Yup, you read that right. You're playing Animal Crossing New Horizons entirely wrong. How do I know that? Because you're playing it differently than I am.
And I am playing it wrong because I am playing it entirely differently than you are.
I've put in 250+ hours into ACNH over the past 30 days. And I am playing the game totally wonky compared to you. And to me, your gameplay is just bass ackwards, as my daddy used to say.
And you know what? That's okay.
The Internet is a Cesspool
Let me preface this by saying that ACNH is my first Animal Crossing game. Well, outside of Pocket Camp. But that barely counts. I didn't play the GameCube version when it was new, nor any of the other iterations. So I don't have any idea what the games were like before the proliferation of Discord communities, social media, and dozens of BST groups on Facebook.
But I do know what ACNH is like with them. And it (with it being the culture around the game) can be absolutely the worst. Social media has brought people's capitalist tendencies to the forefront, making most ACNH communities full of min/maxing time travelers who take the chill out of the game.
Because to them it's not a chill game. It's a game of accumulation and collection and completion. People who are parts of these communities are rushing to complete their perfect rooms and islands and mansions.
Fine. Whatever. That is fun for you, and I say go for it. It's not for me, but you do you. Min/maxing and time traveling to build your Eden isn't a bad thing at all. People are playing the game the way they want to. Great!
What is bad, however, is that when people start looking at min/maxing and attaining the “best” of anything in any game, the worst invariably comes out.
Case in Point
Early versions of ACNH had a small glitch where items could be duped (another one popped up recently, too). This meant people could duplicate bags of bells, giving themselves nearly unlimited in-game currency. Add in the monthly interest payment for having money in the bank and the fact that it's cumulative, and you can set your Switch to 60 years in the future, collect interest on your ill-gotten gains and be set up like you're the Jeff Bezos of your Island for the rest of your playtime.
Because of that, bells got devalued pretty quickly. As well as the weekly Stalk Market where you buy turnips for low and sell them high. Which normally is a fun little game, but again…min/maxing means many people go to Discord and Twitter and Reddit to find the highest possible prices to maximize profit. (Which I've done a couple of times, myself.)
In place of bells, most player transactions are done with Nook Miles Tickets, the item you get to travel to the game's randomized mystery islands upon which you can hunt for resources, increased spawns, rare plants, and — most of all — residents for your Island village. Since you can't buy these with bells and only non-transferrable points you earn by simply playing the game and performing simple tasks, NMTs retain a semblance of value that we can all (mostly) agree on.
Again, none of this is necessarily bad. In fact, it's kind of good. These kinds of alternative-currency trades are pretty standard for games like this, and they indicate a thriving player community.
What's bad is that because it's a player-run economy, there are people who want to take advantage of others.
Because of the get all the stuff side of AC culture, people feel the need to skirt around even these socially constructed rules. For example, my sister-in-law found someone who advertised they had turnips being bought at 500+ on their Island. She agreed to give them 3 NMTs so that she and her son (my 9-year-old nephew) could sell their turnips and make enough bells to pay off Tom Nook and his predatory, slumlord mortgages.
Upon arriving at the turnip-seller's island, my sister dropped the 3 Nook Miles Tickets. The 3 tickets that, I might add, wiped out their stockpile of them and put them back at poverty levels of Nook Miles. The person grabbed the tickets, only instead of letting them pass to the shop and sell turnips, they hit the Minus button and ended the session, booting my sister-in-law off the island and taking my nephew's only NMTs.
I. Got. So. Pissed.
My wife and I also got them more tickets from our own stockpiles of miles since we had some to spare. We weren't going to let our family starve. We're not monsters. Those ticket scammers are, though.
This is why I say people are playing the game wrong. In order to min/max their way to having all the coolest stuff (all of which are objectively equal, mind you, and the only value is subjective to taste and potential rarity), they trampled all over a 9-year-old boy and his mom. Who were participating in the game's online community in a normal, accepted, typical way.
Those garbage people weren't. And they should be ashamed of themselves (spoiler alert: they're not). They were playing the game wrong.
The Game Is Yours To Play Wrong (Within Limits)
All that said, we're all playing the game wrong. We're all playing the game differently. Your goals are different than mine. This is how sandbox games work.
But what happened to my nephew wouldn't have happened in the GameCube version of the game. It couldn't have for a number of reasons. And later versions became more prone as online components were introduced, but the internet still had people playing in generally two ways: real time and time travel.
But the internet today has changed it. It's actually made it to where there are wrong ways to play this game. The developers take no real stance on time traveling, which is generally taken to mean it's acceptable, even if it's not in the purest spirit of how the game is meant to be played. (You have to alter the system clock, rather than an in-game clock, after all.)
I've read more than one article lately on Kotaku (don't you judge me. I see that look) about Animal Crossing. The most recent of which actually made me think about this article because the writer completely stopped progressing their island when the game was going to force them to recruit a villager they hated.
I think this is silly, personally. They could recruit the lion, move forward with infrastructure, and then evict them. To me, they're playing the game wrong.
But they found ways to play the game and have fun around that lion who's camping out and squatting. They're setting their own goals. They order 5 garden gnomes a day.
Just…like me. Not the garden gnome thing, no. But setting their own goals. My first goal was terraforming (which is why I couldn't not have invited villagers), my second was to have a mountaintop fortress overlooking the island I rule as godking, and once I accomplished that, I'm making a pretty island-wide botanical garden of hybrids for me and my subjects (read: friends) to enjoy.
To you, that may be entirely silly. And I am not playing the game the way you do. I'm not focusing on my house so much as I am the exterior. I'm not paying off that basement loan. Nor am I time traveling, really doing a lot of trading online outside of my circle of friends, or digging deep onto those NMT-trading Discords.
Because that's playing the game wrong. For me.
Just like I'm playing the game wrong. For you.
There are Only Wrong Ways to Play Animal Crossing
However you play Animal Crossing, you're playing it wrong. To someone out there. As the internet has become a place where people increasingly compare themselves to others based on nothing but vanity metrics, Animal Crossing has become in some circles a capitalistic materialist nightmare. Yet in others, it remains a totally chill, social outlet for people during a really tough time in all our lives.
So whichever way you play it, just remember that you're doing it wrong. Which means you're doing it absolutely right.