I'm Playing Animal Crossing Wrong, And It's Good, Actually

Illustration for article titled I'm Playing Animal Crossing Wrong, And It's Good, Actually
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Three weeks ago, I added a campsite to my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island. Three weeks ago, Leopold, a walking testament to unearned confidence, showed up. Three weeks ago, I stopped unlocking new features in Animal Crossing.


This is Leopold:

Illustration for article titled I'm Playing Animal Crossing Wrong, And It's Good, Actually

Leopold sucks. From the word go, Leopold crammed several TED Talks’ worth of humble bragging into just a few speech bubbles, greeting me in Italian and then telling me, sans prompting, how good he is at reading people. Leopold is the guy who talks your ear off at parties about his collection of faux-intellectual books he’s never actually read. He’s the guy who endlessly harps on about how “worldly” he is because of that one time he took a four-day trip to a country where everybody wasn’t white. He’s the guy who wouldn’t be able to read the room even if it crushed him like the Wicked Witch of the East in Wizard of Oz.

Like Kotaku contributor Chingy Nea, who had her own troubles with a villager who gave off Big Incel Energy, I quickly discovered that the game would not allow me to dismiss my first campsite villager. I initiated a dialogue with Leopold, and before long, my character had invited him to live on my island. This, I decided, would not stand. Before the game had a chance to autosave, I reset my Switch. I figured that if I just left Leopold in the tent long enough, he’d either leave or, preferably, get eaten by my island’s colorful assortment of local tarantulas.

It has been three weeks. Leopold is still there. On multiple occasions, I have walked into the tent to see if he’s departed, caught a glimpse of him, and turned tail so quickly that it prompted a question mark to appear above his head. I hate how well all of this fits his character. It’s as though he’s just sitting there in the tent waiting for his call up to the big stage, utterly unaware that he bombed at his audition weeks ago. There’s no way, after all, that he could be unwanted. He is too great, too cultured. He sees me flee in terror and thinks nothing of it. He’s very good at reading people.


So I’ve been checkmated by an unsuspecting, undying gasbag. This has created some knock-on effects. Most obviously, I can’t unlock new features. I cannot terraform my island. I’ve heard nary a whisper of noted dog musician K.K. Slider. Nobody is prodding me to improve my island for the purposes of attracting celebrity talent. The game has ground to a purgatorial halt.

It owns. Earlier this month, I wrote about how Animal Crossing mechanically, socially, and economically pressures players to min/max everything instead of just enjoying their island getaway. I now feel significantly less of that pressure. Everybody I know has passed me by with meticulously constructed islands and S-tier villagers, but it’s OK, because I don’t have access to the same tools as they do. This accidental, artificial limitation un-flipped the terrible competitive switch in my brain. I really do feel cut off from broader Animal Crossing society, and it’s been good for me. I mean, isn’t that the point of running away to a secluded island in the first place? Besides, I can still visit my friends if I’m feeling social.


In the meantime, I’m enjoying keeping my Animal Crossing life small and uncomplicated. I no longer feel pressured to amass a small fortune’s worth of bells to maintain pace with everybody else, so I haven’t participated in the Stalk Market at all. My goals, at this point, are actually self-directed, as opposed to being a byproduct of what everybody else is up to. Every day, I turn on the game, pluck some weeds, and dig up the odd fossil. Then I go to the resident services building and buy five garden gnomes. They are for my Project. My Project is a gnome welcoming party that will one day span the entire length of my island. The gnomes will be accompanied by a simple sign that reads “Welcome Gnome.” Each day, I add five new gnomes to the procession. It is simple work, but satisfying.


The gnomes are the most organized part of an otherwise unkempt island. I like that there’s little rhyme or reason to its structure, though. I enjoy knowing where everything is, even though it’s not immediately obvious. Every time I have to open my inventory and switch to my vaulting pole to cross inconveniently-placed rivers, it’s annoying, but it also feels like the island is its own character, rather than one entirely of my design.

My island only has a small handful of residents, so even if I only play for 20 or so minutes every day, I have time to talk to everybody and give them a gift of some sort. Antonio, ever the athlete, finally has a bike suit, exercise bike, and weights for his home. Good for him. Marina showed off her singing skills the other night, and it was a treat. Agnes was prickly when she first showed up, but we’re thick as thieves these days. Benedict asked me if we could be friends forever on my birthday, and it melted my heart. Patty is still bad, but we all just ignore her, for the most part.


Nobody goes near the campsite.

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.


I joined an Animal Crossing NH Discord channel recently and it opened my eyes to how many people want to spend hundreds of Nook Mile Tickets on villagers like Raymond. It reminded me of the endgame scenario for many RPG’s and MMOs or games with skins and ranks that eventually, everyone is going to end up with the same villagers and typical layouts for their islands just as conventional metas dictate using the same builds and armor sets to be viable.

So far, I’ve seen dozens of carbon-copy islands and it’s pretty boring for me. Oh, wow, you have a tiny amusement park in the corner, too? Nice zen garden with bamboo and pond stuff.

My island is mostly trees and my villagers. My house is filled my with music equipment and a room that looks like a small model of my real room. I’m content to leave things here, for as long as I wish.

I remember when KK was a Friday night treat, like stumbling upon a really good open mic downtown, and when my entire village was essentially a decorated NES emulator.