It’s no secret that people have been turning to video games and Netflix to help cope with being stuck indoors. For my anxious self, the arrival of Animal Crossing: New Horizons could not have been more timely. With all my outside routines and travel dreams put on pause, what is there to look forward to? Everything about this world is changing, and I feel powerless as there’s nothing I can do but wait (and try to help the ones I can). But in Animal Crossing, I’m in control.
On an almost empty island, trying to develop it with Tom Nook and his travel agency, there’s a lot of work to be done before it resembles the tropical paradise of your dreams. Players need to collect fruit, chop wood, hit stones, sell, and collect items. Not to mention, set up the tents of two animal villagers. But there’s no need to hurry at all. Everyone can play as slow as they want.
In a peaceful haven that overwhelms one with affection and asks for little in return, it’s hard not to smile. Adorable anthropomorphic neighbors already liked me the moment I spoke to them. As someone with depression, I tend to be hard on myself. But Animal Crossing is helping me undo some of my overly negative, extreme thoughts.
My starter villagers, Mac and Phoebe, always wrote me encouraging letters with silly anecdotes. They even praised my lyrics in a spontaneous rap battle. They’ve long left my island to find better houses (I made sure they were adopted by loving gamers!). But I’ll always remember how they were always happy to talk to me and hand me medicine whenever I get stung by wasps.
All of my villagers, popular or not, are all so lovable. Even Roscoe, the cranky red-eyed horse who I found initially rude and scary (he was lurking in the shadows around my house at 3 am) became a gentle, father-like figure to me. Chilling out with each one to relaxing music and giving them cute clothes or items that they use right away instantly brightens my mood. They give me various items and touching letters, sometimes unexpectedly.
When I heard Melba sing Animal City at the plaza, I cried out of nostalgia. There’s something utterly heartbreaking about the innocence of Animal Crossing. It’s the innocence that went missing in the real world ever since we all grew up to be jaded adults. I think that even though BoJack Horseman is anthropomorphic, he would not fit in the Animal Crossing world at all. Trying not to be as self-sabotaging and cynical, like BoJack, I began to recover some of my childlike wonder and appreciation for simple things thanks to my villagers.
Because of this lockdown, I’ve felt out of touch with my friends and other humans in general. With the social media world full of vitriol over current events, the Animal Crossing communities offer a brightly-lit candle in the darkest places. They are my support network aside from my family. Luckily, Animal Crossing has brought us together. We gush over spectacular islands, shooting star events, cataloging parties, and more.
From ex-officemates and schoolmates to kind-hearted strangers, I’m floored with all the help I’ve been receiving. Someone I don’t even know visited my island and left me 1.5M Bells. Others chose me to invite their beloved villager in hopes that I’ll take care of them. My friends and I trade DIY recipes, furniture, clothes, and tips.
All of the Animal Crossing community groups (each with hundreds and thousands of members) I’ve joined have been nothing but kind and supportive, and it sort of gives me hope. If only the world can come together to solve this problem like we do in AC:NH, I think we’d have won this war. But I digress. At least, AC:NH is helping me to have faith in the goodness of people by showing me that not everyone is out to get me. Most players don’t play for the sake of bells and other rewards; they want to love and be loved in return.
Last but not least, is the non-social aspect of this social simulator: the island designing. Players can terraform the land and set down cliffs, rivers, and paths in most areas. You can set up bridges and inclines that your villagers can enjoy, too. I can terraform at 3 AM while everyone else is sleeping (animal villagers and real-life humans), and it’s alright. No island design is wrong or bad, so there’s no pressure. Whatever it looks like, Instagram-worthy or not, it’s perfect because it’s yours—a world of pure imagination.
While I like to look at pegs and YouTube videos for design ideas, in the end, I made my island the way I feel it should look; the river is heart-shaped because I love Kingdom Hearts. The tasks of designing can be tedious and repetitive, but it has a calming effect. When life gets overwhelming, I retreat into my island and let my dreams take shape.
I’ve felt numb for a long time because my travel goals have been put on hold, with my real-life flights cancelled. But nothing is stopping me from crafting my ideal vacation and traveling to beautiful islands all over the world in AC:NH.
The game passes time like in real life. Every day offers something new. Whether it’s a new fossil waiting to be unearthed, funny sushi clothes at the Able Sisters, or turnip prices skyrocketing at Nook’s Cranny, I’m excited to discover what tomorrow will bring. This is a safe space where I can be myself, surrounded by warm and fun-loving characters.
Thank you Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the community for helping me cope and for bringing us a bit of hope in these dark, dark times.
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