Playing Favourites: Animal Crossing Villagers as Incentive Type Preferences

Updated: Jan 30

Your Animal Crossing: New Horizons Villagers are a lot like incentive types - you probably like some more than others

Even if you haven't played Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the quarantine, you've undoubtedly seen screenshots or fan art on social media. Or if you're like me, you've spent countless hours watching someone else play. Due in part to the March 2020 launch and in part, to the relaxed and time-consuming nature of game play, #ACNH has taken its place as a symbol of Covid-era popular culture.

If, by some unbelievable chance, you aren't familiar, here's what it's all about. In the game, you assume the role of a (human) character who moves to a deserted island. The game takes place in real-time and you are tasked with, among other things, gathering and crafting items, catching insects and fish, and over time planning and developing the island into a bustling community.

You start the game on your deserted island with two animal inhabitants or "villagers". As you progress, you get to invite other villagers to move to your island. There are literally hundreds of potential villagers (reportedly 393) that you can meet, but you can have a maximum of 10 villagers living on your island at a time. Each villager has their own personality and style, and some get along better with each other than others.


I'm fascinated by the opportunities for customization and interaction in the game. Not only can you choose from endless native options, but you can design custom clothing and decor and share them with others. However, that's not the point of this post.

As part of game play, you're required to interact with your villagers for various tasks. So much so that you develop a different relationship with each one. And if you're anything like my partner Matt, you play favourites! Below on the left are Diana and Sherb - he loves them so much he commissioned fan art with them. On the right is Shari, he can't stand her and has been trying to get her to move out for weeks.

As entertaining as it is to watch Matt give presents to Diana and Sherb, while he whacks Shari over the head with a net, it's not all I've been up to. I won't pretend that I've been working non-stop during the quarantine, but I've have been reading and writing a lot about coaching, success, and motivation. One of my main areas of interest is in different types of incentives, things that drive, motivate, or guide us to make a particular decisions to take particular actions.

Incentives come in infinite shapes and sizes, and can be categorized under six headings: financial, physical, social, information, labour, and sustainability. Think of each category as a different villager on your Animal Crossing: New Horizons island. Much like those villagers, you likely have your favourites.

Imagine that someone you know asks you to visit their island and water their flowers (yes, this is a thing). In return, they offer to give a specific villager on your island a present. That gift will improve your relationship with that villager and as a result they will like you more and want to stay on your island. You're much more likely to accept your friend's offer if the gift is for your favourite villager (your Diana or Sherb), than if it's for your least favourite villager (your Shari). In fact, you might want to trample the flowers on your friend's island if she gives Shari a gift 🤣.

Real-life incentives are very much the same. How likely are you to accept if your boss asks you to take on additional responsibility at work? The answer depends on what kind of incentive is at play. For example, what if the only benefit is a pay raise? This might be appealing to you depending on your personal situation, your goals, and your preferences. On the other hand, it might not be appealing at all. Money might be your Shari.

(I feel bad for Shari)

What if there's no extra money involved? Instead, the additional responsibility means you'll gain new experience and skills, and the chance to work with different people in your organization? You might jump at this opportunity if information and social incentives are high on your priority list, if they are your Sherb and Diana!

Knowing where your preferences lie can be invaluable when making decisions about where to focus your energies. Choosing projects or adventures that speak to those preferences will ensure that you make the most of your strengths and priorities.

As a manager or coach, identifying your own incentive preferences can reveal areas of positive and negative bias that could be affecting your ability to motivate people. Furthermore, understanding someone else's preferences can help you more effectively motivate and inspire them.


Click here to complete a questionnaire that will reveal your preferences. Go to the Six Resources page to read more about incentive types and motivation.


To wrap up, here is an artist's rendition of Matt catching fireflies with Diana in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Click on the image to see more of Julio Almeida's work.


16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All