Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. Today, Alan grabs his accountant visor and tots up how much money he
wasted wisely invested in the Bank of Nook over the past year.
On the corner of my desk, there’s a small, plastic trinket always sitting near my pile of business cards, next to an overstuffed basin of discarded pens: it’s a teeny-tiny house, maybe two inches tall, with teeny-tiny windows and a teeny-tiny door. When you pry that little door open, a red otter named “Pascal” slides out. I pull him out whenever I’m sad. I love it, it’s cute.
Pascal and the house he lives in hail from the town-building phenomenon, Animal Crossing. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Imported all the way from Japan, his little plastic home has been sitting on my desk for almost a decade now. It was the only Animal Crossing thing I owned for years.
That was my quaint life, before March 20th 2020, the day I bought Animal Crossing: New Horizons for my Nintendo Switch for $59.99.
You know what happened next: the world succumbed to a global pandemic; we all huddled indoors; we clung to our make-believe animal friends for comfort. It’s somewhat painful to realize it’s been an entire year since my obsession with Animal Crossing started.
And no, I don’t mean I became obsessed with the game itself. Honestly, I mostly enjoy watching others play it. I don’t fuss much with the little details of the gameplay anymore. My villager’s hair would often lay a mess on its head, a sign of infrequent log-ins. Rather, the silver lining to my lost year was the opportunity to let out some pent up fandom for something I didn’t even know I cared so much about.
My Year of Animal Crossing
It all started with the trading cards. Why does it always start with trading cards?
A slight revision: I did actually buy one other Animal Crossing thing, apart from that little plastic chachki. Until recently, virtually the only modern merchandise for the series Nintendo ever released state-side were four series of amiibo cards, each card featuring a different animal from the game’s history.
The timing of their release (2015) was certainly off. Despite having tiny chips inside that let you scan them into games, they sure as heck didn’t do much back then. Piles of these things were literally spilling out on aisles not long after their release. My local stores could hardly give them away, slashing their prices down to pennies on the dollar. So yeah, sure, I indulged. I eventually bought enough discounted packs that I almost completed the whole dang collection before even I gave up on them.
But when Nintendo announced five entire years later that these random cards were literally the only means for inviting the animals into your game, these discarded pieces of paper instantly became eBay gold; so much so that people who had been out of my life for years were cold messaging me asking to borrow random animals. For all my pointless hobbying, I had become a god among mortals… except for the fact that I was missing maybe fifteen or twenty cards still.
I’m not exactly proud of this, but I spent the first few weeks of my quarantine trading duplicate cards in the mail, over Reddit. But eventually, even trading became too pricey. (“You want HOW many cards for Pietro?!” was a real thing I told somebody.) After researching trustworthy sellers online, I purchased:
But then, another wrinkle: I bought official card binders for the first three series super cheap, back on release, yet I never found the Series 4 binder. No problem, I found it on eBay for a not-exactly-cheap $51, after shipping. I was so close to finishing the set, so why not?
This whole excursion eventually left me needing only four cards, unfortunately some of the most popular animals which I wasn’t lucky enough to randomly get in packs years back. For the privilege of snagging Rosie, Lucky, Wendell, and Ribbot, I haggled down an online seller to a mere $86.10. My Animal Crossing collection, finally, was complete…
Except no, it wasn’t, actually. Because then came an official Animal Crossing “companion book”, an encyclopaedia of in-game minutiae that today is re-selling for outrageous prices well north of $100, but which I was able to pre-order on release. I only paid $24.40, an absolute steal! (I also put a pack of Animal Crossing stickers in my cart, but that was only $5).
As Animal Crossing grew in ubiquity during quarantine living, that’s when second-hand art became huge online. My friend made an art print she sold for charity, so I paid $20 for it. Some time later in the year, an entire series of ridiculously cute pins showed up on my Twitter feed, and in all the hype of a low-stock alert, I decided to buy every single one still available. That totalled $110.50. (Hey, it’s important to support small businesses during a pandemic!)
I wasn’t fast enough to get them all, though. Don’t worry, I picked up the ones I was missing a few months later during a restock for $43.
And then came the motherload of all Animal Crossing memorabilia, at least price-wise: designer clothes. After a presumably successful run of other Nintendo franchise-based clothing, the trendy Australian outlet BlackMilk hopped on the Animal Crossing bandwagon with a dazzling line of outfits.
It had been my lifelong dream — or so I decided right when my phone finished loading the newsletter I had previously signed up for — to see my partner in a Timmy and Tommy dress. Two of them, actually. She also would look great in a neon blue t-shirt with a tie in the front, I gambled.
Admittedly, I knew what I was getting into when I paid $197 for all that stuff. And the other Animal Crossing outfit I bought a day later for $114.32? That was a gift.
It’s Your Itemized Bill! Yes, Yes.
You may read all this and think that I’m just some rich guy. I mean, I have a job. But no, I’m not. I’m normally pretty great with money, actually. Except maybe for that time a month or two ago when Nintendo finally re-released the Animal Crossing trading cards — the ones that got me into this mess in the first place — and made them available online for (and correct me if I’m wrong, fanatical people in the comments) only a few hours, tops. I bought nine packs for $45.75 just to have them, unopened.
I sure did play a lot of Animal Crossing, but most of all, I played myself.
This is a cautionary tale of what happens when one of your favorite things hits a cultural vein — in this case, against all odds, a digital meditation on not life, but on living, expressed through anthropomorphic animals. By the time I picked up some freaking Animal Crossing makeup for $24, I had arrived at the one year anniversary of New Horizons with a $820.56 tab. That’s money expressed in real currency, not bells.
The good word of Animal Crossing even goes beyond all the crap above; since the New Horizons craze, where there was once barely anything, there is now everything: plushies, office supplies, stickers, calendars, t-shirts, patches, you name it. I literally got an email trying to sell me Animal Crossing socks while writing this piece. To indulge at the level the marketers plead can only be described as living an all out “Animal Crossing lifestyle”, enveloping you in a lifestyle about playing lifestyles — the ultimate ouroboros of fandoms — all busting out in a single calendar year. (Thank god I didn’t spring for the Animal Crossing-themed Switch for $299.99. Can you imagine?)
And yet still, of all the Animal Crossing stuff I own, my favorite thing remains my little Pascal, sitting on the corner of my desk. I still open up his door and let him out from time to time. In fact, I pulled him out while I was totalling up the cost of every single video game thing I bought over the last year—just the Animal Crossing stuff though. I definitely won’t admit to you how much I spent on other video game things.
I’m not crazy.