Everyone Has a Story
When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched after much anticipation, the timing could not have been better. For me personally, it’s impossible to ignore just how much of a blessing the arrival of New Horizons has turned out to be.
Like you and everyone else on this planet, I have a unique Covid-19 story and my story revolves mostly around Nintendo’s latest hit.
It all began when I was recently hired as the marketing coordinator of one of Montreal’s most popular radio stations. It was not only a great job but since I was working in the media, I was confident I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job during this pandemic. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider the amount of advertising revenue the station would lose over the next few months. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before I received a call from my supervisor informing me that the company was laying off hundreds of employees and that included me.
It just so happens that same week, I also feel ill and I’ve been sick ever since, practicing self-quarantining and social distancing; unable to leave my house and desperately looking for something to pull me away from the harsh reality of the world we live in.
New Horizons has done just that— giving me a sense of normality, routine, and social connection.
With anxiety on the rise, I’ve found the game to be the perfect escape. It’s one of the few things that has been able to keep me sane. And now after sixty-plus hours stuck on a deserted island with a strange cast of anthropomorphic animals, I’m ready to share my experience.
Welcome to Rekèe Island
Spending Time on an Island is the Best Way to Find Your Inner Calm
When Nintendo announced they were releasing a new entry in the Animal Crossing series, I initially didn’t plan on buying the game since I have a tendency to dip down for long play sessions and Animal Crossing doesn’t bode well for someone like me who’s usually busy working— not to mention, someone who has somewhat of a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. You see, I’m the type of guy who doesn’t like to leave a job undone and that applies to everything I do in life including the tasks and activities within the game itself.
In New Horizons, your character wants a break from the hustle and bustle of city life and decides to book a relaxing getaway. Upon arrival you are greeted by the shady Tom Nook (the founder and owner of Nook Inc.) who tasks you with the privilege of turning your island into a real community, sending you off on various quests and tasks while earning currency to pay back your debts. It doesn’t take long before you realize that nothing on your island comes cheap— and the work never ceases to pile up.
Normally, this sort of commitment would intimidate me since Animal Crossing is a slow burn and a game that never really ends. But now that I’m trapped inside due to the coronavirus, I have plenty of time to dive into the deep end, seeing and doing as much as possible while in quarantine.
Planning Ahead in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
From the moment I downloaded the game, I had a plan. The first thing I wanted to do was pay off my mortgage and expand my home as fast as possible. I figured I’d focus first on my house and worry about the rest of the island later. I had paid off the first bit of mortgage in just two days; by the end of the first week, I expanded my home (which started as a simple tent) by adding three floors, six rooms; and a large yard that included my own private basketball court; swimming pool; camping ground and even a lighthouse. I guess you could say that in a way, I was building a model of my dream home within the game.
Upgrading my home was easy. Sure, it was a lot of work, but the process was straight forward. Collecting the specific items, I wanted is another story. When I first booted up the game, my intention was to create a horror-themed island but as I kept playing, the game would only award me with items mostly related to music and sports. After two days playing New Horizons, I decided to change my tune and rethink how I would design my utopia. Originally, I had placed my home in front of the beach but by the end of the week, I had relocated my house to the hilltop. I then decided to set up the shops along the waterfront and build a boardwalk surrounded by dozens of palm trees and other beach items such as surfboards. What was originally meant to be an ‘isle of the dead’ soon turned into a Hawaiian-like paradise.
With every hour, I became more and more obsessed with collecting as much as I possibly could and it didn’t take long before I caved in and resorted to changing the time and date in the Switch’s internal software so that I could skip ahead one day, then two, then a few years until I had collected enough furniture and other outdoor household items to live a prosperousness life. And while there is still plenty of items I am still in search of, I’ve managed to build a basement with my own arcade and over a dozen K.K. Slider record covers hung up on my walls. Throughout my home, you’ll also find several musical instruments including a guitar, a bass, and a grand piano— as well as a fully stocked kitchen. My personal favourite room, however, is my bedroom which hosts a record player so that I can listen to my favorite K.K. Slider tunes while changing outfits.
Animal Crossing is a Soothing Balm for Stressed Individuals
Nothing is all that urgent in Animal Crossing since payments can be made at any time with no interest and how you expand your home and island is left entirely up to you to decide. You are of course encouraged to check in with the game every day, but this isn’t necessary— and while there’s something to do at every hour of the day, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not designed to put any stress on players. If anything, New Horizons makes you feel productive even if you are partaking in simple activities like fishing, gathering wood, digging up fossils, or helping a wayward sailor named Gulliver find pieces of his broken communicator. There are, of course, bigger tasks such as finding the right tools to craft furniture or building bridges and inclines on your island— but again, it’s entirely up to you, what you do, and when and how long you do it. Whatever the case, playing New Horizons has been a much-needed break from real-life problems and great for my mental health.
At the Edge of the World, My Journey Began
As I mentioned above, I was at first worried that a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons would stress me out since there’s always so much to do but by applying strict daily goals and managing my time and resources, I’ve found ways to streamline my productivity and not let my OCD-like personality get in the way of enjoying my time playing the game. Once I finished building my house, the next project I started working on was cleaning up my island and removing all the pesky weeds— something needed for your island to receive a three-star rating. From there, I scattered as much furniture across the islands as I possibly could, followed by adding fencing and planting as many flowers and trees across the land. Anyone playing New Horizons will have to accomplish these same goals if they want K.K. Slider to accept the invitation from Tom Nook to visit the island but how you approach accomplishing these tasks will impact your overall enjoyment of playing the game. I managed to find a system that works best for me that alleviates any sense of frustration and stress. So far, my time spent on Rekèe Island has been nothing but fun and a great way to connect to my real-life friends, thanks to the Nintendo Switch Online account, which allows me to visit the islands of other players and vice versa.
New Horizons adds a lot of new gameplay elements to the series, too. I love how it allows you to control how you express yourself either by changing your appearance or using emotes for wordless communication. Most noticeably, your character now has a Tom Nook-branded smartphone that can be used to access various apps and there’s even an in-game camera that offers plenty of photography options— not to mention it only takes a few clicks to share screenshots from your Switch to Twitter or Facebook.
Games that Changed Our Lives
Animal Crossing: New Horizons occupies a niche in video games that normally wouldn’t interest me since it’s not a narrative-driven game and there’s no overarching goal— but I’ve quickly come to appreciate its magic and the amount of control I have on every aspect of my island. New Horizons just so happens to also be the last purchase I’ve made (other than food) in over a month. Had I not pre-ordered the game, I would have never felt comfortable spending $92 on anything including a video game given my current employment situation. That said, it’s one of the best video game purchases I’ve ever made, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time while practicing social distancing. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now— people will continue to write about how and why New Horizons is a game that somewhat changed their life.
Part of what makes coronavirus-related anxiety tough is the feeling of being useless and helpless. Like everyone, the invisible enemy poses a threat to me and like most people, I can’t manufacture PPE for our health care workers, find a vaccine, or help those in need. As the world continues to spin out of control, I’ve tried finding ways to help others via the magic of the internet but since I am still sick, I’ve obviously been advised to stay home and not leave my house which prevents me from doing something as simple as delivering supplies and groceries to elderly people in my neighborhood. It’s strange to think that I am one of the lucky people on this planet (at least as of writing this), that can relax at home and spend hours playing video games. Part of me feels guilty that I can’t do more but there’s not a minute that goes by that I take it for granted. At a time when it is still unclear how long we’ll continue to be asked to stay in our homes, who wouldn’t seize the chance to create your own virtual life which sadly at times, is far more relaxing than your real life. It’s clear the real world will continue to get worse before it gets better, and so it is reassuring to know I’ve preserved a miniature escape to help get me through it.
It’s only natural to seek solace wherever you can during this pandemic. For myself and many of Nintendo’s fans across the globe, that place is on our respective islands. It’s safe to say that while Animal Crossing has always been therapeutic, this has never been truer than right now.