animal crossing addiction sobriety

‘Animal Crossing’ addiction: 4 steps to achieving sobriety

Animal Crossing: New Horizons had its claws in me, but with the help of game updates and hackers, I was finally able to let go of my addiction.

I know I’m not the only one who has been through the ups and downs of an Animal Crossing addiction, a game where you talk to cute animals as you decorate a deserted island and complete tasks for in-game trophies. I’m also not the only one who needed to know: It is possible to let go, completely, of your compulsion and guilt-ridden itch to figure out how Animal Crossing will make you happy again.

This is a follow-up to my 2021 piece “‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ and how I turned a COVID crutch into a damaging addiction.” If you too have found yourself knee-deep in an Animal Crossing time sink, it’s my hope this four-step program will help you move on with your life to do anything other than play this game all day.

Step 1: The Vaccine

The dependency toward Animal Crossing formed at the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Understandably so, since the game gave a lot of us the social fill us human beings need to survive. A lot of people were playing ACNH for the Nintendo Switch in the Spring of 2020, making it fun to hang out in digital towns in a casual way. Y’know, like real life used to feel like.

We were all sort of stumbling around in the game, with many jumping into the series for the first time. Apparently, catching all of the fish in the game was a fun thing to do together. If there was a starry night, whoever had the shooting stars hosted a hoppin’ party. Animal Crossing was so simple like that. It didn’t need to be played co-op, but it was more fun to.

It didn’t take long for the casual fanbase to drop off. Around June or July 2020, the allure of the fresh, shiny Nintendo life simulation game didn’t hold the same sweet scent. It was there the casuals fell off. After all, with such lofty achievements like catching every fish and paying off ginormous house loans, the game suddenly didn’t feel fun anymore. Thus, only those of us really, really committed to the game hung on.

This made for a more solitary experience. The new experiences with friends already happened, and the animal neighbor dialogue became repetitive. We had to find our own goals. As I wrote in my previous Animal Crossing piece, I coped with this sudden loneliness by becoming o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d with completing all of the achievements. I never did.

The best thing to happen to me was getting a vaccine, as it became more common and easily accessible in the States. It was shown to work, and life, for me, was starting to get back into a different drive. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in person for work until I was doing it again. I realized what a privilege it was to see other humans.

That thread was still there, though. When I wasn’t home, I was thinking about how quickly I could get back to playing Animal Crossing. The transition from socialization via a video game to real-life wasn’t going to be easy.

Step 2: The DLC

Nintendo realized there was a lot more money to be earned from the hardcore ACNH fans, and at the end of 2021, they took a leap to release a combo of free and paid downloadable content. The free content of 2.0 update included some oft-requested features, such as the café in the museum and Kapp’n’s island tours, along with nearly one thousand new and returning items.

This was the beat where I found power. Having been through the worst of decorator’s block, I knew the only way I was going to get through all of the new items would be to circle the ones I liked on first impression. Still, this felt like a really big task.

My Island suffered from a lack of rhythm and theme. I mostly went, “Oh yeah, that’s cool” with anything, placed it down right where I was, and worked around my mess. I had no organization, and that wouldn’t fly with the influx of so many more items.

Don’t get me wrong: to this day, my Island still is a chaotic cesspool. But it’s my cesspool.

Playing the game from day one, I had already experienced the overwhelming feeling of not knowing what was going on. All of these new items in the 2.0 update felt like a fresh restart. Finally, I could add even more clutter to my trash heap of an abode!

Knowing the full catalog, I didn’t hold back. There were so many glowing items, and even more giant items like a delivery truck and an inflatable yellow elephant. I needed them all, and soon, I would find them a lot easier to get than I had initially anticipated.

A big moment for me came in denying Nintendo’s dangling carrot of the paid DLC. I had my hands full with all of the new items, and for some reason, didn’t want more actual game content. See, the paid DLC cost $25, and brought back a feature typically reserved for entire side games in the series. The new gameplay in the Happy Home Paradise DLC tasks players with decorating homes in order to meet prompts such as “make a functioning hospital” and “give me a place to put my toilet.”

With my burnout from completing daily tasks in the base game, I didn’t feel the drive to add more overwhelming goals to my plate. And thus began my first step toward my divorce from my Tropical Island from Hell.

Step 3: The Hackers

Without setting the game clock forward a few years, it takes many real-world months to get the randomly generated items you desire. These random item drops spawned an online Animal Crossing marketplace that goes by the name of Nookazon, an ode to the loan shark and shop owner Tom Nook the tanooki raccoon.

Nookazon makes getting the items you want a chore. You have to bid on the items you want by offering in-game currency (Bells), or offer up items you have for a fair trade. Not knowing if the other human you’re trading with will accept your bid or even follow through with their end of the trade makes an already stressful social experience into an introvert’s Hellscape.

Part of where my Animal Crossing addiction broke me was related to my relationship with eBay hackers. As I was gathering the in-game items from paid listings on eBay, I stumbled upon a hack where you could get max Bells by selling glitched turnips. This glitch removed one of my hard-earned trophies, seemingly lost to the 1s and 0s forever.

A major life-changing update since my last ACNH piece follows:

Refusing to accept my loss of The Turnip Trophy, I spent months scouring Reddit threads seeking guidance on how to reverse the effects of the Bad Turnips. Some posts I found consisted of in-depth handwritten notes, scribbled down in fits of passion and rage toward the Bad Turnips glitch. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone, and this fact helped soothe my own personal mourning.

Then, seemingly via miracle, I found one siiiiingle tiny comment where a Redditor claimed to have reversed the effects of the Bad Turnip glitch. The user wrote in around seven days prior to my discovery, and hoh boy lemme tell you my heart was racing at the prospect of finally finding the solution the serotonin sensors in my brain demanded.

Apparently, all I had to do was go to something called a “Treasure Island” via game streaming platform Twitch to turn back the tides of war. Animal Crossing’s massive and sudden burst in popularity somehow hid this major subculture from me, but once I’d discovered the beauty that was a Treasure Island, I knew I’d never look back.

Treasure Islands are Animal Crossing save files operating on hacked Nintendo Switch consoles. Every item you could dream of is laid out right on the ground for your taking. No more talking to other antisocial creatures on Nookazon. No more paying five dollars a pop on eBay listings. Clean and to the point, Treasure Islands solve the eternal damnation of every single Animal Crossing player: scarcity.

There are Treasure Islands you could visit without paying for anything, but all of the good stuff was locked behind a paywall. Thankfully, Twitch is owned by Amazon, and an Amazon Prime subscription allots users one free subscription on Twitch per month. Paywall be damned, I used my free subscription to unlock a whole new world of possibilities.

Step 4: Healing

Day one of visiting a Treasure Island, I was a nervous wreck. A lot of people were consistently trying to travel to the 12 Treasure Islands, each of which allowed eight precious spots per console. Given the ACNH 2.0 update had been released earlier that week, the Treasure Islands were flooded with activity and energy.

Lost and confused, I waited my turn (Read: jammed on the A button until the Treasure Island allowed me entry) to join the Treasure Island that contained The Turnip Fix. There are some technical details here I’ll spare you from, but to give you the gist: selling 40 bundles of turnips 19 times in a row with seven other players entering and leaving the Island is a rush I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

While I found the Nookazon community to be largely rude and demanding, the players who flock to the Treasure Islands were courteous and more helpful than I could have imagined needing. After I got back my Turnip Achievement (YAY), I realized there were some other pretty cool perks to being on this hacked Island, but how they worked stumped even this Computer Science Major™.

True freedom from my Animal Crossing addiction came when I realized there were robot players on the Islands you could have drop you anything your heart desired. After I perused the items on display, I found inspiration, and asked the Discord of the Treasure Island I was on how the heck I was supposed to get this robot to do my bidding.

In fear of bringing Nintendo’s wrath upon the Treasure Island I visited, I’ll leave the community’s name out of this piece; search around a bit, and I’m sure you’ll figure out which one I’m talking about. The simple instructions the mods and other players of the Discord gave me turned an intimidating technical process into a simple means of striking at the goldmine.

The next sequence of events flew by in a blur, as I got the robot to give me all of the Glowing Moss Stools and Froggy Chairs my heart desired. My messy, chunky Island was cluttered, full of piles of minutiae and chaos, but somehow I really liked it?

My famous last words echo as such: I am content with my Animal Crossing save file, and I no longer feel the desire to decorate, collect, or complete tasks in that blasted dumpster fire. That may change, but for now, I’m all good.

Recently, I found an unexpected zen in Animal Crossing. It was a simple thought, really: “Why don’t I make a second Island where every tile is a pine tree?” And… I did just that. No one will ever be able to explain whatinthehell possessed me to do this, but simple as could be, I plugged 40 hours of my life into making a pixel-perfect Pine Tree Land.

Maybe this Pine Tree zen was my mind’s way of coping with the loss of the hours (900) and sanity I’d gifted my Animal Crossing addiction. It worked, so I’m not going to look that gift horse in the mouth.

Do you think Mitch is done with his insane Animal Crossing run? Or are you just here to witness the mess? Where are you in the four steps of letting go of this video game addiction? Please reach out to me via our Twitter or our About Us page so we can commiserate and sponsor.