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Tom Nook’s Animal Crossing legacy: greedy businessman or benevolent provider?

The talented Mr. Nook

artwork of Tom Nook in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo/YouTube
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Tom Nook is arguably the face of the Animal Crossing franchise. He may not be as versatile as The Villager or efficient as Isabelle, but he gets stuff done. It’s his company, Nook Inc, that has led to the development of this new, beautiful island in New Horizons, after all. We owe everything to ol’ Tom.

Nook is presented as a lovable and kind businessman who donates the bulk of his profits to charity, wants to help the player create a beautiful village, and dotes on his cute little nephews. Sometimes Nintendo will represent him in a more capitalistic way, though. In Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Nook is literally resting in a bathtub full of Leaf Tickets. It’s decadent, hedonistic, and admittedly pretty funny.

But players have never really trusted Tom Nook. The enigmatic raccoon has been shrouded in controversy since his debut, and that’s not likely to stop with New Horizons.

The age of mean Animal Crossing

Not to get all “back in my day,” but the original Animal Crossing could get pretty nasty. There is, of course, the famous Mr. Resetti, a furious mole who would emerge if the player tried to reset their game (or simply forgot to save.) Resetti would ask them, in an increasingly angry tone, to save their game before restarting. Kids who ignored Resetti infuriated him more, and he would go so far as to scream at the player and force them to type in statements like “I am stupid.”

Random animals around the island could get pretty upset and tell the player off, especially if the player provoked them with constant interactions or by hitting them with a shovel (which, like, fair).

Animal Crossing - a villager helpfully tells a player they can stay and warm up
Back in my day, no one was THIS nice.
Image: Nintendo Entertainment

Tom Nook never takes part in the overtly mean stuff, though. He never outright insults the player or threatens them. Instead, he’s much more business-like. A new player is given an apron to wear, a list of jobs to complete, and a big loan to pay off. Once you pay off your first loan, he gives you another. The loans are interest free, and Nook does upgrade your house before you take out the loan, but it still made some fans salty.

Nook is amiable about the entire process, but that almost makes it worse. As a kid, it came across like Tom Nook was forcing me into labor, and he didn’t need to be cruel about it, because he had all the power. Mr. Resetti was the real monster, sure, but maybe Nook was holding the leash.

I wasn’t alone in this interpretation. The Animal Crossing wiki notes that “in the 2003 Annual Nintendo Power Awards, Tom Nook was nominated as one of the top villains in a Nintendo game, despite his not actually being a villain.” In 2008, a SomethingAwful user named Chewbot made a famous Let’s Play called The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing, where Tom Nook’s in-game presence was interpreted as a controlling authority figure whose menace was cloaked by a thin veil of social niceties.

Before I even get out the door, Tom Nook’s all over me like a cross between a used car salesman, a lawyer and a german shephard [sic], despite being dressed like a raccoon in a goddamn maid’s apron. [...] That son of a bitch plays for keeps and within seconds I’m putting on a work uniform and lugging huge sacks of fertilizer out the door.

It’s after I’ve started to plant my third sapling that the panic sets in. There’s something seriously wrong here. Why aren’t there any other campers? Why did Nook say “everyone who works here wears a uniform” even though there are clearly no other employees? Was he talking past-tense? If I work for Tom now, why havn’t [sic] I signed any paperwork?

Tom Nook in Animal Crossing Switch announcement trailer Image: Nintendo

The redemption of Mr. Nook

Tom Nook being portrayed as a dictator running a work camp was likely noticed by Nintendo. In response, Tom Nook gained some adorable nephews, Timmy and Tommy. The player was able to speak to him more in successive games, where he revealed how much he loved his family, and how much he loved donating his vast wealth to orphanages.

This redemption carried over into the games’ mechanics as well. He no longer gives the player jobs to complete. Instead, they can roam the town and experiment with money-making on their own time. He’s a new, redeemed Tom Nook.

Tom Nook is also accompanied by a larger supporting cast. Compared to the energetic, eager-to-please Isabelle, or Lyle the otter (who literally breaks into your house while you sleep to catalogue all of your belongings), Nook comes across as substantially more chill and lovable.

Has this strategy worked? Is Tom Nook now considered an inoffensive, trustworthy figure by gamers?

Well, no, not quite.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - at a workbench Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

A controversial tanuki

Tom Nook remains embroiled in controversy and discourse. Some fans have completely bought into his redemption arc. Even Chrissy Teigen describes herself as a “Tom Nook loyalist.” But Nook has been called out over the years, especially with the launch of New Horizons, as a colonialist figure invading an island and populating it with his own personal society.

Even Bells, Leaf Tickets, and the new Nook Miles are viewed with suspicion. Are these authentic currencies, or inventions of Nook meant to increase his economic power over the villagers?

It’s’s easy to find heated debates on whether Tom Nook is a filthy capitalist or a benevolent small business owner helping out low-income tenants. Tom Nook has been called an anarcho-capitalist, a fascist, and downright evil. At his best, Nook is portrayed as going through a mid-life crisis.

It’s a level of ire that Nintendo games usually don’t garner. Even characters who are confirmed to be murderers and dictators, like The Legend of Zelda’s Ganon, enjoy lots of thirsty fan art by intrigued fans. Tom Nook has never killed anybody (as far as we know!), but society holds him in far more disdain than your typical Bowser-type character.

Will New Horizons finally give Tom Nook the appreciation he deserves? Probably not. Already, fans are suggesting Tom Nook shouldn’t hold economic control over an entire island. A new wave of Tom Nook hatred might overflow upon New Horizons’ release.

Nintendo games are sweet, docile, and rarely controversial. It’s fascinating to see the meta narrative of Tom Nook emerge over the course of this franchise’s life span. People are willing to throw down over their interpretation of Nook, and that’s a level of ire that other franchises under the Nintendo umbrella simply aren’t able to muster. The end result adds a little bit of spice to New Horizons, and I’m weirdly interested to see how the new game changes the Tom Nook zeitgeist.

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