Foreigners discover remote islands, settling, exploiting their natural resources for profit, and acting as if there’s nothing wrong with it all. Sound familiar? It’s because the premise of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the age-old story of colonialism. But fear not, dear reader, because not only can Animal Crossing: New Horizons help keep you sane and isolated during the COVID-19 crisis, it can also be a useful tool for anti-colonialism education.
I have devised a list of eight ways new and veteran Animal Crossing players alike can take social responsibility while enjoying their time on their and their friends’ new islands. Take each entry with a grain of salt, some much-needed humor, recognition of privilege, and all the gravity of colonialism’s impact on the world. At the end of the day, these are really just great tips for getting started on your new island life.
Naming the Island
One of the first tasks in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is naming the island you inhabit.. With no known native peoples, we can’t ask what they call the place. But, neither can we assume that there are not people who did not inhabit the land before or have deep connections to it. Of course, people have named and renamed places in their native languages for thousands of years. Naming the island for your own nomenclature is perfectly acceptable if, and only if, you follow the following rules.
First, do NOT ever under any circumstances name your island after yourself or any other colonial figure. It’s just unacceptable. Second, if you cannot ask the natives what they call the place, do not name it insensitively after the traditions of other indigenous peoples (without their permission). Stick with names that are descriptive, funny (not insensitive), or hold personal meanings. For example, my island is named Ärensville because that has always been the name of my Animal Crossing villages for no reason other than that my 8-year-old mind thought it was the coolest, most creative name.
Imposing New Technologies
How in the world did Tom Nook set up a cellphone and internet network on your new island? Not without building cell towers, that’s for sure. The imposition of new technology has always been a colonial tool for making the colonists more powerful than the indigenous people, but those technologies can come with serious consequences. Cell towers, for example, and the generators needed to keep things powered can easily disrupt wildlife and make food acquisition more difficult.
Stick it to the man by taking full advantage of the Nook Miles Program. Complete as many of its tasks as you can so you can reinvest the toxins of capitalism back into community development projects like birdhouses from the new DIY workbench to help offset these disruptions as best as possible.
Pollution and Deforestation
Bringing our modern technologies to remote areas is bound to create pollution where pollution didn’t previously have as steep an impact (although pollution anywhere in the globe will affect even the most remote of islands). Remember to put out your fires when not in use, turn down the volume during Nook’s morning announcements to reduce noise pollution, ALWAYS remove trash when you see it, and walk, don’t run, as frequently as you can to avoid causing erosion and other damage to the natural environment. Plant local trees and avoid digging up indigenous flora too, to do your part in carbon sequestration.
Trees are a vital resource for everything from construction to firewood to landscaping. These are acceptable practices in moderation. When you do need to remove trees for one reason or another, always plant a new tree for every one you remove to ensure there is enough wood for generations to come.
Flora and Fauna Displacement, Overhunting, and Invasive Species
While you should avoid removing “weeds” (which are really just indigenous flora we don’t think are useful) for the aforementioned carbon sequestration purposes and to minimize your damage to the natural biome, some beautification is probably inevitable. Also, always build a fence around your flowers and keep them away from water so they don’t spread wildly. They are not indigenous and we cannot measure their potential impact on the local flora and fauna.
Always bring your new catches to the museum first. They’re Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited and are working hard to preserve species with vital breeding programs. Plus, Blathers or Nook will reward you for your efforts handsomely in New Horizons for every certain number of donations you make. Of course, a museum owned and operated by colonizers is no replacement for supporting indigenous populations. With none known to your island in Animal Crossing, go out and support your local indigenous organizations.
Lastly, don’t ever travel to other islands while carrying weeds, bugs, or fish, unless they are being offered as gifts in secure containment. The risk of propagating invasive species is huge in such a tiny ecosystem. Even if the bugs and fish of your island look remarkably similar to those of the island you are visiting, you cannot be certain of how they will affect this different ecosystem. Of course, the same goes for the return trip. However, if you securely deliver foreign fauna to the museum, this is alright as long as Blathers says so. Trust scientists.
Good Anti-Colonialists Don’t Let Anybody Leave Trash Behind
Visiting remote, unique islands is a massive privilege. Do not squander it. If you’re going to go jet-setting off on safari and hang out on other islands (which you should to keep sane during real-life social isolation), be a good global citizen and don’t dump anything off on these other islands without permission from the locals. Dumping is illegal, immoral, and you should not stand for it on your own island residence either. Of course, sharing gifts and spreading culture is a wonderful thing and should always be encouraged, but only with the full and enthusiastic consent of both parties.
Bad news folks — most recycling is a hoax (in the U.S. anyway). Sure, some basic paper and metal recycling is fine, but the sheer amount of energy and capital consumed hauling, storing, transporting, and then “recycling” things that turn out less durable than the original product and wind up in a landfill eventually anyway completely outweighs the positives. A few handbags and some plastic bags made from recycled materials can’t be recycled a second time and will inevitably spend their utility and wind up in the trash too. Image this wasteful process but on a remote island. The environmental impact would be astronomical.
Therefore, NEVER let the recycling bin in New Horizons fill up on your island. If you’re not interested in reusing the items found there yourself, just sell them to Timmy. Like any good member of Gen Z whose parents read them The Wealth of Nations as babies, Tommy and Timmy are deeply anti-capitalist and will always pay you well for items out of the recycling and make sure that it finds a new home with somebody that wants it out in the ether. Plus, they pay you straight out of daddy Tom’s coffers, so they’re basically Robin Hooding their own business when you use those Bells to buy their products or pay off your debts.
The list of ways you might impact the islands of Animal Crossing: New Horizons becomes more extensive as you play on — mining, terraforming, overpopulation, and who knows what else that I haven’t even discovered yet. Let us know what other ways you’re fighting colonialism in your virtual world. At the end of the day, just enjoy playing!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now on Nintendo Switch.