There is a handful of pivotal learning moments in everyone’s life. Times when you truly figure out who “you are.” Animal Crossing: New Horizons has led us on one such transformative journey to find who we are, and we’re not better for it.
If somehow you aren’t aware of Animal Crossing, even though it’s quite literally everywhere, it’s a sim game where you run an island and make a happy, or not, life for yourself and your animal friends. It’s incredibly innocent, until it’s not. Through the last three weeks and in the time since New Horizons was released, the world has shifted, and we have found Animal Crossing to be a beautiful escape at best, and a dark psychological reflection at worst.
Here’s what two Esquire editors—one who’s smuggling turnips with his childhood best friend, and another who’s trying to create a perfect dystopia at all costs—have learned about themselves through this animal- and debt-filled island adventure. May you take it heart.
1. I am a maniac.
Yesterday, I Googled, “chelsea boots animal crossing.” That’s it. That’s the joke. —Brady Langmann
2. I’m best friends with a maniac.
I flew to my childhood best friend’s village two days after he bought the game, only to see he already had a four-room mansion, including a home gym, which he went to the trouble of buying a matching protein shake/protein powder set for. —B.L.
3. Having friends sucks.
Any time my friends come to my island, they steal my rare flowers and my fruit trees. What the shit, guys. —Cameron Sherrill
4. Really, I don’t know my best friend anymore.
I went to his museum—he had a modest collection, nothing major—and noticed he’s caught fish in the years 2040, 2050, and 2060. It dawned on me that my friend was some kind of evil-twinned Marty McFly, time-traveling through the annals of Animal Crossing, amassing his fortune through interest from the bank of that poor unsuspecting bastard, Tom Nook. —B.L.
5. Time is a suggestion, not a law.
You make the rules, not time. Time is malleable with a simple flick of the settings. There is no honor in this, but you have the power. —C.S.
6. I am not as accepting as I thought.
Constantly complaining and bashing my bug net forces a villager to move out, just because I don’t like them. Most of the time, the only motivation driving this is that I don’t think I like them as much as I’ll like whoever moves in next. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling like no one’s ever good enough. It is toxic. Nevertheless I will continue to do it. —C.S.
7. I still have a conscience.
Even in the middle of these ruthless onslaughts of forcing well-meaning animals out of my town, I do feel bad. After they get sad when I hit them with the bug net or send a mean letter, it kills a little more of me. I fear what I will become to achieve perfection, and I fear that I am already too powerful to stop. —C.S.
8. I will “speak to your manager.”
In real life, I accept my fate 9/10 times if it means avoiding conflict. In Animal Crossing, I complain to Isabelle about the way my villagers talk and dress, all the damn time. You heard me Greta, move out. —C.S.
9. Nothing stands in the way of industry.
I thought I learned something from the Lorax, but I’ll happily chop down trees, destroy rivers, and dig up flowers to make my perfect little brownstown suburbia. —C.S.
10. I have drug lord tendencies.
The scene: Nook’s Cranny, afternoon. Turnip prices? 555 bells. Fuck. I call my time-traveling best friend. It’s on. Nighttime. He skips ahead to Sunday. I jump in a seaside cargo plane, round-trip ticket to his island. Find Daisy Mae, alias Turnip Lady. We buy 2,000 turnips. Each. Back on the plane to my island, smuggling my illicit turnips. Sell ’em to Timmy and Tommy Nook’s Cranny for 2.2 million bells. Repeat. And repeat. Repeat again. And again. That is how I made 15 million bells in two hours. End scene. The new season of Narcos: Animal Crossing will be announced at a later date. —B.L.
11. I have great range in interior decorating.
A stunning great hall, a bougie bathroom—everything on the first level of my house looks like it’s straight out of a magazine. Do not, however step foot in the basement, which is designed to mimic literal hell. —C.S.
12. I have shitty taste in music.
I found the meee mee maw Minionspeak of my villagers grating as hell. Even worse? The ballads of K.K. Slider, entire compositions of his metallic croon wafting through the game. Now, after some time with it… I kinda respect the artistry? Have you heard “K.K. Soul?” Or “K.K. Salsa?” Or, my heart, “Welcome Horizons?” Dylan-esque. —B.L.
13. I cyberbully my friends, with gifts.
Through letters that mock them about their islands or their fashion choices with an expensive item attached, I torment both my villagers and my real life friends. It’s that sort of twisted, rich guy behavior that you’d see in American Psycho or Succession, and I’m loving it. —C.S.
14. I’m a corporate fat cat.
Besides being remarkably wealthy (yes, I also have drug lord tendencies), I lord it over everyone. My massive home is atop a three-story hill, complete with waterfalls, a marble fountain, and private beaches (yes, there’s a fence blocking my residents from getting in). There’s so much obscene luxury that looks down on the crammed suburbia I built for my residents. I’m an asshole, but a rich asshole. —C.S.
15. My fantasy life occurs in a Thomas Hardy novel.
When I picked up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I figured I’d want to hoard the same kinds of things I collected when I played the GameCube version: astronaut gear, sports swag, a mini-fridge. Cut to two weeks into the game, and I have a modest, fenced-in pasture surrounding my home. Kettle bathtub, old-world sewing machine, brick well, a lily garden (which Nan the ram, my kindhearted grandma villager, comes over to water, what a treat). It’s calm. It’s nice. It makes me happy. I’m still in my twenties. What the hell happened? —B.L.
16. If public taboo didn’t exist, my fashion would be a disaster.
I’m wearing a duck bill and eye patch and a wizard robe and hat, and I look so good. It’s called fashion. —C.S.
17. When given the opportunity, I will wear a crown.
I’m rich and I’m the ruler and what’s the only way to show it? Wearing a 1 million bell crown. I’m proud, and I look like a pompous ass hole. I’m also still wearing a duck bill. —C.S.
18. I’m a terrible roommate, partner, son, etc.
I hate chores. Vacuuming, surface-scrubbing, taking out the trash, shit… washing dishes? No. If anyone I’ve ever shared a space with knew I once spent a half-hour pulling weeds in Animal Crossing, I would probably be alone for the foreseeable future. Don’t tell on me, okay? —B.L.
19. I value more time spent in a video game than in the real world.
I visited my time-traveler friend to check on the always-churning construction of his mansion. Past the boxing ring, next to the combo bedroom-bathroom room, he showed me the sauna he built. With the thermometer he drew himself. Never one to take a picture in real life, ever—let alone a selfie—I screenshotted us sitting on the bench together, our avatars getting our sweat on? The fuck is wrong with me? —B.L.
20. My heart goes on (for now).
Before Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I had hit a sort of quarter-life gaming crisis. Red Dead Redemption 2, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Spider-Man—I couldn’t stick with a game for more than a couple weeks at a time, long removed from the teenage days I’d spent losing every bit of myself to a controller and screen. Animal Crossing gave me that feeling back. Spending hours banging against rocks and trees so I could build the home of my dreams, imagining new construction projects even when I’m not playing the game. Guess my grown-up heart hasn’t grown cold just yet. Is there an Animal Crossing emote for “grateful to be alive?” —B.L.