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Like many millennials, I have tried to combat the crushing boredom of lockdown by frittering away way too many hours playing Nintendo’s highly addictive video game Animal Crossing.
The game itself inhabits a sort of parallel universe and tasks you with developing an island to which you’ve just been transported.
However, this is far from a run-of-the-mill world-building game as it apes so much of daily life, from earning money and paying bills to managing a bank account and even investing.
While that may sound mundane, the game has taken the world by storm.
In fact, when the game’s fictional bank, the Bank of Nook, decided to slash interest rates, the Financial Times even decided to run the story. That proves the impact it has had.
On top of that, there are valuable lessons to learn about money, an often-misunderstood concept.
Here are just some of the things it can teach us.
When you land on the island, Tom Nook, the benevolent racoon in charge, gives you the opportunity to own your own home.
However, in order to buy your home, you need to take out a bank loan (it turns out that loveable Tom also doubles up as a banker) for 100,000 bells, the local currency. Thankfully, said loan is interest free.
In order to repay that loan, you need to work. Like real life, work can be grafting, with a minute in the game reflecting a minute in real life. So, in other words, you need to put in a lot of gameplay time to earn the big bucks.
With financial education in the UK nearly non-existent, the game solidifies the link between work, money and survival. That’s not to be dismissed and the earlier you learn it, the easier life is.
Supply & demand
The way you earn money in the game is to extract resources and covert them into everyday products that people want to buy.
Interestingly, the game follows the principles of supply and demand and, as a result, the price people are willing to pay for your products fluctuates on a daily basis.
When your product is highly-sought-after, the price rises, meaning you make more profit. On the other hand, when your product becomes less popular, the price falls.
That, in a nutshell, is the law of supply and demand, and is vital to learning how the world of business works.
For me, the most intriguing aspect of the whole game is the turnip market, which pops up every Sunday, and how you can use it to make extra cash.
For example, you can buy a turnip for, say, 99 bells and then, during the following six days, you can speculate and sell it to the local shop for more.
Each day, the turnip changes in price, so if you leave it too long and your turnips go bad, you could get just a fraction of what you paid for it.
However, if you time it just right, you can make a handsome profit.
Roughly speaking, that’s how the stock market works, except instead of buying turnips, you buy shares in real companies in the hope that they will rise in value.
As if that wasn’t enough of a money lesson, the game also gives a nod to cryptocurrencies, too.
The game gives you a chance to earn “Nook Miles”, which acts as a form of digital currency and can be used to exchange for goods and services, namely valuable resource gathering trips to neighbouring islands.
However, unlike real life cryptocurrencies, which are “mined” using powerful computers, the game, chillingly, makes you earn them through a crude type of social credit system.
Do good deeds and certain repetitive tasks and you get a chance to top up your Nook Miles.
Animal Crossing: the perfect teacher?
Ok, so perhaps Animal Crossing isn’t the perfect way to learn about money, however, it offers a solid foundation in some pretty difficult but important concepts. For those of us who feel we need the need to become more money savvy, then you could probably do a lot worse than sit down for a few hours with this wonderfully fun and surprisingly realistic game.
Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.