In this Soapbox, Gavin discusses the fine line between enjoying his Animal Crossing dailies and grinding through chores.
For anybody prone to compulsive behaviour, video games can be a dangerous pastime. Whether it's grinding away just to get a Platinum trophy, completing a collection of digital doohickeys, or not feeling like you've truly beaten a game until you've unlocked every last thing, there are countless ways to get carried away to the point where the fun skips town and you're left with a list of chores.
In many ways, Animal Crossing is a game built on chores. There's something charming about ticking off your daily tasks, whether watering plants or scouring the beach for today's message-in-a-bottle or whatever else you've set you've set your mind to on your deserted island.
It is a getaway island, though, and perhaps more than any previous game in the series, New Horizons goes out of its way to highlight that you're supposed to be relaxing. There's more to do than ever before--a buffet of possibilities--and the point is to do what you like. However, Wedding Season, the latest seasonal event that sees the return of alpaca couple Reese and Cyrus, brought out my worst compulsive gaming tendencies.
To be fair, May's Stamp Rally event had a similar effect. My bathroom (I say 'bathroom', there's a TV and a washing machine and a fireplace in there) wall is filled with duplicate fish, bug and fossil plaques that I collected every day from 1st to 18th May. I didn't need to collect them repeatedly, but I could... so I did.
Whizzing around the museum to find the stamp stations was a breeze, though, compared to flying to Harv's Island, filling his wedding studio with furniture as quickly as possible and snapping an anniversary photo of the happy couple every day throughout the month of June. The aesthetic quality of this treasured anniversary photo is measured not by any consideration of spacing or decorative intent, but rather by how many appropriate items are placed in the room. After taking this matrimonial photo, Reese gives you Heart Crystals, a new currency designed (it feels) to add yet another step to the daily grind.
You redeem these pointless gems--which take up inventory slots--for Wedding-themed furniture from Cyrus, who dutifully gifts the Heart Crystals back to Reese. Apparently she has some sort of fetish for the nonsense items, but I can't really blame her. I'm suffering from a similar ailment.
It's the old hoarder's mentality. You see, the Wedding furniture is only available from Cyrus, and only for the month of June. If I don't visit the couple, I'll miss out on the exclusive items! The items that I have zero interest in.
After trekking to the airport and going through the rigmarole of getting to Harv's island, then speaking with Harv, then speaking with Reese, then laboriously customising furniture depending on the theme she wants and placing one of everything in the room, then taking the picture, then talking to Reese again and getting the damn Heart Crystals, then looking at the selection of items I can get... the self-loathing for doing all this flares up. What the hell am I doing this for?
The daily grind
After putting down the pad and pausing for a moment of self-reflection, I realise that I'm treating the catalog the same as my Critterpedia or Museum exhibit spaces. I visit Nook's Cranny and the Able Sisters' shop every day and buy anything and everything I haven't seen before simply to fill that catalog slot and have the option of buying it again in the future. After all, who can say when I'll desperately need an Ancient Belted Robe, a pair of Argyle crew socks or a some Muay-thai shorts? You know, for all the Animal Crossing parties and events I attend.
On further reflection, this hoarding mentality is the root of other little friction points between me, the game, and a good time. Interior design isn't my forte, mainly because I rarely get rid of anything 'cool'. Consequently, showers get thrown in kitchen corners and my rooms become mere storage spaces housing train sets, guitars, grandfather clocks and neon signs.
My island's a mess, with random pagodas, basketball nets and disappointingly small Oarfish models strewn about, waiting for fitting surroundings I'll never construct. There are some incredible, inspiring islands out there, but I don't have the time for that; I'm too busy accruing more crap with the vague idea of completing the catalog one day. Where's Marie Kondo when you need her?
I've already got all the fossils, I'll get all the KK Songs, and I'm making good progress on the fish and bugs. It's a pleasure to find those things. I'd totally be down for a Critter update or DLC pack which added another page of bugs and fish to catch. Maybe new fruit trees or plants could attract them, or a special character who's been conducting research into wildlife could activate a lure machine on my island! Throw another extension on the museum and I'd be more than happy to carry on fishing for another year.
Wedding season, though, defaulted my gaming brain to lizard mode. Rationally, I can't be bothered with collecting for the sake of it, but there's a deep part of my brain addicted to ticking boxes. I blame all those collectathon platformers from the '90s; they've programmed me to hoover up every insignificant item no matter what. Banjo-Kazooie has a lot to answer for.
The difference with Banjo is that I can 100% that game from memory in a handful of hours; Animal Crossing is a different beast. It's absolutely at its best when you play it how you want, without obligation. I can honestly say that noodling about making Star Trek uniforms in the Custom Design editor has been some of the most rewarding, most relaxing time I've spent with a controller in my hands all year. Granted, it's been a very strange year, but I've got my money's worth from the game several times over already.
It's a constant battle, though, to remind myself how I personally should play to get the most out of New Horizons. Some people will adore the challenge and grind of getting every little thing; to me, it feels too much like a second job. The Bunny day event might have rubbied people the wrong way, but for me Wedding season has dragged and reawakened some bad habits.
It's done now, I've got everything. Sorry, Reese - next year you'll have to find some other chump to set out your chairs and customise your cakes every day for a month!
That is unless there's a new set of items to collect, of course.