My daughter and I are enjoying Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but when I read Cecilia D'Agostino's negative review of the smash hit Nintendo title in Wired, I couldn't help but think she has a point.
"[T]rapped in an endless cycle of kawaii capitalism," indeed.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is relaxing to me the way a high-end Maui resort may be relaxing—the kind where at-attention employees taxi $20 cocktails to your stinging-hot metal beach chair atop 500 truckloads of stolen white sand. I sit out in the sun, getting more and more intoxicated, but nothing stops the stinging, and the bill just keeps getting steeper.
How is it possible to feel so completely unrelaxed in Animal Crossing? I've wondered this for hours, pitching my brain against the game's repetitive dialog, frustrating mechanics, and obsession with debt bondage in search for a lasting dopamine high. And while I've enjoyed small, short-lived bursts of joy—a new fish species, a gift dropped from a balloon!—in the end, Animal Crossing has only felt like the grind, charmingly reskinned.