Why I’m Still Addicted to Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Updated: Jul 31
Author: Helayna Raffaele
Hypes constantly come and go, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems here to stay. It’s been over a year since the game’s release and sales have grown by the thousands; players have forged entire Youtube and Twitch careers off documenting their gameplay; and online communities thrive through several apps and discords.
People continue to play for a plethora of reasons, ranging from a source of income to a sense of nostalgia. I don’t have a Youtube channel and never played the earlier versions of the game. Instead, I cling to New Horizons for what I would call a more “unheard of” reason: it forces me to confront my own perfectionism. If this sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is — but let me explain.
The game’s free world design allows players to build their own island paradise from the ground up. You can fish, garden, and excavate fossils, but with no real end goal in sight. This blissful innocence is what makes the game so incredibly endearing. But after a series of Youtube island tours, this bliss was taken from me. Suddenly, my innocent game was turned into a competition for who can create the prettiest island. I’m not talking about Isabelle’s five-star rating system, no no no, I mean the island beauty standards set by online island inspo.
One virtual trip to Pokyland and I suddenly had an island inferiority complex. The Studio Ghibli inspired island recreated several scenes from various films: the bathhouse and train station from Spirited Away, a rainbow garden of hyacinths from Howl’s Moving Castle, and a precious My Neighbor Totoro themed bus stop. Each build was so creative and instantly recognizable. Naturally, I became envious.
I don’t believe for a moment that anyone meant to create island beauty standards. Some people are naturally more creative than others and it will inevitably show. Many players ignore the pressure to create an aesthetic island and focus on what they like. As much as I wanted to convince myself I was one of these nonchalant players, I still craved a picturesque island.
For a while, this really stressed me out. I wanted my Cocoa Land to be a realistic city with impressive skylines and street-side markets. I even considered recreating the Toronto CN tower as a nod to my own city. But here’s the catch, I am no visual artist. There’s a reason I’m writing about Animal Crossing instead of drawing about it. I was in over my head and refused to realize it. It wasn’t until months in that I began to think: why am I taking an innocent game so seriously?
I can confidently (and somewhat embarrassingly) say that I try way too hard. At part-time jobs, I’m told the phrase “slow down” more than you know. I’m not saying this to gloat; it quite frankly leads to more mistakes than it does productivity. The excessive pressure I put on myself to exceed expectations only sets me back in the long run. This applies to my writing too. I often overthink concepts to oblivion before I ever get the chance to write about them. I’ve always tolerated these flaws because I never noticed them affecting my downtime. I figured, as long as I can unwind at some point, I have things under control…
Then came Animal Crossing.
The delusion I built became shattered by an island of anthropomorphic animals. It’s quite fitting, actually. People around me always told me it was a problem — my inherent need to overachieve. But as with most things, being told by someone else wasn’t enough. I had to realize the problem myself. Once it diminished my sacred downtime, it was game over on my big charade.
Eventually, I retired the idea of the Youtube standard and started doing whatever I wanted with my island. There are remnants of a city — with streets and makeshift markets — but with no scarcity of greenery. Trees and flowers litter the sidewalks and forestry fills the outskirts. There are several unfinished paths and clustered arrangements, but I suppose that’s how I like it. I’d say it’s an adequate representation of my tastes, lacking consistency and a bit all over the place.
In the end, did Animal Crossing cure my perfectionism? No. I still work too hard for minimum wage and rewrote this article concept thrice. Nonetheless, it’s a starting point. So for my fellow try-hards and overachievers, I encourage you to find your island paradise — because it just may change your reality.
My Neighbor Totoro bus stop
The bridge and bathhouse from Spirited Away
The train scene (featuring No-face and Chihiro) from Spirited Away
Howl’s secret garden from Howl’s Moving Castle
The Cocoa Land train station
My secret picnic spot (hidden behind an orchard)
My villager Flurry and I enjoying the cliffside views
A quaint riverside park
Cocoa Land’s town square