In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you spend most of your time earning in-game currency called Bells. And I can’t bring myself to part with them.
It’s normal to make around 50k Bells daily through harvesting money from rocks (really) and growing money trees (really, really). But generally, you earn Bells through collecting and selling fish, bugs, and fruit. With Bells, you can buy Stuff—house upgrades, island amenities, furniture, and pure junk. This is the point of the game—to buy stuff and bring more people to your island (so they presumably buy stuff, too).
At the center of this is Tom Nook, the raccoon dictator who profits from you and the rest of your island companions. Tom Nook is a bit of a con artist. He lures you in with zero-interest loans, then later makes you pay him for things you have no business paying for.
It’s all very messed up.
Anyway, I suck at Animal Crossing. Why? I don’t like spending money in Animal Crossing, because I don’t like spending money in real life.
In the game, I’ve stuck with the cheapest house, and it doesn’t have much furniture. I hoard my resources, and I’m very close to saving one million Bells. Why? I have no idea. There’s little point in saving money in this game (unless I wanted all the house upgrades—about 7 million Bells. No thanks).
But here’s the problem. Every week, you get an in-game letter from the fictional Happy Home Academy (HHA). This is an algorithm that scans your house interior and gives you a letter grade based on how well you decorate your home. With my small abode and minimal furniture, I get a solid S-rank. Cool, and addicting. But if I was to upgrade, I’d have to buy more stuff to make good use of my space, all so I could continue my S+ grade with HHA.
The island itself has a similar mechanic. By attracting more residents to your island, building amenities, and buying stuff so shops will move in, you get a 1–5 star ranking that governs your progress in the game. But this floods your to-do list. Flowers need watering; islanders need conversing with (or they’ll leave); weeds need pulling; buildings must be moved to accommodate the shrinking space.
Tom Nook becomes a very rich raccoon, indeed.
Compare this to the game’s intro—you’re given a campsite and an island almost all to yourself. If you wanted, you could forego the island renovation and simply relax, hunt for seashells and go fishing for fun. But by the end of normal gameplay, you’re the island keeper, probably drowning in debt, and loaded with tasks—many of which are, arguably, not fun. It’s a retelling of the Fisherman Parable in video game form.
I can’t deal with this stress. And this is why I refuse to progress the game in the way it wants me to. No, Tom Nook, I don’t need that bigger house or a garden gnome collection or a cat tree (there aren’t even pet cats in the game). And I don’t want to pay you Bells in return for Nook Miles (think Schrutebucks).
So, I’ll just keep saving my Bells and being terrible at the game. I hope that one day my Animal Crossing character can retire from the fruit, bug, and fish game and enjoy the scenery of my private island, free from Tom Nook’s tomfoolery. A boy can dream.