Animal Crossing: New Horizons is my first attempt to play a game in Nintendo’s life/community management sim…and it’s been kind of overwhelming.
As of this writing, I have owned the game for four days and only been able to play it twice, as I’m still working my way through all 100+ hours of Persona 5 Royal. Both of those sessions were around three hours, and still my island is a mere shell of an actual, liveable community. Right now I’ve got my house, adorned with exactly one (1) surface you can sit on, a bedside table on which I have placed my Nintendo Switch, and two pieces of art: an N7 symbol and the Fanbyte logo. We still don’t have a store, I have yet to give Blathers enough specimens to display to build the museum, and I’m still working with the tools that break after you use them a few times.
Right now, I’m looking at my schedule for the rest of the day, and it seems unlikely I’ll get around to playing New Horizons again today. At least, not for an extended amount of time it would take to reach any of these milestones. And frankly, knowing the game runs in real time means I’m kind of anxious about what might’ve happened since I last put the game in my Switch. Meanwhile, I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed and seeing just how quickly my friends and colleagues have been able to make thriving communities. Here I am, with a house that looks like no one’s even properly moved in yet, while everyone else seems to be playing a game I can’t even fathom existing in the same one I’ve been playing.
Every time I look online and see how people are doing, I learn about something else you can do in New Horizons, and it adds another item on my list of things I should probably do when I play next. Last time I played, all I was concerned about was making my Infamous: Second Son beanie and Life is Strange 2 hoodie in the game to dress my character in, while everyone else was creating these elaborate houses, bringing in new villagers, and meeting up with friends online.
Whether it’s because of a lack of time or knowhow, or just not knowing what questions to ask veteran players until I see something I didn’t know was even possible, I feel like I’ve fallen so far behind everyone else because I wasn’t able to play for a few days, and apparently didn’t use that playtime as efficiently as others. I’m still not sure just how much time I’m going to invest in New Horizons yet, but there’s something very discouraging about being so completely left in the dust right at the outset. There’s so many different systems and goals that are all overlapping and going on in real time that makes this kind of game daunting in a way I never expected it to be.
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Animal Crossing: New Horizons, whether by design or just by launching during a pandemic, is a very social game. Right now, everyone is posting on social media about new discoveries, sharing secrets, and showing off every cool thing they make in the design creator. Some are even using it as a proxy for social interaction, as people can freely visit one another’s islands to trade resources or just hang out. In a sense, New Horizons is a public event, not unlike living in a large community, and real-world connotations can be easily carried into it, whether that’s rational or not. In a weird way, your island can feel like a status symbol like a nice house or car could in real life, complete with a social media post to go along with it. So there’s even a tinge of embarrassment looking at my barely liveable space compared to so many great communities and homes I’ve been seeing online.
But there’s a creative layer to it too, and viewing it in that lens is helping me raise my spirits when it comes to trying to learn how best to manage everything New Horizons throws at me. When you’re just starting out in a creative field, whether that’s in art, music, or writing, it’s important to not compare yourself to the people who you’re learning from. People become great at something by practice and iteration, and while I, and everyone else playing the game right now, is pretty much building their homes in the public eye, that doesn’t mean that I have to suddenly have the same level of understanding as someone who’s been playing the series in earnest for nearly 20 years.
I think, for now, I’m going to start focusing most on smaller goals, rather than looking at everyone else and wondering how I get to their level. At the top of my list, I want to build that store. Not because I care about all the supplies it will give me, but so I can buy the fake beard accessory and make my character look a little bit more like me. I’m a man of simple tastes. Once I have that, I’ll figure things out as they come along.