Animal Crossing has helped me cope with social distancing

'I needed an escape and Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave me one'

When the Animal Crossing: New Horizons trailer was released June 11, 2019, I knew I had to get the game. What I didn't know, however, was that the game would have larger impact on my life, and the world, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Animal Crossing video game series has always helped me escape reality. I've lived vicariously in an alternate universe of endless fruit, animals and happiness ever since I picked up Wild World for the DS back in 2006. 

I gained the responsibility of ensuring that my village ran smoothly for all that inhabited it. I watered flowers, checked in with my villagers, payed off debts, weeded my garden and simply lived an everyday life. 

So when chaos began to ensue in the real world around me, I was confined to my home, unable to go outside and do anything other than for the occasional walk. My friends were far and work was online. Stores were closed and time seemed to stop. 

I knew I had to order this video game that taught me the importance of structure and order at a young age. 

I waited three weeks to buy a Nintendo Switch console and resorted to playing Pocket Camp in the meantime. I needed interaction besides my parents, and if that came through video game characters it was fine by me. 

And when a Best Buy package arrived in the mail, I ran to the door and ripped open the cardboard box (which I sprayed with disinfectant first). I plugged in my Switch, connected to Wi-Fi, and was revving to get started. 

I've been playing New Horizons for a little over a month now and have dedicated way too much time to cultivating the perfect island. By revamping and simulating my day-to-day, I've kept sane. 

I can safely say I did not dig up fossils before the pandemic, but now it's my job to make sure all four pieces are assessed by Blathers (who runs the museum) at the end of the day. I've learned more about dinosaurs, fish, and bugs from this talkative owl than I did from some of my science classes. 

In-game, I picked up the hobby of gardening and hope to turn my virtual skills into real actions. I've nurtured pink hyacinths, purple tulips, and even gold roses. I've grown cedars from saplings and money trees from shining holes in the ground. 

I've stopped redecorating my room every five seconds because I now have an island to fill with furniture, homes, fences and shops. I do each of my projects with pride even though there is the looming housing loan I have to pay off to a money-hungry raccoon

In the absence of in-person interaction with my human friends, I have to make do with new ones: cute animals who shower me with love and appreciation every day I log onto my game.

My ten villagers get so excited whenever I stop by their house, give them a gift, or perform a task. When Maelle, a duck, asked me to catch her a killifish, I did so with great speed and swiftness — she told me she simply could not catch one on her own, so of course the job was bestowed to me. 

I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I make them happy. Their little smiles bring me joy and it shows all my time, effort and hard work has payed off. Whenever they do yoga or sing in the plaza, it simply warms my heart.

"Thinking of you, hun," one of my first villagers, Sydney, a koala, said in a letter. "I was out for a walk on the beach just now when I remembered a funny thing you said once, and it made me smile all over again. I thought you should that, so that's why I sent you this note. Never change." 

To some it may seem childish or silly, but to me this meant the world. 

Recently, there have been days where things seem pointless. Days where I am upset or frustrated at the current situation we are all faced with. 

Animal Crossing has given me a new perspective and purpose. I can't accomplish certain things in real life right now, but that doesn't mean I can't try to in a video game. 

Every day brings new and exciting tasks. One day, Flick, a chameleon, may want to buy some bugs from me for a large profit or Celeste, Blathers' sister, will visit to watch the shooting stars. 

I'm not just mindless scrolling through Instagram or TikTok. I'm crafting supplies and tools. I'm getting a taste of fresh island air. I'm exploring mystery islands to meet new villagers. I'm inviting my sister and other friends to visit my island to trade items and explore. 

I'm actually having fun. 

I needed something to take me out of my funk. I needed an escape and Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave me one. 

Animal Crossing is something I hold near and dear to my heart and ever since social distancing started, it's become even closer. 


Reach the reporter at omunson@asu.edu and follow @munson_olivia on Twitter. 

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