It's no secret that the world has been playing a lot of Animal Crossing lately. When I get a street pass from someone, 9/10 times that's what they've been playing. I basically had to pay an attunement fee to socialize with my friends because I couldn't understand what all the fuss about perfect cherries was and that trips to "the island" weren't about Jack and Kate having to go back (WE HAVE TO GO BACK, KATE!).
There was only one problem. Once I picked up my pink 3DS XL and founded the town of Olympus, I couldn't STOP PLAYING THIS ADDICTIVE GAME.
For the life of me, I couldn't understand what was so damn appealing that I wanted to sign in and water flowers every day on my subway ride to work. I feared Tom Nook breaking my kneecaps if I didn't pay my housing loans promptly. I found myself yelling at visiting friends to stop running on my grass and killing it. YOU KIDS STAY OFF OF MY LAWN! Apparently a mixture of environmental responsibility and a palpable fear of a raccoon mobster "coming to collect" is super addictive. After spending about three hours that should have been allotted to working out and cooking food for the week ahead on planting flowers in a circle around my town square, customizing a Rainbow Dash themed home gym in my house's basement, and completing sundry tasks for a social climbing pink dog named Cookie instead, I realized I had better come up with some reason why this game is a good influence or surely I would suffer all the guilt ever for wasting so much time on a video game. It was actually kind of weird because as I thought intently about how the structure of the game relates to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, it wasn't all that hard to draw some positive comparisons.
Here are 10 things that Animal Crossing teaches us about living healthy.
- You cultivate your town at your own speed, but things go wrong if you do absolutely nothing. In order to enjoy the game, you don't have to progress quickly, but logging in and spending a little time daily keeps your town looking nice and helps you pay off parts of your public works projects and home loan. If you don't log in at all, for one day, it probably won't make a huge difference, but if you go a long time without paying any attention to your town, your fruit trees will rot, your flowers will die and you'll find yourself having to retrace your steps. The same can be said of weight loss. If you skip a day of working out or have one bad meal, it's not the end of the world, but if you let yourself slump away from good habits for a long time, you can lose the progress you've made.
- With a little effort each day you can keep things the same. With just about half an hour of playtime, you can organize your house, water your plants, dig up your daily fossils, and check in with your residents to keep things copacetic. Things might not move forward at an alarming rate, but at least you're maintaining your progress. When it comes to weight loss, if you're plugging away at it for a year or more, sometimes it's nice to go into this mode for a week or so to give yourself a mental and physical break. You workout routine might drop to three times a week for half an hour and you could allow yourself a few treats throughout the week. If you're careful and don't let it become a lazy bingefest, you can totally maintain your weight with just a little bit effort.
- With a lot of effort each day, you can make progress. If you sink a few hours into your game beyond general maintenance by farming bugs, going scuba diving, making trips to the island, and chatting with your residents throughout the day, you can really make some strides in your town. You can finish projects, pay your bills, make custom plantings, and design fun outfits that visitors and your townspeople can purchase. Similarly, putting in the time with your health to read articles online and learn more about the process can help you make better and more interesting choices. Putting in more time at the gym doing the right things can take you from squatting on the elliptical for 30-45 minutes of Xena episodes, just going through the motions each day, to running a 10k and making new personal records. Sure, you start small, but if you put in the time, effort, and the willpower each day, you can achieve great things.
- At some point each day, there's not much more you can do. There are limiting factors. Like construction. Unless you just want to farm bugs all day or fish, there's a point at which it might be better to accept what you accomplished and put the 3DS down. Construction happens overnight so if you're waiting to decorate your new housing renovation or to celebrate the construction of a new town fountain, you HAVE TO WAIT. If you continue to play, you're just going through the motions of the same mini games over and over. It's unnecessary and you're wasting your time and doing the rest of your life a disservice. When it comes to your health, if you've already done an hour of cardio and you're desperate for results, adding on another one may actually be more of a detriment. You could injure yourself. If you've already done your eating for the day and you're harping on yourself for going over your allotted calories, just stop! It's already done. Punishing yourself more isn't going to change it. Just "turn off the game" and get back in the swing of things tomorrow.
- Each town is unique to each mayor. They can build it around their interests or needs. One of the fun things about Animal Crossing is that every town is unique. You decide what the layout will be. You decide where to plan trees or build projects. You have unique townspeople that might have their own wishes they want fulfilled. I might put my fountain by townhall and someone else might find it more appealing to put it between a bunch of houses. With health, you have to do what's right for you. Everyone's journey is going to be different because everyone is different. Some people might move quickly and others might progress more slowly. Some people might like Weight Watchers while another finds success with Paleo. If you do your research and stick with a plan long enough to see results, I don't really think it matters what it is as long as you aren't starving yourself or overworking yourself at the gym.
- Everyone's town is different but features a lot of the same elements. There's a common language with similar but unique results depending on how you build your personal town. If you like fairy tale bridges, then you can make them, but someone else might prefer suspension bridges. At the end of the day, both of you are getting from one side of the river to the other on a similar structure. Both mayors have houses, but I might go for an "astro" aesthetic while someone else might go for a mermaid themed wall around their house. It's all cosmetic but it's built using the same tools. Just because someone is doing a juice fast to jumpstart their weight loss and you're on Nutrisystem doesn't mean you can't talk shop about health and give each other support. You might be going about it different ways, but talking with other people who are trying to accomplish similar things can get you the support your need to keep going when it gets tough and also teach you a lot.
- The more you improve, the more options you have. More shops get built on main street over time, new neighbors move in, and you get invited to a special island by the former mayor! You build more bridges over time and get more mobility to travel around your town. You can eventually help build a night club and a a second floor of your museum, not to mention a barber shop where you can get a makeover to suit your mood! All of this happens gradually over time, but every time you make an improvement, it opens up a whole new set of options for your to pursue. This aspect of the game makes me think a lot about the process of getting fit. When I first started going to the gym, it was a hassle just to get myself moving for long enough to raise my heart rate and burn off some calories. Once I got passed that phase, I started looking into more structured workouts like HIIT or body circuits. Then when I felt I'd lost enough weight to avoid injury, I started training to run long distance. After I'd lost about a hundred pounds, I got to try wall climbing. Every stepping stone brought me more mobility,and more ability to do and try new things. It doesn't happen overnight. Take it in steps.
- There are infinite ways to progress. I might be better at fishing and more focused on building my own personal house. A friend might be more focused on paying for public works projects. Others might be obsessed with touring on the tropical island and getting medals to buy unique items for their home. I might love visiting other towns and inviting friends into mine, but another player might never want to take advantage of that aspect of the game. It's completely up to you. Similarly, I might love Paleo and think it's the bees knees, but I have other friends who love Atkins. I like running, but I have other friends who are all about crossfit and if they never had to run over 3 miles again, they'd be happy. All of us are making progress, we just have different priorities, and that's cool! It's going to result in unique "towns," or bodies (hehe!), and it should because we're all unique people.
- The game is designed to be pleasant. There's something serene about arranging furniture and harvesting fruit. Sure you're just completing chores, but this is a world where you don't have to fight some great evil to feel like you've accomplished something. It's a liveable world. The same thing can be said of successful health plans. You have to be able to live with them daily and sustain them over time in order to achieve lasting results. If you're driving yourself into the ground trying to be a perfectionist, you're going to fall off the wagon at some point.
- Every day is different. There's always something new to learn, experience, or build on. Animal Crossing is designed with 365 days of unique content! That is bananas to me. Every day builds on the last and stores get renovated, you make your own improvements, and special events birthdays, and holidays occur. The combinations of events are endless! I think its important to approach your own life like that. Yesterday is gone! What can you do today? What's unique to this day and this season that you can take advantage of? Who's in town? What new things can your learn and how can you challenge yourself in a way that you didn't before? You can build on each little experience to create some pretty cool results when you piece your progress together the fabric of a healthy lifestyle over time.
Now to get off my butt and go to the gym. No, not the pixelated one in my fake basement. The actual one.
BUT WHEN I GET BACK HOME... I'm going scuba diving off the coast of Olympus to hunt for new species of fish!