The Value of Bingeing Animal Crossing

Tom Nook and Econ 101

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the most popular video games of 2020/21. The game has already sold over 26 million copies, and has become the best-selling title ever for the Nintendo Switch. The premise of this smash-hit might surprise you, though: players don’t fend off malevolent aliens or tame fantastic beasts. Instead, AC:NH is fundamentally about working hard in order to pay off the mortgage on your house.

For many people, this goal will sound remarkably similar to everyday life, even if Nintendo’s version involves adorable anthropomorphized animals. But the game’s highest concentration of players are between ages 15-30 — older Gen Zs and younger Millennials — for whom the prospect of having their own home may still be more dream than reality.

Young people also love the game. If your kids are playing, here are a few valuable financial lessons you might tease out for them.

1) Don’t fritter away your money — reinvest in yourself

There are lots of ways to earn “Bells,” the game’s fictional currency. Players can fish, gather fruits and vegetables, dig for treasure, or build furniture, to name but a few. This is like adult life, where you have to find the vocations you enjoy and are good at. And once you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket, the temptation might be to immediately spend it on swag you don’t necessarily need, like new duds or cool stuff for your home. Resist this urge, and put that money towards getting established. Focus on buying better tools, and rake in even more Bells!

2) Save your cash and make it work for you

It isn’t as immediately gratifying, but savvy Animal Crossers can also keep their hard-earned Bells in the game’s bank, where they’ll generate interest. (In fact, fiscally prudent gamers were doing such a good job saving their money that Nintendo actually had to lower the interest rates offered by the in-game bank in order to “to boost virtual spending.”) The lesson here is that if you want to be able to afford that fabulous mansion with the claw-foot bathtub later, get started on saving early! Compound interest — where you generate interest on your principal investment, and then later, make even more money on that interest —  can really add up over time.

3) Get in the real estate game

Players start off living in a cramped tent. (Think of your first place after leaving home, the one where your bedroom was an actual closet.) Happily for gamers, the banker raccoon, Tom Nook, is happy to offer interest-free mortgages so you can expand your fledgling business enterprises, and he never hassles you about the money you owe. In real life, mortgages aren’t quite such a fabulous deal: you’ll have to make monthly payments to the bank, and you’ll definitely have to pay back more than just the initial loan. But you’ll be building equity by putting money into your own investment, instead of someone else’s. 

Who knew a best-selling game could be so instructive? In both the real world and Animal Crossing, the prudent investor tends to end up comfortable enough to afford the luxuries they skimped on earlier.