Just last month, Nintendo’s greatly adored video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons celebrated its first anniversary. Upon reflecting on the time I’d spent playing the game, an unexpected wave of nostalgia and gratitude overwhelmed me; it was Animal Crossing that pulled me through the most mentally taxing trials and tribulations of the first national lockdown.
Despite the franchise releasing several instalments of the game since 2005, I picked up Animal Crossing for the first time in March of 2020. I downloaded the game at four in the morning, unable to sleep and struggling to cope with the lost sense of purpose that many experienced during the lockdown. The colourful glow gently radiating from my screen brought a sense of hope in its gentle illumination of the early morning’s dark hours. I began my virtual life on the deserted tropical island, accompanied by a few charming animal acquaintances who gently guided my progress through the game. Animal Crossing is a life simulation game wherein players are encouraged to decorate their island and grow a community of residents – but the game is truly whatever one makes of it. Whilst some choose to build their islands to perfection, others might choose to play more casually and complete the simple tasks (watering flowers, selling fruits, picking weeds) as a way to unwind.
The national lockdown saw a huge surge in Animal Crossing’s popularity as many sought to pass the time. Although many were extremely lucky to be able to stay safe at home, the cancellation of school on top of working from home meant that social interactions dwindled and the days grew unbearably long; Animal Crossing served as a bright and bubbly distraction from all the chaos. Being able to check in on the game daily, complete simple tasks, and interact with the adorably designed animals provided a new sense of purpose and a mindless way to pass the time. The game’s simplicity allows one to suspend their worries whilst exploring the serene beaches and cosy forest scenery, plus the soothing theme music could calm any restless mind.
Whilst I would recommend Animal Crossing to anyone seeking a sense of escapism in these turbulent times, purchasing a games console is not viable for everyone especially with the economic fallout and unemployment rates caused by the pandemic. So instead I shall recommend a few techniques adopted from the game which can be practised in real life for those who don’t have access to the video game.
Animal Crossing encourages the player to breed flowers and grow plants; doing this in real life can be a therapeutic and rewarding way to pass time as well as providing a breath of fresh air. One might even choose to bring the outdoors indoors using houseplants, perfect for those who don’t have access to a garden or an allotment. Watering and tracking the growth of the chilli pepper plants sat on my windowsill gave me something to look forward to each day, and a sense of accomplishment.
Crafting DIYs is another central game mechanic of Animal Crossing, which I adapted into real-life practices using clay. Polymer clay can be found at a relatively affordable price, and can be used to create just about anything: figurines, jewellery, pots, gifts… Getting stuck into creative projects and physically moulding and shaping the clay is a great way to relax the mind.
Whilst beginning university has meant that I no longer play the game so frequently, I will always remember how Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped me survive the pandemic. As well as a pastime, the game taught me new ways to unwind and relax from the pressure of everyday life.