Photo Via the Nintendo Switch
Ever since I was two years old I’ve been playing video games. My dad says he put a controller in my little hands for the first time when I was in hospital during my brother’s birth. The first game I ever played was Namco’s Galaga. To my dad’s surprise, I learned how to play pretty quickly. I have no recollection of this myself, but I definitely feel proud of the achievement.
I learned some valuable problem-solving skills as a kid thanks to games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. But the game that ultimately defined my childhood was none other than Nintendo’s Animal Crossing. As a young whippersnapper, I’d invest several hours into the game every day in order to get better. For those of you who are unfmiliar, Animal Crossing is essentially a social simulation game which began life (at least in Western markets) on the GameCube. It provides a unique kind of escape. You get the opportunity to create your paradise and explore as you desire.
At twenty-two, I’m still a dedicated Animal Crossing fan. I believe that much of my success and development in life can be traced back to my experience with Animal Crossing.
What really set Animal Crossing apart for me as a kid was the freedom to roam. When you’re a young kid and you can’t just go out and drive to the beach or party with friends, it’s handy to have a world where you can exercise real control. I was only around five years old at the time, so I also didn’t have access to more mature “freedom to roam” titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
The main objective in Animal Crossing is to build a community from the ground up. There’s nobody on your island at first. But over time, and with more experience, more people will move in! I made sure to speak to all my neighbors, bring them gifts, and fill the community with trees — lots of them. Throughout the experience, I’d find myself trying to catch insects and fish to fill my town’s museum. I was captivated by the “gotta catch ’em all” concept — kind of like Pokémon.
Fun fact: Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released for the Nintendo Switch on March 20th, 2020 while the GameCube version was released June 27th, 2003 (17 years ago!).
Earlier I mentioned learning several important lessons from this series. They included:
- How to make and save money
- How to organize a home (at age five)
- Why healthy relationships matter
Making and saving money
In Animal Crossing, earning money comes in many forms. You can resell your items back to Nook’s Cranny (the supermarket) — you’ll be paid roughly a quarter of the value back. Reselling things I no longer needed taught me about the depreciation of assets and led me to open an eBay store in high school.
Another way to earn money is to dig up fossils. About one in ten fossils will actually be a surprise money bag with about 1,000 bells (in-game currency). Having a great eye and being observant — and being willing to take chances — could pay dividends down the line.
Finally, cheat codes are an option in terms of making money. I remember entering a cheat code that allowed me to receive expensive rugs in the mail that I could resell to Nook. I won’t lie to you; it didn’t feel right cheating. This experience taught me that if I wanted to make money, I’d do it honestly.
When I had more than 100,000 bells, I knew it was time to put my money into savings. It became instinctual for me and it’s become a regular habit as I make my way through my early 20s.
Organizing a home at age five
As a kid who didn’t stop wetting the bed until I turned seven, I knew how to design a home by the time I turned five. It may seem crazy that such a young child possessed a sense of style and hominess. But Animal Crossing set me up for success. I would visit my neighbors’ homes to check out their setups.
Many of them were minimalists who just had beds and bookshelves. Others had created little museums in their homes. Random antiques were piled up everywhere and it honestly looked like a tornado had torn through. I learned the value of living like a minimalist (or at least, avoiding hoarding). If I earned an item, I wouldn’t automatically place it in my home. Instead, I’d consider reselling it; perhaps putting it toward something else that might benefit the community as a whole.
Materialism was never my goal in the game, and that’s been a theme in my life as well. I don’t drive fancy cars, nor do I wear name brand clothes. The only things I always kept at home were the old-fashioned Nintendo games like Donkey Kong and Excitebike (yes, if you aren’t familiar with the series, there were Nintendo games within a Nintendo game).
Why healthy relationships matter
I wasn’t an incredible reader growing up. Animal Crossing changed that for me. I hated reading passes out loud in grade school when the teacher called on me — I felt slow and embarrassed.
But after I logged a substantial amount of hours in Animal Crossing, I was able to read faster than most of my peers. The dialogue throughout the game is compelling and intriguing enough to care about what my community says. Sure, some words didn’t make sense because of the creators’ punny jokes, but I found this thought-provoking rather than frustrating. Animal Crossing’s dialogue stoked my curiosity. In fact, I’d argue that the game made me more empathetic thanks to the immediate feedback from other villagers.
As a young child, I wasn’t happy when it came time to take a bath — but I came to understand the importance of taking care of oneself. As long as my little community was happy — especially if they were singing — I knew I was doing a good job. Putting others before myself was something I had to work on as a kid. But after playing Animal Crossing, I became a better son, older brother, and teammate on my sports teams. Who knew a video game could teach so much?
I’m incredibly grateful to the creators of Animal Crossing. These talented game developers couldn’t have known that their creation would teach a young child valuable lessons that they’d carry through to adulthood.