Animal Crossing: New Horizons (opens in new tab) has a horrible way of making us all need things that we didn't know we even wanted. You're looking at the owner of a brand new punching bag, oversized chest freezer, pink lava lamp, and a selection of Easter-themed merch – and that was just this morning's purchases. There are a plethora of things to collect, and the sense of needing them all is only exacerbated by seeing the things other players have amassed on their own tropical paradises via social media. Cute outfits strung together with items I've never ever seen, combined with shared snapshots of growing hubs, means that hunger for more items isn't going away anytime soon.
Because of this lust for stuff, many players over the years have suggested that, beyond all the cuteness and anthropomorphic animals, the Animal Crossing series is just one big capitalism machine. It's not hard to prove either. From the way we amass products from Nook's Cranny, the amount of disposable clothing we purchase, to the unending cycle of mortgage repayments, and the fact that everything you do in-game is to basically make more money.
And yet, while Tom Nook is still rinsing me dry and I've spent more Bells on unnecessary items than I'd care to consider, there's actually another element to the Animal Crossing series that puts the focus on the way we interact with the environment and use products for good.
You may have noticed that there's been a lot of talk of people trying to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. As much as we're all – hopefully – trying to use fewer plastic products, there are some that are trying to reduce the amount of landfill waste they produce to absolutely nothing. The ethos sees people reducing what they need, reusing as much as possible, and when possible, even recycling less.
It's a lifestyle that, strangely enough, seems to have penetrated Animal Crossing: New Horizons too. In between the constant spending and selling, there's a movement towards this kind of mentality in island life too. It's something I noticed right when I first started the game. All I had to my name was a tent, a handful of crappy camping items, a net, and my trusty flimsy fishing rod. So off I toddled to the closest stretch of water in search of fish, but instead started plucking tin cans and old tires from the depths. Not great for building out the museum.
But, after I'd fished up a couple pieces of rubbish, my little villager had a lightbulb moment, deciding to invent something with the trash rather than simply throwing it away. Over the course of my 200-odd (and counting) hours with the game, I've gained recipes for all sorts of items made solely from trash. A succulent planter made from an empty can and 10 clumps of weeds, some potted ivy for the wall from more weeds and some clay, a thumb piano from an empty can, some wood and an iron nugget… There's plenty that I've made from trash that has improved the overall aesthetic of my island for the better. Even the first pair of new shoes I got in New Horizons were made from a pair of shoes I fished from a pond.
There are less useful recipes that my little islander has thought up of course, like a tire stack or literal trash bags, to walls and floors that let me recreate a literal garbage dump in my digital home. But, that hasn't stopped the online community from embracing these too. There's a thread flowing through the playerbase that opt for the more disturbing, and regularly hilarious, takes on island life, and objects like this only play into their particular fantasties and aesthetics. It might not be my choice, but I'm certainly here for all the chaos people are crafting.
The same goes for the trading and swap shops that players are running to exchange items and resources with other folks. Pinging out a cheeky Dodo code across social media for people to come and swap items, or fruit, or other such oddities has become a staple of the latest entry in the series. Just today I crafted two cutting boards to swap with someone for the ironwood dresser I needed to craft the ironwood kitchenette I'd lusted over for weeks. Madness, but now I have a kitchen, folks.
Perhaps in this little world where everything serves a purpose, it reflects the idealistic life we all should aspire to live. Yes, we're still going to sell a lot of items to the twins at Nook's Cranny, but at least along the way we've been a little better at making the most of what we've got. Let's hope Tom Nook recycles, eh?