Things I've Learned Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Lessons I've Learned in the Short Time I've Spent on a Not-So-Deserted Island

Things I've Learned Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons

About five years ago, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Animal Crossing, on a young man's Nintendo 3DS, in the form of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Countless hours were poured into the game. Many sleepless nights were spent catching rare bugs and selling them to the highest bidder, visiting far-off islands with the intent of chatting up strangers who felt oddly familiar. We were all there for the same reason: to relax and take a break from the ever stressful world around us. Nothing's wrong with a little vacation now and again. Though, months of maturing and moving on in the world have caused myself to close my system, putting the animal residents of my town into a deep hibernation, with spring nowhere in sight.

Now, it's 2020. I don't play video games as often as I used to. I read, I write, I study. Video games are for children, I'm supposed to be becoming an adult. However, with the post-holiday season having come and gone, monetary income has increased, as well as quotidian boredom. With some extra gifted cash I had received, I decided to buy myself the hot new item: The Nintendo Switch. Plenty of my friends had it, and while I'm not usually one to jump off cliffs with my peers, I was feeling a little extra risky this unusually warm December day. I walked into a gaming store, went directly to the counter and proceeded to buy an entirely new video game console with a game to go with it. I had fulfilled my childhood dream. If my younger self could see me now...

In any case, I brought my new system home with me and played it off and on when I had a spot in my day that I could dedicate to a little diversion. Enter 20 March, 2020. I had preordered the new Animal Crossing title, which at this point had been the talk of the town for weeks, returned to the gaming store and walked out with a box of childhood memories waiting to be relived. Four days ago, I began playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Today, I am going to share what I've come to realize.

The Importance of Patience: Why Should We Wait?

Video games are an impressive media for more than one reason. What started as a tool for young people to simply have fun and play games is beginning to develop more and more, seeping into the world of art. People who make games can tell stories, share experiences, and let you enjoy the ride all throughout. In the case of Animal Crossing, some may not quite see the appeal. What good is a game if one can't complete it at his own pace? When sandbox games like Minecraft exist, why would one waste their time waiting around for the next day or two to come about when he could slay a dragon, or even conquer a world in the meantime?

Animal Crossing is a sort of "slice of life" piece, a fact that is especially reinforced by the fact that the game runs in real time. One minute in there is one minute out here. So, if one needs to wait one day to accomplish something in the game itself, it's going to have to cost one day in our real time. On my very first day of the deserted island (which I dubbed Kopeland) I had just about exhausted everything that I could have done during the initial hours of starting the game. If I wanted to move on to see what would become of my island, I had one choice, and that was to wait. I was bored, as I essentially had nothing to do, yet excited, seeing that I had in my hands a brand new Animal Crossing game. When the moment of continuation was pushed back (as I couldn't immediately access the next chapter in the game) I found myself doing all sorts of things around the island I likely wouldn't have done if the next portion of the game was available at that time. I was given a second to breathe. I pulled every single weed I could on the island, I learned to make new tools, I admired the beautiful in-game scenery. I enjoyed the little things, and I no longer had any problem waiting, as I gave myself something new to do. A similar situation presented itself yesterday. I was running low on options, and the islands new shop was still under construction. My desire to see the shop, buy and sell, and progress through the game was put on hold. Then, a friend of mine sent me a photo of his house's exterior. It looked so professional and developed! It gave me a few new ideas as to what I could possibly do with my own. I immediately forgot about the shop and its importance to me as I assigned myself a new task: I was going to build a fence of wooden stakes around my home. I needed plenty of wood, and plenty of stone axes. I spent the following hour or two gleefully gathering the material I needed to accomplish what I had in mind. When one cannot accomplish something right away, other experiences and memories can be made in the meantime.

It was my second day on Kopeland, and the familiar owl, Bathers, had installed himself a small workshop on the island to observe the flora and fauna of his new island getaway. I was informed that if I were to bring him 15 different specimen, whether they be fish, fossils, or bugs, that preparations would begin toward the construction of a new museum. I was excited to see how it could differ from previous entries in the series. How big would it be? How many rooms and creatures would it hold? Would the layouts be interesting at all? My curiosity was beginning to get away from me as I continued providing donations to the soon-to-be-erected Kopeland Museum. That is, until I was pulled down to Earth when I was told I'd have to wait until the next day. To make matters worse, I wasn't even allowed to continue donating creatures to Blathers's cause. What was I supposed to do with all the other fish I caught? I eventually distracted myself with whatever I could do until the sun finally rose above the island on its third day. The museum had been constructed. I waited for it. I earned it. I was filled with joy as I ran through its rooms, discovering the new and rediscovering the familiar. I began to realize that if I were able to have had access to the building immediately after the initial donations, I likely would have been happy for a moment before abandoning it. Since I waited for it, I felt as though I was even more deserving of it. I payed my dues, and I was happy with my reward. When gratification is delayed, it feels better earned. It's the reason some people hike and some people take cold showers. When you put in the work to make it to the top of the mountain, it makes the reward of having done it and seeing the view that much more valuable. When you spend time in the uncomfortable cold, it puts your normal situation into perspective. You become grateful for what you have, because you've experienced worse, and some people constantly have it worse. When you wait for the museum, you earn the museum.

Rules and Regulations: The Tools We Use To Fight Chaos

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in the era of open world gaming. An open world video game is essentially one where the player decides exactly what they want to do and, ideally, fulfill their own wishes to their best capacity no matter what. Some pieces that come to mind are the ever famous Minecraft, and the now very popular The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, to name a few. In Minecraft, if you can imagine it you can build it, from bridges and buildings to orchestras and even working computers. Nothing is holding you back from realizing your cubical dreams. In Breath of the Wild, the player, as Link, is able to overcome any challenge posed to him in multiple different ways. The game changes in response to the player's style of play, and can even be completed in as little as an hour, without glitching, if the player so chooses.

While Animal Crossing: New Horizons may share an aspect or two with these and other games, it is a completely different side of a completely different coin. It isn't an open world title, thus some restrictions are necessary. To use an example, if I wanted to visit another, smaller, in-game island to find new resources (fruit, iron, etc.) I would need to pay for a special ticket to get me there. If this ticket didn't have a price and I was able to come and go as I please, I would essentially have unlimited resources, which is dangerous to the mentality of the player in a few ways. It devalues the waiting we've just decided is an important aspect of the game and of life, rendering the patience we've worked so hard to develop practically useless. After all, why would I wait if I can get whatever I want, whenever I want? Secondly, it would "break the game." If all resources are unlimited and everything is able to be accomplished at any time, there's no point to playing the game. There's little to be developed as far as an actual storyline goes, so sowing and reaping, which is where the appeal of the game comes from, becomes obsolete. Furthermore, a lack of rules in general would lead one to lose direction and quickly fall into obscurity.

"...God didn't give Moses 'The Ten Suggestions,' he gave the Commandments; and if I'm a free agent, my first reaction might just be that nobody, not even God, tells me what to do, even if it's good for me. But the story of the golden calf also reminds us that without rules we quickly become slaves to our passions–and there's nothing freeing about that." (Doidge, 2018)


I've not lived a long life and I have a lot more to learn during this of many grand journeys. I've learned some lessons the easy way, and I've learned some that sting, but I've always been able to tie them in when I need them the most. Try to look for something new the next time you stumble upon something familiar. Try to value each second you spend waiting for something to come. Say no to something now so you can appreciate it tenfold later. It's important to be happy, but happiness is not the end goal, it is a by-product of living generously and learning to accept that which you cannot control and moving on. You don't always have to be content with your situation, but you can learn to bear it and use the lessons you come to learn for the better when future situations of grief present themselves. Learn also to appreciate the need for rules and regulations that life needs, for without them chaos would run wild around you. And finally, if ever you find the time, come visit my museum! I've put a lot of time into it. đŸ˜‰

J Mitchell Lagaras
J Mitchell Lagaras
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J Mitchell Lagaras

Musician and polyglot. Passionate learner, aspiring thinker.

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