It’s no question that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is currently the biggest game in the world. The newest iteration of this classic series has skyrocketed to instant success, arriving at a time when the world needs a distraction from everyday life more than ever. But while breaking sales records is always something to celebrate, it may bring forth issues some didn’t predict, turning the experience into one that’s unexpectedly competitive.
A New Phenomenon
With more than five million copies sold in a single month, it’s been difficult to find someone who isn’t just as obsessed as I am over New Horizons. Players have swarmed to social media to discuss the game, sharing constant screenshots and helpful tips. To no surprise, Youtube has experienced a particular spark in New Horizons videos, with creators such as TagBackTV and ZackScottGames earning hundreds of thousands of views from their five-star island tour videos.
Such popularity can only be a good thing, right? After all, if the Animal Crossing series wasn’t the blockbuster franchise it is, it’d be much harder to find the useful guides and tips that make navigating through the game easier. Besides, who doesn’t like sharing the fun with others? Even Nintendo seems to be encouraging this shared phenomenon by including the ability to visit other islands through online play.
But there comes a time when the constant stream starts to impact the experience; unfortunately, I think that time is now.
I first felt this pressure around the two-week mark after release. By then I’d already sunk in around 40 hours into the game, unlocking most of the prominent upgrades available. Except, when I watched my island change, I didn’t feel the sense of accomplishment I knew I should be feeling. Each time I opened Twitter or Youtube, I couldn’t scroll more than thirty seconds or so without seeing someone else’s island; one that was clearly far better, with a creator who had spent far more time on it than I could hope to match.
Suddenly, everything I had done so far felt inconsequential. Why be proud of finally unlocking the Able Sisters when there were other islands that’d already done so within days of release? (Of course, there’s also the discussion of time-traveling, which has led to many players achieving months of progress in just a fraction of the time, but that’s for another article.)
Let me be clear; there is nothing wrong with having made an absolutely awesome island in just a few weeks or so. All those players have rightfully put in the time and effort it takes to get where they are, while others—like myself—are just getting to that place a little more slowly.
The real problem resides in the comparison that comes with social media, (as is a common trend with most other things in life besides video games). It’s hard to feel relaxed when I know how far I am behind others, or how many things I have yet to accomplish; it starts to feel like a race. This is the exact opposite of what New Horizons sets out to do, and I’ve found that I’m not alone in this. Looking at Twitter, I’ve discovered countless tweets voicing the same concern as mine, most of which end up sparking heated debates between fans of the game.
Who’s To Blame?
When I compare New Horizons to my days of playing New Leaf, the difference is clear. Seven years ago, I wasn’t nearly as consumed with social media—or even much of the internet—as I am now. I had no idea what anyone else was doing with their village, nor what things I had yet to unlock. Every achievement was new and fresh, each surprise more delightful than the last. I wasn’t busy comparing myself to every new screenshot I saw online, which in turn allowed me to spend as much time within the game as I saw fit without an invisible pressure bearing down on me to sour the experience.
Some might say this is a personal problem; if you don’t want to think about what other people are doing, then don’t look at their stuff, right? Fair point; however, current affairs have proven it nearly impossible to avoid the internet for very long. I can’t remember how many New Horizons articles I’ve seen squeezed underneath a notification for the next global health scare, or another viral tweet about how Judy is the cutest villager.
Besides, everyone should be allowed to share the fun with others, especially in a time like this; feeling as part of a community is more necessary now than ever. Unfortunately, this comes with the risk of pairing your island against the others you come across, which—if you’re like me—can prove to be an inhibitor on how much fun the experience is.
I don’t think this issue can be blamed on any one particular group. I’m positive there are many who can easily handle seeing the progress others have made without it impacting how they feel about their own, but it’s clear there’s still a large population of fans who feel as I do. It’s not something the high-achievers, the slow-and steady players, or even Nintendo themselves could have done on purpose—nor can possibly fix. All said and done, it’ll remain an unexpected factor the Animal Crossing community will have to deal with all the same.