From the very beginning, Animal Crossing has been game that’s meant to be played in real time. The pacing is supposed to be relaxed, with players being content to work towards their goals one day at a time. Even so, the temptation to time travel has always been present and it was easy to give-into in past Animal Crossing games. Sure there was no explicit need to hurry, but there was also no real good reason to wait either. Why sit around waiting until tomorrow for things to happen when setting the clock forward means getting to enjoy them now? This temptation is stronger than ever in Animal Crossing: New Horizons since there’s so much more to do and thus wait for. For the first time, however, there’s actually a good reason not to just set the clock forward: other villagers.
There’s no wrong way to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons of course. If one wants to time travel, then they are entirely in their right to do so. Gamers should enjoy their games however they wish, especially if it’s not affecting anyone else’s experience. That said, time travel in Animal Crossing: New Horizons feels cheap in a way that never registered in past series entries. Before, one’s town was one’s town, and it was likely that no one was ever going to visit it. This made it easy to have an “I can do whatever I want” mentality, even within a circle of friends who were all playing the game; it wasn’t really a shared experience. Such isn’t the case with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, though. If one has friends or has any involvement with the online community, it quickly shifts from the series’ traditional, mostly solo roots to an interconnected kind of game. Players are no longer isolated in their own towns and there’s a sense of responsibility that comes with that.
This is probably most keenly felt within friend groups enjoying the game together. Staying on the same schedule allows friends to enjoy watching each other’s islands change and grow. It makes it easy to enjoy features like turnip trading, daily store stocks and weather patterns as though they were a small community. Special events remain special within the group and slow changes allow friends to draw inspiration from one another. Indulging in time travel can have the effect of disrupting all of this. It hides gradual changes and shows only the end results, effectively preventing everyone from enjoying the journey together. It also cheapens those results, transforming them from remarkable to typical. Special events cease to be special and weather stays plain since no one else gets to share in them. It’s basically progress at the cost of the shared journey and the social fun that comes with it.
Time travel is still a big part of the game of course; one could even call it important. It’s basically what allows one of Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s best unofficial features, the online player-driven markets, to function. Turnip trading, Celeste visits, meteor showers and even recipe crafting all become less accessible without some segment of the Animal Crossing community using time travel as a means to make it all happen more quickly. Connecting with other players is all well and good, but it’s not going to happen easily without some incentive to do so. Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t have any cooperative mini-games or anything, so that incentive has to be powered by trade. Sure trading would still be a thing without time travel, but supply would be drastically reduced without it and making such markets overly expensive and difficult to use. Time travel may cheapen the experience for those who engage in it, but those players are vital to the larger Animal Crossing community.
There are those who consider time travel to be cheating and they sort of have a point. Time travel breaks Animal Crossing’s intended slow pace and has the potential to rob players of the satisfaction that comes with taking the game one day at a time. At the same time though, time travel has enabled players to build a thriving online community which further enhances the social component. Through time travel, all of Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s special events and cool items become much more accessible to everyone. It gives players a reason to connect, allowing them to meet people and see islands they never would otherwise. It may not adhere to the slow pace the developers wanted, but it does help foster the sense of community in some important ways. Indeed, waiting for things to happen is a good way to experience the best of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but setting the clock forward has plenty of merit as well.