Mornings have always been a blur in my house: a family of four rushing about, trying to get ready for a day of school or work, the chaos of half-eaten bowls of cereal and unzipped jackets. Lately, though, there’s been a different kind of rush with everyone trying to be the first to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Like most games in the series, New Horizons is meant to be a social experience. You live a virtual life on an island full of talking animals, but you can also bring friends along. For people in the same household, they can set up plots of land on the same island and live alongside each other. As someone tasked with reviewing the game, I thought a great way to test this feature would be to play with my entire family, including my wife and our two young daughters. I regret this decision.
The issue, particularly early on in the game, is scarcity. In New Horizons, the main goal is to build up a community on a deserted island. You do this by exploiting nature. You can sell fish and fruit for cash, gather wood and weeds to craft furniture, and mine rocks for rare minerals. Animal Crossing operates based on the real-world clock, so most of these resources regenerate on a daily basis. With four people sharing an island, it can become a race to get what you need.
When I first started playing, everyone got mad at me for pulling all of the weeds. I thought I was cleaning up; in reality, I was giving them less to do. Fruit has also become a sticking point. We’ve managed to cultivate plenty of non-native fruit, which sells for quite a few bells, but they always seem to have been picked by the time I play. Things become especially frustrating when you unlock the museum and the option dig up fossils, which are a) really cool, and b) extremely lucrative. But if someone digs them up before you, you’re out of luck. Sharing a space with younger kids who don’t quite understand the game or the importance of creating a nice, tidy virtual space exacerbates the problem.
Here are some ways around these issues. One is careful planning. We’ve managed to create an orchard together, so there’s a reasonable amount of fruit for everyone, provided no one gets greedy. You can also visit mystery islands, which are randomly generated spaces that you can strip of resources without repercussions. (It’s best not to think about it too deeply.) These are useful but also costly. It’s annoying to have to part with some hard-earned Nook Miles just because someone already collected all of the iron ore on the island.
That’s not to say the experience has been completely competitive. In order to improve infrastructure around the island, like building bridges and ramps, we’ve had to pool together our money to pay off the exceptionally large fees. Similarly, because outdoor spaces are now a big part of the game — you can place furniture outside as well as in your house — we’ve had to talk to each other about how we want to set up the island. It is a shared space, after all. We settled on a system where everyone has a fenced-in yard and can do whatever they want in that space. No one likes my giant Godzilla statue, but so long as it’s on my property, no one complains. We’ve also made heavy use of the gift-giving system, sharing furniture and clothing we don’t want instead of selling it. It’s nice to get a present, even in a video game.
But even still, I always feel a slight sense of anxiousness about sharing the island. It’s fun to have people to experience it with and talk about the latest developments, like the new antelope that just moved in or the great bomber jacket that showed up in the store. But the competitive element hasn’t gone away, even after more than two weeks of play. It’s something that lingers in the background — and it makes me want to play as soon as I wake up.