Stop worrying about the right or wrong way to play a game – just play it

Obsessing about the optimal way to get through a game could take the fun right out of it

Since the four walls of my bedroom have picked up side hustles of becoming both my prison and office since March, I’ve developed a new morning routine: I get up, grab my phone, squint at the almost unilaterally awful morning news, end up feeling angry and miserable, and then retreat into my enclave that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Between us, I think I had a bit of a problem when Animal Crossing: New Horizon first came out. I don’t think it was entirely my fault, we’d just entered lockdown, and everything seemed impossibly grim, didn’t it? I found myself withdrawing into my island, YuccaVee, more and more.

It was the swaying of the flowers, I think. Or maybe it was the sound of my bare feet slapping across YuccaVee’s sandy shores. Whatever it was, sitting on the dock and watching the waves as the gentle loop of the 6pm music – my favourite track – kicked in did more for my mental wellbeing than any email from HR at that time, and I got impossibly swept up in it all.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Credit: Nintendo

I played daily – several hours a day if I could get away with it – stomping up and down my petite, perfect paradise, baiting fish and catching bugs and welcoming each new islander like the long-lost friend they were. I visited my neighbours and bought all the furniture and smashed rocks and dug up fossils and did my dutiful capitalist duty by stocking up on turnips every week.

For the uninitiated, Sunday is the only day Daisy Mae the turnip dealer, turns up. The Stalk Market is little more than an investment mini-game in a game that’s full of mini-games, one I thought I took seriously enough until I made the mistake of looking it up online. I found out that entire sites exist around predicting the price your shop may purchase turnips for each week, as well as others that let you advertise – or sometimes sell – access to your island for fellow Animal Crossing: New Horizon players.

If the shop on your island is buying turnips at a particularly generous price – say, 500 Bells – you could list it on the Turnip Exchange websites and offer access to strangers. But rather than merely being a kind, pay-it-forward kinda thing – something you’d be forgiven for expecting given Animal Crossing: New Horizons particular brand of wholesome, stress-free entertainment – people are fucking mercenary. “Sure, you can visit my shop buying turnips for 498 Bells… but only if you dropped me 16 large star fragments first.” “Of course, you can stop by and capitalise on Nooks’ fantastic 567 price… but I want 500K bells upfront on every trip, no exceptions, and I’ll know if you scalp me, bro.”

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Credit: Nintendo

What happened to wholesome? What happened to stress-free? Up until this point I’d been pretty chuffed if I managed to get a 50 per cent return on each turnip before the week was through, but people on Twitter were screenshotting evidence of the millions of bells chilling in their bank, and I started to feel a bit… well, noobie.

A noob who had no idea what they were doing. I didn’t know what star fragments were, let alone had dozens of the things sitting unused in my storage. I didn’t care about the “god tier” list of Islanders – all my favourites are on the shitlists for reasons I cannot fathom – let alone indulged the wild black market trafficking trade. I began to panic. It felt like I was playing it wrong.

Which is stupid, of course, right? There is no way to play a game wrongly. (Well, you can play in a way that triggers a fail, say being spotted in a stealth sequence, but you know what I mean). Whether you abide by the rules or flout them entirely, you should be able to play your way whatever that way might be, even if your way is different from mine, even if your way is different from everybody else’s.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Credit: Nintendo

My fireteam and I play Apex Legends fairly aggressively, which means we take on enemies when we see them rather than hide and let them pass undetected in the hope of securing a better final position and more XP. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to cower in a corner if you’re so inclined.

I’ve ghosted through several chapters in Dishonored 2 – that’s completing a full mission without being spotted by a single NPC – but if you want to charge in with your sword aloft and decapitate every unfortunate soul in your way, knock yourself out. Whether you take on Halo in easy mode or you’re a Legendary lone wolf, it doesn’t matter. Honestly.

The fact is, regardless of how livestreams and ‘Lets Play’s make you feel, there is no correct or incorrect way to play anything. A thin and highly unnecessary coating of elitism is permeating throughout our favourite pastime, but how you get through a game is no-one’s business but your own. Cheesing, time-travel, camping, stealthing, not stealthing – it doesn’t matter. You do you, pal, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If nothing else, I just want to stop sweating about turnips in the middle of the night.

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