Transcript and Description of Visuals for Video-Environmental Justice in Animal Crossing New Horizons (12.1)

[Player is standing in front of her cabin, bobbing slightly to the music]

Hi, all! I just wanted to make a quick little island tour for you guys today. I’m gonna start here by my house and make my way around, so let’s get into it.

[Player walks through the forest]

As you can see, I LOVE trees. Trees are amazing, they provide shade for my villagers, they provide me and my villagers with food –

[Shakes an apple tree; walks past an orange tree]

as you can see, I have only apples and oranges because I have no friends that play this game – moving on.
[Shakes a tree and a bagworm drops out of the leaves]

They give the little spiders and bagworms houses.

[Shakes a tree; an acorn drops out of the leaves]

At this time of year, they drop acorns

[Shakes a pine tree; a pinecone drops out of the needles]

and pine cones, and at all times of the year, they even drop money sometimes. Here, let me sho-

[Shakes a tree; a wasp nest falls]

[Wasps buzz threateningly]

oh no,.. RUUUU-

[Player waters flowers and digs up unwanted flowers]

Animal Crossing New Horizons is one of my favorite games. However, one of the things about this game that continually frustrates me, is the ways it encourages deforestation, colonialism, and ecoterrorism. In this video, I will go over the specific grudges I have with this game on this topic.

1. Ranking system

[Isabelle telling the Player the rating of the island – 5 stars]

One of the ways the game encourages deforestation, is the island ranking system. When you start out with an untouched island, free of infrastructure, and full of trees, you have a very low ranking: one or two stars. In order to progress through the game, you have to get your island up to three stars.

[Player decorating – picking up/placing/rearranging items in front of a villager’s house]

You do this by filling your island with infrastructure, and decoration. Basically fill your island with stuff and get rid of any raw wilderness. Trees and flowers do give your island points, but if you have too many trees or weeds or flowers, your rating will suffer.

2. Lack of consequence

[chopping down trees]

More disturbing than island rating is the lack of consequences for the destruction of the environment.

[Purchasing saplings]

Unlimited saplings are sold at the shop for a rather low price. If you completely deforest your island, you can easily undo that by buying saplings,

[uprooting a fully grown pine tree]

or by taking full grown trees from other islands. And speaking of other islands…

3. Disrespect for other islands

[running around a pillaged island]

One aspect of the game is a mechanic where you can go to other, untouched islands. The game encourages you to go to these islands and strip them of resources. When introducing this mechanic, Tom Nook says –

[Picture of Tom Nook]

“It’s a conundrum, hm? We want to improve our island, but still hold on to that deserted-island magic… well now you can do both! You can use one of these tickets to do some island-hopping adventuring, yes, yes! Go any time you want! Maybe you’re looking to meet some new characters or gather materials for DIY projects.”

In other words: “We don’t want to devoid our island of resources or pretty scenery, so go take resources from other islands! Strip them of resources to improve our own island, yes, yes!”

4. Terraforming

[breaking cliffs down and building them up]

Terraforming is a mechanic that allows you to level the cliffs and highlands (or build cliffs and highlands),

[filling a section of river with dirt]

and fill rivers and ponds

[digging a hole in the ground and making a waterfall over the cliff]

(or create water features). You can level your island, fill in all of the rivers and suffer no consequences. The entire freshwater ecosystem can be destroyed, and recreated with no cost except time.

5. Garbage

[Talking with the merchants, Timmy and Tommy]

In New Horizons, Timmy and Tommy, the shop merchants, will buy anything from you. Anything.

Did you find a piece of furniture you already have? Or one in a color you don’t like? Just sell it to Timmy and Tommy.

Did you finish weeding your island and now have stacks upon stacks of weeds? To the tiny trash pandas!

[fishing up an empty can]

Did you go fishing and find an empty can? Or an old tire? Or a single boot?

Yeah. They’ll buy it. All of it! Even the stuff that is literally categorized as ‘garbage’ and will attract flies if left out on the ground.

[The player sells the empty can]

Not every Animal Crossing game deals with garbage this way. In New Leaf, the player has to pay a fee to dispose of garbage. In City Folk, there is a recycling bin that can be used to get rid of trash.

[picture of ‘The Dump’ gotten from Nookipedia. A patch of bare dirt enclosed with a barbed wire fence. There is an item and a piece of paper on the ground.]

In the original Animal Crossing game for the Game Cube, there was an actual place on the map called ‘The Dump’ and here you could dispose of garbage.

[The player throws garbage into a dumpster and places items around her own little ‘dump’]

New Horizons is the ONLY Animal Crossing game to give the player money for garbage, and consequently, the player doesn’t have to face the dilemma of ‘what do I do with this garbage? Where does it go? Who does it affect? How does it impact the land?’ Questions that you had to face in other Animal Crossing games, like the original one, that had an actual, physical dump that you could see and interact with. With a space dedicated to garbage, it is never ‘out of sight, out of mind.’

6. Happy Home Academy

[player opens the mailbox and reads a letter from Happy Home Academy]

Happy Home Academy is New Horizon’s way of grading the decoration of your home. About once a week, you get a letter in the mail that has your rating, and advice on how to do better.

Your house gets points not just on how much furniture your house has, but on what types of furniture. You get more points for having matching furniture sets.

You would think this is a good thing, right? A way to measure and reward all of the time you’ve put into making your home look stunning.

[The Player decorates her house]

The thing is- it’s hard to apply a hard and fast rule to measure something like beauty, or success.

Maybe success isn’t just about filling your house with stuff. Maybe it’s not about having a room full of boring furniture from the same exact set, but more about finding furniture that works well together, even if they’re not from the same set.

[The player enters her greenhouse-kitchen hybrid]

Maybe success is making my greenhouse into a kitchen. Maybe decorating your house should be fun!

[A bronze and silver trophy sit in front of the player’s house. The player is sitting where the gold trophy would go]

I still have not gotten the gold trophy because I simply refuse to conform to Happy Home Academy’s idea of what success is.

[Decorating the house]

This section here, about Happy Home Academy, doesn’t have much to do with Environmental Justice at first glance. But I think it’s important to consider because it’s another aspect of the game that narrows beauty down to amount of stuff. It’s another part of the game that contributes to this consumerist mindset.

Other Research

[Sitting in front of the fire, reading a book]

Videogames are an incredible avenue to learn about environmental justice. It puts people in places and situations that they might not normally be faced with. There has been a lot of research put into games like Horizon Forbidden West, Subnautica, and Red Dead Redemption, games that teach good lessons about the land and humans’ relationship with it.

But I think it is just as important to look at what we can learn from popular videogames like Animal Crossing, even if what we learn is that the game doesn’t exactly encourage environmentally friendly gameplay.


[Player sitting and enjoying a villager’s singing]

These are just the problems I have with Animal Crossing as it relates to Environmental Justice. I have plenty of other problems with how it measures beauty and success with how much stuff the player has – placed in their home or on their island.

[Player shrugging]

But will that stop me from playing this game?

[Player running around and around in circles]

Of course not! I love this game!

[Player entering the DLC]

Did I still buy the DLC on Black Friday even though it wasn’t on sale?

[Player sparkling with pride]

Yes. Yes, I did.

[Heart appearing over the Player’s head, and breaking in half]

Am I proud of that- no.

[Player planting trees]

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trees to plant in retaliation.

[Isabelle saying]

I hope you all have the loveliest of lovely days!