit a tree on purpose in days. I get a lot of stone resources simply from looking for my money rock. I’m nearly out of hardwood now though, with just shy of 2 full stacks in my storage, but like, when I need more I’ll go do a bunch of chopping for a while and then I won’t again for, idk, another few weeks?

Up front there’s a grind, for sure, to get all the resources for the shop and for the 3 houses. But afterwards it really fades into the background. My usual process for crafting now is checking the resources and going into my house storage to get a stack of each in order to build the thing, and then putting the rest back. I haven’t gone to an island since my last land plot was put down, just to see if I found an especially cool villager. I ended up not really, and a few days later a random animal, Rolf, moved in. For me the game has moved back into its extremely chill tempo that I normally associate with Animal Crossing.

I’ve been thinking about this but I honestly feel like there are many criticisms (not all! I don’t want to dismiss all criticism of the game) that boil down to the fact that it’s the beginning of the game. Villagers are boring? Yeah, they are at the start, and then they slowly become more and more interesting. I’ve played games with my villagers, they’ve been talking with each other, I’ve had a birthday with a villager, they’re sending me letters unprompted nowadays, they’ve clearly got their routines. One loves to sing, often! And the grind really tapers off after you’ve gotten those 3 villagers. Another point I’ve seen elsewhere is complaints about the furniture variety, and like, yeah, but it’s been a month. Some of my villagers’ houses are stacked with stuff I’ve never seen in the store. There’s so much game still.

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Yeah, personally this is a game I’m happy at this point to play for an hour or so each day and just sort of plod along now that I’ve finished some of the more significant milestones (KK visit, etc). While I do wish some things didn’t require me to press a button ten times to confirm what I’m trying to do, I’m mostly fine with it. I kinda wish there was a little more to interacting with my neighbors, but I’ve never played an AC game before this one, so I don’t really know whether this is better or worse in that regard. If there’s one thing I wish for at the moment, it’s that I had more DIY recipes. I get plenty of new stuff every day, but usually only one or two DIY recipes that I quickly get the mats for and finish.