It was 2004. I was a senior in undergrad living in an off-campus apartment. My bedroom was on the first floor and that was where I did my gaming. I adored my Gamecube and had recently obtained a game where you play a character who lives in a lively little town filled with anthropomorphic animals entitled Animal Crossing. It was fun for a while. Eventually college life kept me away from my town (I named it Funkytown…what?). Weeks of student government, coursework, and spending time with friends kept me away. Funkytown became overrun with weeds and I became overwhelmed. So I just walked away and never looked back. Poor Funkytown…
For over a decade, this had been how I thought of Animal Crossing. Despite having friends who were excited at each new iteration of the game, for for me, the series remained trapped in my 2004 mindset: This is virtual drudgery.
Enter 2020 and New Horizons
But when New Horizons dropped, I became curious. Friends on various Discord servers provided some nudging and told me more about the new game. It had changed over the years after Nintendo had heard the complaints of players. I was intrigued with how much it had evolved during the past 15 years, but even so, the game still sounded like work.
A little over a month ago, my oldest son got his first, early birthday present from his uncle—a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Well, now the game was in my home!
My son played non-stop when he first received it, and I watched in awe at the cuteness and fun. My oldest daughter has her own Switch and would borrow his physical copy, too. The two would argue over who got to play it so much that she begged the same uncle to also get her a physical copy as an early birthday present. Her birthday’s not until the end of June.
With two kids running around the house playing the game, I tormented myself about it.
This was a “perfect storm” moment for me. I was mostly between playing big games, filling my time with casual Tetris 99 matches and replaying the 16-bit era Aladdin/Lion King games during my down time. My Pokedex was full in Pokemon Shield, so I sat around waiting for the expansion modules. I was basically in waiting mode, not interested in jumping into a new game.
Yet, after over a week of watching my children dive deeply into the world of Animal Crossing, I decided to get in on the fun. On a whim, I bought myself a digital copy of the game one night.
And so my journey began.
Down the Rabbit Hole
The first night after buying the game, I was glued to my Switch Lite for a good four hours of solid gameplay.
I was building.
I did it all. And, honestly, in the month since I purchased the game, it hasn’t stopped.
There is something both challenging and relaxing about playing the game. Yes, I have loan after loan from the most adorable lender in the world, yet it doesn’t stress me. I also have to deal with a whole community doing everything from obtaining supplies for stores to picking out where everyone lives. I feel like it should be stressful. Yet, it’s not. For me, it has just been fun.
I find myself casually playing nightly to boost up my island. I’m connecting with my kids and dropping off presents/supplies for each of them. I even built myself a small, kaiju park with a Godzilla-esque statue I purchased from Tom Nook.
What is the draw to this game of island and home customization? What has changed in me?
I don’t know
So, as the section title reads—I. Don’t. Know.
After the stress I felt from the original game, why is this version so much fun for me? Why is my son, who’s far more of a platformer/action game fan, running to visit me and share his turnip prices? Why is my daughter, who prefers puzzle games and Splatoon, excited to show off her island and hide materials throughout? What is drawing us all in?
Is it the mechanics? Is it the ability to customize? Is it my sweet, sweet 16-bit Knuckles the Echidna shirt I customized for myself? Is it the sassy personalities of some of the characters?
Or is it something simpler than that? Is it merely that the game is well crafted, incredibly accessible, and fun for fans of all-ages?
Nah, it’s my sweet Knuckles shirt that’s drawing everyone in.
I cracked the code.
Especially if you have good turnip prices.