Animal Crossing: New Horizons - An Environmental Utopia We Can Learn From

Recently, I bought myself a copy of the latest edition of Animal Crossing, the much talked about and highly anticipated, New Horizons. (I know it's pretty "late in the game" to buy it… but oh well better late than never.) I've been an Animal Crossing fan for a while, having my first ever 'Let's Go to the City' edition on the Wii, as well as 'Pocket Camp' on my phone, and so of course when I heard Nintendo were releasing a new game I was more than excited.

I was partly compelled to buy it because I wanted to see what the hype was about, but I was also intrigued by the new features in terms of online play, high quality graphics and character customization (finally we can have different ethnicities after years of the default white avatar - YAY)! Even the little things like the YEET stick (the only correct way to refer to the vaulting pole) and the possibility of being able to swim absolutely blew my mind when I saw the trailer.

Ever since I bought the game I've been pretty much hooked to it, coming back everyday to discover something new about my very own island. But it got me thinking...what was it about this wholesome game that lured me along with so many adults, kids and senior citizens alike?  Why was such a world that is so simple, just so effective and appealing? There is definitely more than one answer to this question, but I think the main reason is that…

...Animal Crossing provides the perfect escape.

To a world without Coronavirus. To a world without War. To a world without Climate Change.


Photo by Felipe Vieira on Unsplash

The thing that makes this game so darn appealing is how much it fills the void for this perfect utopian world, free from problems and anxieties. It sounds a little obvious but when we play we don't have to worry about illness, contamination and the pandemic. We are no longer fearful of being judged or scorned by other people. Even simple things like how I can freely dye my hair any colour without damaging my natural roots. My perpetual indecisiveness also has room to maneuver and experiment. I can don a blue pixie cut one day and instantly grow long purple layers another. I can decorate my house with an aurora lights wallpaper in the morning and have it showcase a fireworks display in the night. 

In the game, I don't have to worry about things such as the prospect of job hunting, the mounting cases of war and injustice, or global warming. Instead, we get this utopian ideal of cute characters, calming music and beautiful settings where we are surrounded by beautiful nature and the possibilities of adventure. All of it just radiates strong Ghibli vibes and I think that's what I love most - it allows me to quite literally step into a playable Miyazaki like world.

I know what you're thinking…an idealised fantasy does not change a broken reality, it only distracts from it. But the Animal Crossing universe isn't exactly perfect either and that's where the realistic aspects of this game come in. That's why we have Tom Nook (the Crook) there to keep us shackled to the oppressive hands of capitalism and the ever-deepening burden of housing debt, as we deepen our materialism by hoarding funiture and clothing till we run out of storage space and drown ourselves in clutter. So it's not entirely unrealistic and distanced from the real world after all. ;) Though this remark is undoubtedly true, I think we can still learn a lot from the game. We can actually use the game as a social model for how we can change the real world for the better.


How the world of Animal Crossing advocates a societal model for caring about the environment:

Her Campus Media

  • Picking up litter & weeds are rewarded- One of the earliest aspects of the game involves de-weeding the rural areas of the island and picking up litter for profit. I thought this was such a clever model for society because imagine how amazing this would be in real life! I know it sounds far fetched but if Councils, Government institutions and other big establishments actually encouraged this and invested money into these projects, don’t you think people would care more about keeping our planet clean? Think about how many people would be employed and how clean our environment would be.

  • Upcycling & DIY Projects- Another aspect of the game which I found inspiring was how much it encourages recycling. Within the first few stages of playing, I collected a bunch of weeds and an empty can washed up on the shore. It looked like a bunch of junk in my pocket, but my avatar was able to think creatively about how we could upcycle this to turn it into something new. I ended up with a very pretty botanical vase which I now keep in my bedroom. I once fished up an old tire and transformed it into a charming seat for myself and I know how to use pine cones for a cute autumn inspired decoration piece. Although these are very simple examples which may not transfer directly into real life, the principle still remains. In a world of growing consumerism, we need to be more mindful about what we own and what we wish to throw away. If there's room to reuse and recycle, consider taking it, even if throwing it away may seem like the most obvious or immediate response. I always find Pinterest a great ideas hub, if you're looking for more ways to do this!
  • Designing my own clothes- At home, I've been trying my hand at sewing (which is a work in progress for me - because I'm admittedly not that good at working with textiles.) Maybe one day I'll be able to sew and design my own clothes as an alternative escape to the culture of fast fashion which is ever so present these days. Thinking up new designs on the game has been a great creative outlet for me to express my sense of style and experiment with colours and shapes. Hopefully I can use these Animal Crossing designs as inspiration for real life clothes. 
  • Gardening- Although I have to use resources such as wood and branches for crafting, I am also giving back to the wildlife by planting more trees, flowers and even pumpkin patches around my island. Animal Crossing encourages me to utilise my real life garden more often! I've learnt about different plant and flower species simply by collecting them. I'm hoping to grow more plants and fruits in my garden soon!
  • To survive as a Vegetarian-ok so this one is a bit of a joke, but it fascinates me that I can survive on fruit alone in Animal Crossing (my island grows cherries). It's just so wholesome that a world can exist where we don't need to rely on animals to survive. I think it would be disturbing in a game like ANIMAL crossing if we started eating, you know, ANIMALS... but I hope this will encourage me to limit my meat intake.
  • Clean Energy - You can even use your Nook miles to earn solar panels and wind turbines for your island so that you can live off renewable energy.
  • Fossils - To Discover NOT Burn- Instead of burning fossil fuels, I can discover fossils on Animal Crossing where I can contribute to the rich cultural currency of the landscape. Blathers is by far one of my favourite characters in the entire franchise (as well as Celeste, Timmy and Tommy) and I love hearing him blather on about fossils [dun, dun, dun]*. I feel like I have learnt more facts about dinosaurs, fish and other creatures from Blathers than I have learnt in my entire education. The fact that I actually feel like I am shaping the island with every new discovery is an amazing experience, especially when it is so easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed in a world that is seemingly too vast and overpopulated to acknowledge the contributions of just one, single individual. I think museums would be far more interesting if we could all contribute with our own artifacts and discoveries. We would feel more connected to the world around us if we had the opportunity to interact with art, history and culture on a more personal basis. We could curate our own local exhibitions and galleries rather than reserving that power supremely for the elite.

*Yes, that was a Phineas & Ferb reference.​

The Nintendo Switch offers the best way to "Switch" off from the real world if you like. I can take breaks from lectures and it's my favourite way to reward myself after a busy day of work. I like how the game operates in real time and follows the seasons of the year, which forces you to switch off and come back again tomorrow. I think this is a useful tool in keeping the excitement because the world continues expanding the more you play. It keeps you wanting to come back for more.

There's many benefits to playing Animal Crossing and as crazy as it sounds, I think we can learn a lot from this game. There's a lot more meaning to it than what meets the eye and as much as I wish I could abandon my current lifestyle in favour of moving to a deserted island... I think I will just stick to the virtual game for now. I hope that you and I can implement some of the environmental themes featured in the game and be inspired by Animal Crossing to do our part for our planet!

So if you ever wished your real world was just as perfect as your Animal Crossing island (because trust me we have all been there...) let's try together to work on getting our real planet to a 5 star rating!