I Had To Play Animal Crossing ‘Wrong’ To Get It Right

For a good long while, I couldn't get into Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Oh, I got it, sure. I saw the appeal. I watched as almost every single person in my Twitter feed freaked right the hell out about the game, chronicling their every move, joking about crushing on Reese and trash-taking during the first bug-off. But I just wasn't hooked.

The problem, as is so often the case in real life, was money. I couldn't get enough bells to do the things I wanted to do. I paid off my first home loan pretty easily, then asked Tom Nook to expand. The bill came in: It was hundreds of thousands of bells. At the same time, I began a project to build a suspension bridge over the creek in my town, which would make it much easier to get from my house up to my job at town hall. The bill? Another couple hundred thousand bells.

All at once, my debt seemed insurmountable. I'd go fishing, sure—that seemed like the easiest way to get bells, and fish were pretty consistently in the creek around town. But it was such slow going. I couldn't build any momentum, and my debt's bell-count never seemed to get any lower. I felt stuck, and I rarely played for more than a few minutes.

Eventually, I left the game unplayed for about a week. I felt it slipping through my fingers, another game relegated to the "I should really go back and play that" heap. I came back when a friend wanted to come visit me. "Man, there are a lot of weeds in your town," she noticed.

Of course there were a lot of weeds. I was an absentee mayor. My friend helped me clean up, but still, the debt remained. My game was stuck in first gear, and I had no way of popping the clutch.

Then I began beetle-farming. And everything changed.

I Had To Play Animal Crossing ‘Wrong’ To Get It Right

Beetle-farming, as outlined by Patricia and Tina in their incredibly helpful (probably too helpful) guides, is the art of heading to the island after 7PM and wandering between trees, catching 40 of the juiciest, most expensive beetles, then heading home and cashing in. A good haul can net you more than 300,000 bells. And the Island never runs out of beetles.

In other words, it's a gold mine.

In two days' time, I had revitalized my town and with it, my interest in Animal Crossing. I began to relentlessly expand my house, paying off every expansion the day it was implemented, before buying another one. Every morning, I'd have a new celebration for a completed public works project. I finished one bridge, then another; I built a lovely fountain in the center of town. I visited the Happy Home Showcase every day and bought whatever I wanted.

I felt weird about it at first. Like I was cheating. It felt exploitative, and somehow illicit—I mean, there are beetles that are worth 12,000 bells on their own, and they're just everywhere.

Beetle-farming "breaks" the game's economy. I found myself hoping no one else in town found out about it. If Lucille knew about this, surely she'd disapprove. At the very least, relentlessly farming high-cost beetles feels counter to the spirit of Animal Crossing—this is a game about taking your time, about waiting for tomorrow. And yet I'd performed slash-and-burn farming on my island, leaving four trees standing, the better to maximize beetle-spawns. (Surely there's a lesson here about deforestation and mankind's ruinous tendency toward progress-at-what-cost!) At the very least, my singleminded pursuit of six-legged profit felt out of place in a game that's supposed to be pastoral and relaxing.


My singleminded pursuit of six-legged profit felt out of place in a game that's supposed to be pastoral and relaxing.


But every evening, I head to the island to farm more beetles. Crucially, beetle-farming isn't some engrossing video-game act. It's actually incredibly mundane, but that's what's great about it. I can farm beetles while I watch TV with my sister, and I'm able to focus on two or three things at the same time. I can farm beetles and have a conversation at the same time. I can farm beetles on the bus to kill time between stops. It's still satisfying, but so far it rarely feels like a chore.

(I know how these things can go. I know that can change. But so far, so good.)

And in between all the farming and the profits, I began to really play Animal Crossing. I began to invest in the local economy, and the local stores have started to flourish. I've gotten to know my neighbors, to understand what makes them tick. (My favorite is Bam, the enthusiastic, athletic blue goat. Bam is the man.) I bought an axe and began to get Hamville's orchard situation in order. I'm proud to have visitors, and want to show them the goofy stuff in my house, or let them meet my neighbors. I've put dozens of hours into the game at this point, with no end in sight.

When I look at all those things together, it's clear: I've finally fallen in love with Animal Crossing.

I donate to Blathers at the museum, when I used to take all of my fossils and sell them to turn a profit. I'm reminded of the ease and privilege that comes with extra disposable income in real life—I finally have the luxury to support the arts, to be a patron of the local museum. I buy new shoes without asking myself if I can afford them. I have the luxury to be a good neighbor, a good citizen and a good mayor.

To accomplish all that, I had to do something that ran counter to the game's overarching philosophy. I had to play it "wrong." But hey, philosophy be damned—I'm really enjoying myself! I feel like the self-made millionaire who can finally appreciate the finer things that he couldn't afford until he made his fortune.

And so I go about my life as mayor of Hamville. I've got more than a million bells in the bank, and every day is a new opportunity. There are so many things I've yet to see—I don't even have Shampoodle's, for pete's sake!—and now that I've built up a healthy cash reserve, there's a good chance I'll actually keep playing long enough to see them.

(Image by Alice-Photo, Shutterstock)