APRIL 18, 2020
CODEC: 800


I think we could learn a lot about how to make our devices more pleasant by taking a cue from Animal Crossing.

There have been many words written about what perfect timing it was for Animal Crossing to come out in this cultural moment when our lives have ground to a halt and there’s nothing to do outside. What better way to spend the time than to assume a happy digital persona and wander around in a sunny little village?

There’s a certain aspect of the new Animal Crossing that I keep thinking about, though: the Tool Ring.

In past Animal Crossing games, to access your assortment of tools (the shovel, the net, the fishing rod, the axe!) you had to cycle through them one at a time. In New Horizons, you have to do this too — at first. As you continue on in the game and earn Nook Miles by completing various achievements, you can go to the store and buy a ‘Tool Ring’ which lets you hold down a button and see a wonderful wheel of tools from which you can quickly select.

This mini-inventory presents you with the things you need most often, presented without clutter. Is it perfect? No. Will you get freaked out by a tarantula or hornet's nest, grasp for the net in your tool ring and accidentally pull out a useless shovel in your frazzled state? Yes!

But that's not the Tool Ring's fault. If anything, that's a benefit! It reminds you of your humanity! In another game you might have impulsively opened the full inventory, pausing the game and catching your breath. Where's the fun in that? Get stung by a hornet. Accept life in its fullness. Selah.

Thinking about the Tool Ring has made me wish that our phones had an equivalent feature. The way that our devices are currently set up does not necessarily make us ask "What do I really need in this moment?" Instead, we see everything all at once, including that which is distracting.

I wish my phone had a Tool Ring of icons that let me see possible actions instead of just a grid of apps.

They might say…






We have all experienced the slightly shocking out-of-body sensation of scrolling through Instagram and Twitter only to realize that we had pulled our phone out for something completely different, now lost to the void. With a Tool Ring, I would have to dismiss these actions and scroll through my long inventory of apps to find distraction.

Something I think is interesting about the Tool Ring in Animal Crossing is that it's earned. You have to use your tools for awhile without it, cycling through them one-by-one as you harvest wood or stone, capture bug or fish. It's only after you've done this for a long while that you think to yourself "Wow, that Tool Ring seems PRETTY enticing." The game happily reinforces this idea, giving the item this short but powerful description: "It's essential!"

The funny thing is that technically, it's not essential to have that ring-based inventory. There are multiple ways to find the tool you're looking for. What's 'essential' isn't the ring itself, but the mental freedom that comes along with the reduction of choice.

Anyone who has been playing Animal Crossing for more than a few days has likely forgotten Life Before The Tool Ring, and That's what makes it so interesting to me.

There is a freeing power in limitation, and once we have it we aren't likely to look back.