This summer, I joined the 22 million other people on this planet in playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The premise of this particular Animal Crossing game is an island getaway: players are flown out to a remote island where they can begin their life anew, living in a tent on an island covered by weeds. Before long, through crafting tools to fish and catch bugs, the island’s infrastructure becomes increasingly more advanced—tents become houses, weeds become furniture.
The overwhelming interest in the game can seem perplexing. Building a small town from the ground up does not seem as appealing as, say, saving a princess from a spiky, turtle-like villain. But Animal Crossing fans revel over the game’s complexity within its simplicity. There are many easter eggs that die hard fans of the series will recognize and new fans can explore. The game is incredibly customizable, from the flora to the flooring to the fences, each aspect of the island can be molded to create each player’s personal utopia.
My utopia is called Zealand. I wanted to call it New Zealand (after literally the best place in the world which I haven’t actually been to — yet) but the ‘New’ didn’t fit. I’m actually fairly new to the game (it’s only been about a month since I started) but I’ve expanded my house 3 times, my island has 5 inhabitants, and I must boast that our museum is quite robust. Whether it’s celebrating the opening of a new wing of the museum, welcoming a new island inhabitant, or a special vendor coming to visit, there isn’t a day in Animal Crossing that is the same. In short, I’ve been busy.
But as soon as I set the Nintendo Switch down, my once busy life is met with the harsh reality that it is very much not busy right now. I wake up each and every morning (or, more accurately, afternoon) to the same routine: eat, play Animal Crossing, sleep, and repeat.
Aside from the fact that Animal Crossing is a nature game and there is such an appeal of being able to go outside (you start each and every day with a cute intro where you step outside your door — something I haven’t done in real life for a week), Animal Crossing also gives me the illusion that I still have control over my life. For someone who’s as Type A as I am, seeing a sparse Google Calendar (and planner because, yes, I use both) is stressful. COVID-19 has taken away my delusion of control. But for the moments that I’m in Zealand, I regain a semblance of that control, even if it’s just used to decide where to put my new bridge.
These are all things that people have mentioned before. If you look online, there are so many articles describing the social phenomenon that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Reality isn’t such a lovely place to be right now, so many of us are choosing to escape it by entering this virtual one. But I wasn’t satisfied with just having Zealand at my fingertips. I wanted to be immersed in my digitally found peace and since I can’t go to New Zealand at this time, I took other measures to make my Animal Crossing life into a reality.
Nature: To emulate the purity island life, my family and I went on a quick camping trip into the woods. A quiet three days and two nights in a cabin far away from any cell service (and therefore away from Animal Crossing) became a good time of healing for me.
Friends: In the game, your fellow island inhabitants become your friends. As you talk with them, they begin to reveal their personalities and together you form a relationship. Since it’s a game, oftentimes I need to be the one to approach the islander first. I have taken this as inspiration to text people first and put myself out there during this time.
Organization: You do have a home in Animal Crossing, along with a wonderful variety of furniture. Yet despite this endless array of options, I find that I like my rooms to be minimalistic and my pockets to be largely empty. Taking this as inspiration, I cleaned out my room, throwing out the things I didn’t use/need. What used to reek of my high school self has transformed into something that’s very current for me.
Routine: In Animal Crossing, there are a selection of “daily tasks” that you don’t have to do but if you do them, you maximize the potential of each day (for instance, once a day, one rock on the island will spit out money when hit with a shovel so I try to find that rock each day). In the same way, I find myself doing a number of daily tasks in my real life — that I don’t need to do but still, make me feel like I’m maximizing my day: journaling, reading, and exercising.
COVID-19 has certainly taken away my control over my life, but to be honest, I never had that control anyway. The only thing I really have control over is how I face each day and that is something that, thanks to Animal Crossing’s inspiration, I have yet to surrender.