Why I’m Against Time Travel In ‘Animal Crossing’

Animal Crossing has come to us when we needed it most. Its calming music, adorable animal villagers and daily routines are helping us struggle with our many anxieties about the Covid-19 pandemic and self-isolation. It’s giving us essential, virtual social interaction when we can’t physically get it. And, for those who can play online, it’s letting some recreate the lives they had before the virus apocalypse. 

But, one thing has troubled me during my time playing. Something that’s out of my control and feels petty to bring up. Alas, I don’t want to be the one but I’m gonna be the one and say it: your tweets about your Animal Crossing islands made through the time travel cheat are ruining others’ fun. In fact, they’re kinda giving me FOMO vibes. 

Wait, you can time travel in Animal Crossing?

Animal Crossing is a game about patience. It’s designed to be played daily. Each day, you’re briefed on the day’s events and news, tidy up your island, talk to your villagers, catch critters for the museum and sell your goods to slowly chip away at your impending debt to a capitalist raccoon. 

The game is played out in real time and changes to your home and the island take literal days to take effect. Expanding your home? Waiting for a bridge to be built to open up parts of the island to your neighbours? Met a cute black and white spotted dog and your new best friend called Bones on a faraway island and invited him to join your island getaway? That all takes between a few days to a week to happen.

And as a result, some users who don’t want to wait are changing the dates on their Switch consoles, effectively traveling into the future in-game. And look, bar the fact it can fuck up your island and leave it infested with weeds and cockroaches, and will make your villagers sad with some even potentially leaving while you’re gone, I can understand the logic here. 

The first week of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a slog. It slowly teaches you the game’s mechanics, the tools at your disposal and requires a lot of waiting for things to be built. When the game first launched, people were desperate to start building their future homes and couldn’t wait. And, I have no problem with people doing it themselves, but I felt a huge wave of FOMO when they started sharing their advanced islands online. 

AND YEAH, I KNOW MY FOMO IN ANIMAL CROSSING STEMS FROM A PRIVILEGED POSITION

Chatting with friends in our (hopefully weekly) Zoom hangouts over the weekend, I realised how lucky I was right now. After Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the events, hospitality, retail and general service industries would shut down and people were told to stay at home and self-isolate, most of my friends were left unemployed. 

Now, victims of the incoming recession experts are calling the worst period in Australia since “The Great Depression,” they, like many other young people, are suffering financially from barren employment opportunities, escalating mental health concerns and no social interaction. All they have is the colourfully bright and warm world of their Animal Crossing island and its welcoming and uplifting villagers. 

By contrast, I’m still employed and working from home. While it has its own hangups, I am incredibly grateful and understand how lucky I am to be in this position. But, it’s also meant I don’t have as much spare time to build my virtual home of Purgatory. The way I play Animal Crossing is slow and gradual. It’s a nice way to unwind after a long day at work. 

Each night, after scrolling my many feeds and plugging out of my capitalist mainframe, I *switch* into my island persona. Here I’m relaxed, free and able to do whatever I want. For between 30 minutes to an hour before bed, I clean up my island, chat with my neighbours and help build expansions that I’ll see in a few nights’ time (which given how time is no longer a construct rn, is pretty damn quick). 

What that means is that I am playing at a slower rate than everyone. What took some of my friends and the people behind Animal Crossing’s most viral tweets a few days has taken me weeks. I mean, I only just got my second wave of villagers last night when I’d been seeing people on Twitter sharing birthday parties in-game packed with animal critters. And again, it’s fine that people are doing this and the only person you’re racing in life is yourself, but seeing tweets about things that I want to slowly experience over time and be surprised by, is ruining, well, the surprise. 

And, I’m not alone here.

Polygon spoke with a bunch of players who feel like this divide is making the game unnecessarily stressful. As newcomer Emily Vignapiano told Polygon, “it feels like I tripped out of the starting gate of a race, and now I’m trying to keep running on a twisted ankle.”

“When I look on Twitter and see people with seemingly full neighbourhoods, big houses with tons of cool furniture and knick knacks, and largely furnished museums, it makes me feel like I’m playing the game incorrectly,” added island goer Samuel Martinelli. 

So, what can you do if you’re in this situation? 

If you’re being spoiled on Twitter, there’s a couple of things you can do to try to avoid being spoiled. Censoring keywords and hashtags like Animal Crossing, Isabelle and #ACNW helps, but admittedly, some still share spoilers without tagging their posts. Then, if you’re still finding it ruining your game time, maybe mute friends who are sharing things you don’t want to see (sorry pal, it’s not personal).

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game about going at your own pace but this experience has made me question whether I’m too slow or bad at the game. Feeling FOMO and insecure about my island when compared to my friends who’ve spent over 110 hours so far, and what I see on Twitter, is making Animal Crossing, a game that’s designed to be anything but stressful, stressful. 

But, if like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed from seeing other players’ incredibly creative and advanced islands, when all you have is a tent and two villagers, don’t fret. Just maybe, try to switch off social media every now and then and put things on mute. 

Julian Rizzo-Smith is a writer and producer. He also claims to be a vine historian, avid connoisseur of low-fi beats, indie hip hop and Kermit memes. In a perfect world, he’d be married to Tyler the Creator, own an Arcanine and a Lapras, and don his own Sailor Scouts uniform. He tweets @GayWeebDisaster, which is also, coincidentally, how one might describe him.

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