A discussion of how Animal Crossing kept our EIC’s sanity at the height of the Pandemic and ignited his love for gaming again.
Everyone has had a rough 2020. Everyone has tried to cope with the continual barrage of bad news, violence, racism, fascism, and all the other -isms in various ways. Me myself have taken the time to take on new ventures; Yoga, Breadmaking, Meditation (not the same as Yoga)… Those do help but it was the first thing I took up to cope with the stress of my professional and personal life that helped the most; Gaming.
Not just gaming in general but playing a specific game. A game that has no real purpose or end point. One that allows you to escape to a Tropical Island. A Tropical Island that you help shape, that you build, that you help make a community. An Island that changes with the seasons. An Island that’s filled with possibilities.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.
New Horizons is actually not the first but rather 7th in the popular series. Kyogoku taking over creative duties. The game has been eight years in the making beginning development in 2012 after he release of the last AC Game, A New Leaf.
You begin with the creation of your Avatar. This isn’t a complex arrangement like in something like Far Cry where you could spend hours. I mean you could spend hours but… you won’t. Once you’ve created your Avatar, you meet Tom Nook, your guide/owner of the company that essentially sells you the island you’ve decided to purchase. You select your Island, your fruit of choice, and you’re off.
The eight years of development shows in the beauty, refinement, and intuitive nature of the game. Everything is designed to help you move along and create your world with an ease and grace that few pieces of storytelling have. The AI that inhabits the game are delightfully quirky. Each of the resident of your Island are of course some type of Animal with their own personality. They along with everything else in the game is designed to sooth and relax.
As you build your Island, which you name, there are all manner of past times you can indulge in that one will find themselves engrossed in. Fishing, Bug Collection, Gardening, Clothing Design, Interior Design, Furniture Making are all major components of the game. Each are open ended to allow one to dive into whatever they feel is important to them. Though always with an eye to moving forward in the game.
It’s these simple but effective designs that create a world that’s like a vacation. Time away from the real world into one that feels like it was designed by Walt Disney or Miyazaki-San himself. One that does not frustrate in anyway. Fishing and Bug Collecting though competitive they are more aimed at one’s natural instincts for collecting and curation. The goal isn’t to beat someone else but rather to enrich your island and its residents (even if they are AI).
New Horizons isn’t a game in the traditional sense. That’s what intrigued me so much at the beginning. I knew about AC but really had never ventured into the series before. It never suited my gaming habits. In 2020, with time on my hands and anxiety through the roof… I took a chance on something that felt would sooth me rather than raise my ire.
And it worked.
Every day over the Summer (beginning sometime in early May), I would log onto New Horizons and play for an hour or five. Being able to roam around my island just exist in a world of my own creation was intoxicating and wonderful for my mental health. It allows one to let go of whatever is bothering you at the time. By concentrating on a small-scale task like fishing the other concerns of the world go away.
The goal isn’t saving the world or questing for some magical item. New Horizons’ goal if it has one is for you to create a world for your own comfort. A place where every neighbor is friendly and is always willing to talk. A place where the worries of the real world melt away, at least for a few hours, and allow you to exist in the calm waters. At least for a time.
If yoga isn’t your thing. If you think meditation is a bunch of New Age nonsense. Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be that piece of Zen you need. It’s as much a game as it is a spiritual spa day for the heart and soul. Once one begins, you’ll find yourself going back to continually.