There are many things that are confusing to me about our current times. Among them is why everyone is obsessed with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The game was released on March 20, as the latest edition in a series of Nintendo games dating back to 2001. Back then, I never heard about Animal Crossing; now it seems that’s where everything fun happens! There’s an entire Instagram community centered around Animal Crossing fashion; Marc Jacobs was involved in some kind of virtual shirts collaboration. A developer recently held a tech conference in Animal Crossing. Also, the turnips from the game are … uniting us. I had to look all that up, because: I don’t know anything about Animal Crossing. The only thing I know about it is it seems to involve more round-headed humans than animals.
To get to the bottom of the game’s current appeal, I spoke to Jane Hu, a regular contributor to Slate’s Future Tense, a friend whom I used to see in person sometimes, and a recent denizen of the virtual world of islands and turnips. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Shannon Palus: How was your weekend, and how much of it did you spend playing Animal Crossing?
Jane Hu: It was lovely, in part because I spent like half of it playing AC. I had friends over to my island for the first time and went to an AC birthday party.
For those of us who have been sitting out the phenomenon: How would you describe this game to an alien?
You create a digital avatar, who arrives on a small and purportedly untouched island alongside a troupe of raccoons. Your goal is to make the island your home, through plundering natural resources and getting bamboozled into selling and buying goods through the raccoons’ economy.
And you live on the island and plunder with the raccoons?
It seems like you are really the only one doing the plundering; the raccoons facilitate the plundering by paying you in Tom Nook’s currency (“bells” and “Nook miles”) for your work and the goods you provide. Like, you get “miles” for shooting balloons holding presents out of the sky, or for chopping a certain amount of wood. You can redeem them for things like plane tickets, wallpaper, or—my favorite—Nook Inc. T-shirts and hats.
Is there a way to win Animal Crossing?
Not really. It’s a lot like life: Some people take the most pleasure in building enormous houses and amassing cool furniture, while others just enjoy fishing and collecting bugs. There’s not really a wrong way to do it. And it’s really nice to exist in a space where the rules of the universe are clear and predictable.
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