A.C.M.E.'s Build-A-World-To-Be: Geography, Economy, and Sociology
The world of Animal Crossing involves many elements that reflect real-world society, such as the concepts of money and culture. However, things are just a little different from the world we know and live in, as I'll demonstrate below:
Lose the Earthquakes, Keep the Faults: In-Game Geography
In general, the landscape of Animal Crossing's world is rural, just this side of being completely untamed wilderness. There is just enough civilization to make things comfortable, without overrunning it with commercial developments.
Each town has several beautiful natural water features, like a beachfront at the south end of town, a river with a waterfall, and occasional pond (or ponds). There can also be cliffs which divide the "north" end of town from the south end (and create another waterfall), as well as canyons which you can explore. In some games, there are also two distant islands you can visit. On regular land, you can find little forests, orchards, bushes, and flower patches, as well as interesting rocks (one of which can provide you money when you hit it with a shovel). These all give the game its rustic and untouched charm.
In between the forests, cliffs, ponds, and beaches, establishments of civilization such as various bridges, villagers' houses, and the town bulletin board dot the landscape. Taken together with the bucolic setting described above, this creates the perfect backdrop for the game series' idyllic social world.
A Globe Made Out of Gold: The Value of a Bell and Animal Crossing's Economy
It's a bit difficult to accurately describe how valuable a Bell is in comparison to real-world currency. But based on my experiences with the game series, I would say a Bell is probably equal to a dime (1/10th of a dollar) in American currency.
For instance, 300 Bells is the average cost of a shirt at the Able Sisters' (equating to about 30 American dollars), 250-500 Bells will buy you a quality tool from Nook's shop ($25-$50), 100 Bells will buy you a pack of stationery ($10), and most furniture will usually cost between 1,000-3,000 Bells per item ($100-$300).
In general, most of your villagers do not struggle for money, nor does Tom Nook seem to struggle for sales. The economy (or what players are able to see of it) seems pretty balanced. Making money, as I've noted before, is not nearly so difficult as in the real world.
The lack of hierarchical organized industry (outside of Nook and the Able Sisters) seems to be chiefly responsible for this (aside from the players not needing to pay for food or utilities); it's as if, in the absence of big corporations making loads of products for everyone to buy, the need for a 9-to-5 job getting a certain salary per month and per year is simply extraneous. What remains is harvesting and selling your goods, making do with what you find dumpster-diving (or tree-shaking), bartering a bit of time to deliver something for somebody in exchange for a gift, swapping items, or selling them at the Flea Market. It hearkens back to simpler, more agrarian times...seemingly impossible to achieve for us in the real world as it is now.
People or Peoples? The Sociology and Culture of Animal Crossing
Though there are all different types of animal species represented in the Animal Crossing series, my experience is that all these different species get along well. You'll have ducks, lions, sheep, frogs, and dogs hanging out all together! All that appears to matter is how their personalities jive with one another. There are no religious divides, nor any social class systems (even if some of the Snooty villagers like to think otherwise).
In general, villagers of the same personality type (such as Peppy, Jock, Snooty, Cranky, etc) seek each other out, but occasionally you'll find that "opposites attract" as well. Yet, even when villager friends argue (and they will, in later games), the disagreements always blow over quickly with time apart and healing communication--this is a very positive model of friendships!
The staff that helps run your village also contributes to this friendly feeling. Tom Nook, Pelly and Pete (and even Phyllis), Blathers, Celeste, Brewster, Mabel and Sable, Copper and Booker--all of these folks create the sense that you've arrived in a culture that is somehow insulated from disharmony. There will be some minor difficulties on occasion, but it seems as if most everyone is trying their hardest to be kind and good, even when they don't feel their best.
This rather utopian culture and sociology of Animal Crossing, then, is based first around being good to others and pursuing one's own goals without hurting anyone else. Everyone's choices are their own, and no one is criticized for them (except perhaps in joking form).