When Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released, it was like Pokemon GO all over again, except this time, it’s keeping us inside rather than encouraging us to venture out into the world. It was absolutely everywhere, and with so many of us having so little to do at this point in time, it has become a phenomenon.
I had friends who bought their Nintendo Switch specifically to play Animal Crossing. Plenty of the gamers I follow are still playing it on their channels rather than playing it for a bit and leaving it off to showcase something else. I’ve seen plenty of other franchises and museums sharing images of fan-created homages in the game as well as others they themselves created like historical paintings to display in your virtual home.
I never played Animal Crossing in any capacity, unless you count occasionally selecting Isabelle as my fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’ve never played a Kid Icarus game, either, but Pit is my main for anyone wondering.
Despite all of my talk about video games throughout the blog, I’m not that much of a gamer. Apart from games on the Disney Channel website, Webkinz, and various joystick-type things that plugged directly into my family’s TV, I didn’t really grow up playing a lot of video games. I bought a Nintendo DS Lite with birthday money one year, and my favorite game was called 100 Classic Books—basically like having an Amazon Kindle before they were a thing.
I had friends who had things like GameCubes and such and I’d sometimes play at their houses, but I didn’t have anything like that. The first “real” gaming console I had was the Nintendo Wii. And it was my Mom’s. We upgraded to the Wii U eventually, and I bought a Switch for her birthday last year.
Even though I wrote about the importance of taking breaks from your writing projects, I’m not exactly practicing what I preach in that regard. Sure, I’ve gotten better at switching between one project and the next, giving all of them some time to breathe before diving in again, but I don’t know how to turn that side of my brain off completely. I am always thinking about my writing, whether it’s something I need to add or an adjustment I have to make to a current project or planning for one I haven’t even started yet.
Reading is often not so much for fun as it is for studying the craft and techniques implemented by the author. When I’m watching a movie, I’m analyzing it as a storyteller (I watched the 2019 horror film Midsommar twice in as many days for this purpose—if you can stomach the gore and handle the overall strangeness of this one I highly recommend it because there is so much that it does well, which prompted the second, almost immediate viewing).
So finding something where I’m not doing this is a challenge.
That’s when I decided to play Animal Crossing: New Horizon for the first time.
I’m not here to share a list of tips and tricks for the game, but rather my overall experience in my first few weeks.
In The Beginning
Like I mentioned before, I know plenty of people who have been lifelong Animal Crossing players going as far back as the first game and got their Nintendo Switch specifically for the newest one.
My social media feeds were inundated with Island Updates, friends sharing their progress or custom content they’ve made to pay tribute to favorite things in pop culture, and plenty of memes.
I’d been going back and forth about getting into it myself. It looked like fun, but I worried it would be like Farmville which I got into for a while but ultimately got bored with, and my playing was a bit related to peer pressure because everyone else was playing it.
The difference between Farmville and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, at least from my perspective, is the feeling of togetherness present in it.
Several developers had been pushing back the releases of their upcoming titles because of the global pandemic. However, Nintendo appeared to focus the launch of the new Animal Crossing game on the ability to stay connected while staying at home. Playing together, apart.
One of the features of this game is being able to visit your friends’ islands and being able to hang out with them, something that isn’t exactly easy to do these days. I’ve seen images floating around of a teacher recreating his classroom in-game so students could plop their avatar there during finals if they wanted to take the exam in the semblance of a classroom setting amid unexpected homeschooling, museums recreating their exhibits and giving virtual tours, and even simpler things as just being able to catch up with the guys on a Friday night.
As someone whose workplace has been closed since March and remains so at the time of writing this in June, and stressing over having sent my WIP out to betas for the first time, I decided it was time for me to give it a shot and downloaded it on a Thursday night after finishing edits on a chapter.
Going into this, I estimate I would be about two months behind the general population and missed out on Bunny Day events because I started playing in May.
The game booted up, and among the initial tasks was selecting an island based on a minimalistic map. There were four options available to me, and it was about ten minutes before I finally made a decision, mostly because I didn’t know what made sense but also didn’t want to resort to online guides or walkthroughs until later, once I had gotten a better feel for the game.
When it came to picking out a spot for my tent, I ended up following a butterfly around the island because I couldn’t decide on a location, which inspired the name for my island: Mariposa.
This tent, it’s worth mentioning, was what I lovingly referred to as Camp Dump N’ Go, as its sole function at that time was being a place to dump all of the crafting materials I was carrying before going out to get more (Dump N’ Go itself is something of an inside joke with my Mom from when I was asking about microwaving soup a while back).
My first islanders were Shari and Roald, the latter of which was something of a surprise to a friend who visited my island a few weeks later.
I honestly thought the first villagers that move to the island were like starter Pokemon, in that you can either have Charmander, Squirtle, or Ivysaur, that they were essentially pre-determined. I hadn’t watched them at that point, but I recalled seeing Shari in the thumbnail of one of Jacksepticeye’s Animal Crossing videos, which strengthened that assumption. By comparison, my island’s first fruit was pears while Jack’s started with peaches, so I thought you had one or the other.
As it turns out, that’s not the case, and my friend was thrilled to have the chance to talk to Roald on Mariposa (but more on that later).
Getting My Island Legs
Having not played Animal Crossing before, there was a lot I didn’t know about the way the game works.
There were plenty of presents floating by, but I somehow didn’t know you needed a slingshot to pop the balloons and had been running around with a net trying to catch them and trying to jump to snatch them (before realizing that jumping is not a thing you can do).
And then the first present I did hit after building a slingshot fell in the water (but at least I got some Nook Miles out of it).
Fishing was also something that took a little bit of time to learn, mostly because I hadn’t figured out how to tell if a fish is heading towards the bait and often hit the button reel it in too soon, scaring the fish off.
Sneaking up on bugs wasn’t something I knew I had to do, so I got charged at and stung by no less than three scorpions on my first night. And plenty of wasps on the first day.
I whipped up a quick little custom design to get Nook Miles and accidentally wore it on my face rather than as a shirt, so I was running around with random rectangular patches of what was once my attempt at a pixilated butterfly on my forehead and cheeks until I figured out how to take that off. And then when I did I just sat there like, that’s all I had to do???
And I can’t forget the furniture. It took me a week to figure out that I could rotate items and drag/pull them to where I want, so I was in a cycle of picking things up and dropping them in the hopes that they would land where I wanted. And it wasn’t until I had moved into a house that I figured out how to control the camera angles.
Looking back at all of this, I find myself laughing at how much I didn’t know. But playing with the knowledge I have now, I think that shows how easily a newbie can find their way in the game.
I think it also took me a bit to get adjust to using Nook Miles to fly to uninhabited islands and essentially ravage the land for supplies. Chopping down any tree and hitting any rock in sight for the sake of collecting wood and stone materials seemed like a “Deforestation Simulator” initially, but I would rather raid and pillage deserted lands than my own island.
And I don’t really like that I’m saying that.
Building The Foundation
The first thing I found myself setting out to do was upgrading from a tent to a house, and then expanding said house.
Plus catching fish and bugs for Blathers. Not to get off topic, but as a few people predicted, I absolutely adore Blathers and he’s my favorite of the characters I have encountered thus far.
With other games like The Sims, building my house is always one of my favorite things. Animal Crossing proves to be of no exception—except that it doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger. It’s a lot of grinding out Bells (currency in game) and waiting.
As soon as I got the initial travel costs paid off, I upgraded to a house. And then expanded my one room. And then just kept going.
I spent an entire play session DIY-ing frying pans because they were the day’s hot item at Nook’s Cranny and managed to get close to the rest of my debt.
Suffice it to say I currently have four rooms. The largest acts as a sitting room/anteroom area with my coffee appliances set up. Then there’s a bedroom, which I only visit when I want to change my avatar’s outfits.
The study is the space I’ve been putting the most work into. One of my first presents blessed me with a writing desk that literally fell from the sky, coming soon after buying a typewriter from Nook’s Cranny.
I’ve seen more expansive bookshelves in other houses and I’m hoping I can get some soon.
Lastly, the newest room is a bathroom. Mostly because the game gave me a toilet and I hadn’t decided what I was doing with that area yet.
I also know that you can eventually get an upstairs area and basement. I don’t know what I’ll use those spaces for but I can’t wait to get them.
About two weeks into my Animal Crossing experience, a friend and I managed to meet up on one another’s islands. I hadn’t gotten around to setting up the Nintendo Online account yet.
Once we figured out how to travel, it was a blast running around with her.
I knew my island wasn’t spectacular because it was still so new, but visiting my friend’s island gave me a lot of insight as to how much more work I had to do. She had been playing for several weeks more than I had, so she had actual pavement down, a marketplace, and more bridges.
Plus hydrangeas, which are my favorite flower IRL.
I meanwhile had only just added on a second room to my house and
At least I got to take some apples and oranges back with me, meaning I had every kind of fruit tree growing on the island in a couple of days.
Outfits Of Significance
Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the game is the virtually unlimited options for dressing up. Among the things that piqued my interest in Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the images I had seen of players’ custom content including nods to various shows, films, and other video games, which some said had become their substitute for cosplaying events since major conventions are being cancelled for 2020.
I tried my hand at this, resulting in a Jane Austen-inspired costume.
I’ve made a couple versions of this in varying colors including an olive tone reminiscent of a dress worn by Eve in Bound to the Heart.
A bit after unlocking T-Shirts in the custom design area of the game, Mabel had a red skirt for sale in the plaza, so I went ahead and attempted to recreate my Dechart Games shirt since it’s one of my favorite outfits.
And, um, BRYAN DECHART ACTUALLY LIKED THE TWEET.
Ahem. Fangirling aside, though it really is cool to have one of your favorite streamers pop up in your notifications beyond “Recent Tweet from XYZ,” this is just another testament to the unlimited creativity present in Animal Crossing.
I’ve also found ways to create Animal Crossing compatible images and scan the QR codes, so I’ve been able to recreate the Mr. Darcy portrait hanging in my real-life writing space for my virtual study.
My Island Tune is currently a bit of the traditional folk song “Oats Peas Beans and Barley Grow,” meaning any time I approach a resident of my island, those notes play on a various instrument, and the clock tower rings it out on the top of the hour. It’s good for a laugh.
What’s On The Horizon?
At the time of writing this post, I’ve been concentrated on expanding my house, but I’m working to create special areas of my island. I’ve seen plenty of examples of people who have established orchards, campgrounds, Zen gardens, and so many other things.
One thing I’m hoping to do in the future is host a virtual writing session on my island.
I didn’t list it in my post breaking down my 2020 goals, but I had hoped to find and join a local writer’s group. I moved at the end of 2018 and now that I’ve settled myself in the new house and have a job that’s been extended beyond a seasonal basis, I felt like I was finally in a place where I could look into expanding my real-life circle of writer friends—which has been incredibly limited since graduating college and moving back to my home state.
I’m in conversation with a handful of writers on Twitter, but texting doesn’t compare to being able to sit down someplace like a cafe and talk about our writing projects in person. Face-to-face conversations and being able to talk through something is something that’s always been helpful for me.
However, social distancing has made it all but impossible to do, and it’s looking like it will be a while longer before it’s possible again.
As a substitute, I would love to be able to host a virtual writer get-together on my island. The idea is that I would send out a Dodo Code to those who want to join so they can come to Mariposa, and then sit their character at a table in-game while we do writing sprints in real life.
A writing sprint, if you’re unfamiliar, is a way of challenging yourself to write without distraction for a set, short period of time. Some find this to be helpful because it encourages progress or attempting to reach a certain goal, and sharing your word count with other participants establishes a sense of accountability.
Being able to host a writing sprint in Animal Crossing might be a fun way to do one of these writing sprints, and possibly be able create a sense of togetherness that I and I suspect others have been missing as of late.
I’ve already designated a potential spot for this to take place and have been constructing benches and tables, and I’m hoping books or paper and other items will be available to purchase soon for ambiance’s sake.
Now that my second bridge is complete, I’m focusing on building a ramp next leading up to that space to spare visitors from having to break out their ladders to get up there.
If/when this happens, I’ll be posting about it on Twitter so be sure to follow me there for updates.