The home screen of my Nintendo Switch lights up with the words “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” spread out across the screen. In the background, I can see my villagers Cherry, Punchy and Leopold running across the main plaza as the theme song for the game plays. All of my other villagers are somewhere fishing, running or in their homes creating a DIY recipe that I will soon have for myself.
When we were sent home from college in March 2020, I felt as if I had no control over what was happening in school or my personal life. As someone who believes I have the power to determine the outcome of situations, I struggled because my schedule was thrown into the wind. Everything was changing, including how my classes were taught and where I was living. I no longer lived in a residence hall with my friends, woke up at an hour that could be considered “morning” and had all three meals of the day in a dining hall. Instead, my new schedule consisted of me waking up at noon and having my first meal for the day at 2 p.m. All of a sudden, I had all the free time in the world. At first, this was exciting because it felt like a never-ending spring break. I woke up every day, watched “The Great British Baking Show” and tried to replicate the recipes I’d see. However, after about three weeks of failed pastry attempts, I was over it. I would finish my online classes, try to make chocolate chip banana bread, fail and go back to my room to continue watching “The Great British Baking Show.” Every day began to feel mundane, and I knew I needed a change in routine to spice things up.
I contemplated playing video games at the end of March 2020, but was quick to dismiss the idea because it was something I was discouraged from doing in my childhood. Since I was the youngest sibling and the only girl, my parents would restrict how much time I spent playing video games. I’m sure they believed gaming was something only boys could do because of how gory and violent the games my brothers played were. Also, during my childhood, I never took interest in video games because I was only exposed to first-player shooting games and was under the impression that violence was a major component of any video game.
I never owned a Nintendo Switch and didn’t even know it was a console until the pandemic hit. After moving in with my boyfriend and seeing his Nintendo Switch setup, I became interested and wanted to explore new games. My only exposure to Animal Crossing in passing was through “Pocket Camp,” a variation of the original “Animal Crossing” that can be downloaded on your phone. He suggested I play “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” and after watching the trailer I was captivated by the idea of whisking myself to my very own island getaway.
When I played Animal Crossing for the first time, I felt I had finally found peace. The game’s journey started off with being greeted by Tom Nook, the infamous raccoon who would soon take all of my bells (the game’s currency). Once there, as the only human character on the island, I met other animal villagers who accompanied me on my journey. From there, I was able to build my deserted island into a paradise, where my new shops and businesses were able to grow.
“Animal Crossing” is a very relaxing yet complex video game because it is based in real-time. Therefore, the time of day will influence the fish you get, the shrubs that bud, when your trees have fruit and whether you can go shopping. You have to play long enough to unlock certain aspects of the game that allow you to change the layout of your island.
Playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” helped me find my foot in the gaming world. I discovered a game that served as a way to help ease my anxiety about what the world looked like and provide me with a sense of control. Now, I still play “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and have expanded to play “Pikmin 3 Deluxe” and “Stardew Valley.” However, I always go back to Animal Crossing because of the vibrant trees, the cute animals and the endless peace I find when stargazing on my island.
Eventually, the sense of security I found in gaming helped me make changes outside of my virtual reality. I realized I could structure my school schedule, how I spent my free time and my environment to provide me with peace. My days began to revolve around making sure I had time to play “Animal Crossing” during the week and all day on the weekends. All of a sudden, I no longer had a reason to sleep until noon and have my first meal at 2 p.m. because characters like Daisy Mae only sold turnips until noon on Sundays. I was back to waking up early again, prioritizing school and rushing to the living room to go to my island and make sure I shopped before Nook’s Cranny closed for the day.
Not only did “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” encourage me to make the most of my time, but it also fostered community. In March 2020 almost everyone was playing “Animal Crossing”, and it was almost impossible to watch Instagram stories without seeing people decorate their islands and interact with their villagers. At one point in time, it became the way I “saw” my friends without actually seeing them in person. We would travel to one another’s islands, steal fruit from each other and exchange clothing we saw at the Able Sisters’ store. Bonding through our love of the game made us closer because we were able to spend time with one another even though we were over 200 miles apart. Although we were in a virtual setting, playing together online and in real-time felt as if we were back on campus together.
Playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” became the new hobby I was searching for that filled the void of no control. In a world where the lives of many were changing as we stayed inside, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was a game that provided comfort, control and happiness. The game was not successful because people were able to fish, collect bugs and talk to new animals all day, but rather because it was a symbol of escape and relaxation in a time when the world was in turmoil. It was a reminder that sometimes we cannot control the things that happen to us on the outside, but we can control the environment we are in to create happiness and community.
MiC Columnist Anchal Malh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.