Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been out for a week and let me tell you: it is the escape that I needed. Going purely off my twitter timeline, that does seem to be the overriding take—Animal Crossing has removed us from reality in favor of a deserted island where nothing can reach us and nothing can hurt us. But, the more time I spend on my island, the more I keep comparing this escape to what I’m escaping (see specifically: all of this). But, you know who would never use confidential information about an impending global pandemic to boost his stock portfolio? Tom Nook.
My feelings about Tom Nook are Complicated. He gets a lot of hate online; for a lot of us, he was our first introduction to the concept of debt and property, and that does come with its share of resentment. But, Tom Nook is not Capitalism—capitalism has hurt him, just as it hurts all of us! And although he is just one raccoon, he is dedicated to trying to help people as best he can within this garbage system.
Thomas Nookington has had a rough go of it. From what I could piece together of his backstory, it seems like Tom and Sable (the quiet seamstress and oldest Able sister) were childhood best friends, but he left everyone behind in his quest to Make It in the Big City [New Leaf].
Tom was just a small town boy! He couldn’t get any seed money to fund his entrepreneurial enterprises because no one was willing to take a chance on him! No one knew who he was, and the banks weren’t going to give a loan to a tricky racoon [City Folk]. So, desperate for someone to believe in him, our boy Tom sunk what little he had into a get-rich-quick scheme, run by Redd (the fox who sells counterfeit art), and it went about as well as you’d imagine [Happy Home Designer]. He moved back to his small town, disgraced, to rebuild his life [Wild World].
But in any case, it’s this experience that has made Tom Nook the way he is—he was slighted, mistrusted, and taken advantage of, and so he has resolved never to put anyone else in that same situation! He charges you only for building materials and labor—there’s no rent and never any threat of eviction; he will give anyone a loan, he will give anyone a job, and there will be no interest, no payment schedule, no deadlines. (your fave could never!! in this economy??)
Tom Nook has dedicated himself to being generous with others, and to not taking advantage of them the way he was taken advantage of. So, even though he does teach us about the concept of debt and property, he also teaches us about responsibility—financial responsibility, yes, as well as our responsibility to each other.
In this latest title, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, your player character has all of Zero Money when they arrive on the island. But Tom says That’s OK! He came up with a whole fake currency (Nook Miles) as a way for you to pay him back for all of the very real labor of procuring a tent and cot and travel arrangements to this island that he found for you. Not only does this give you a quantifiable goal to work towards (which is How Games Work), but the way you earn Nook Miles is by contributing positively to your environment and your community. Tom Nook places value in (awards Nook Miles for) engaging with the world and the people around you; in exchange for the entire Island Getaway Package, he accepts these simple acts of community involvement—talk to your fellow islanders, plant flowers, sell weeds and seashells, spend money to boost the economy!
And before you say that the money you spend is just going straight back into his greedy little racoon hands—you earn Nook Miles whether you spend money at Nook’s Cranny, or the Able Sisters’, or Kicks’, or wherever! He wants you to invest in and support your local businesses! He wants you to get money circulating so that other people can buy the things they want and need! Tom Nook understands that a livable minimum wage means a thriving economy! Also! For what it’s worth: Tom Nook donates 90% of his income to orphans!! (Happy Home Designer).
Tom Nook is aware of his reputation as a hardened businesscritter, and he takes pains to maintain it. After his failures in the city, it makes sense that he would put value in appearing as a no-nonsense authority figure—someone too savvy and businesslike to be taken advantage of. But, he has a good heart, underneath it all. In Happy Home Designer, he says “I’ve heard some folks believe I’m a ruthless and heartless businessman…
…This is not true, and not just because I am a racoon and not a man, yes, yes. Hm, perhaps I can see the value of having a boogeyman everyone can unite against. Or rather, in my case, a boogeycritter. But paying one’s debts is important! If I must be villainized in my pursuit of teaching, then so be it!”
Perhaps his dedication to the concept of debt repayment stems from the fact that Redd took his money and left him with nothing?? Yet he has not let this jade him, fully—he learned from this betrayal and is now dedicated to teaching us by example: be generous with others, as he is generous with you; but do not let them take advantage of you—hold them accountable, as he holds you accountable. Respect others, but also respect yourself and your environment and your community, and also please support local businesses!