An Ode to Animal Crossing

A photo I took with my phone of my Switch screen because Nintendo does not give you an easy way to get screenshots off the device goddammit

The last couple months have not been good. Terrible, if we’re being honest. It has been hard to find hope, or joy, or a reason to get up in the morning (I don’t know about you, but having to wake up and watch someone with a PhD not know how to share their screen every day for 6 weeks just wasn’t really doing it for me). We have to find our happiness wherever we can, no matter how trivial it is. And for me, one of these small sources of happiness has been Animal Crossing. 

Animal Crossing, if you don’t know, is a Nintendo game where you play as a villager in a town (or island in this case) full of animals. You start with nothing, but through the generous interest-free loans of raccoon Tom Nook, you can build a house and start a life. There isn’t much that “happens,” per se, in Animal Crossing; you furnish your house and buy clothes at stores in town, you plant flowers and trees, you talk to your neighbors, you collect fish, bugs, and fossils to put on exhibit in your town’s museum. It is the poster child for a low intensity experience. And that is exactly what I need right now.

I didn’t actively seek out Animal Crossing during this difficult time. I last engaged with the franchise when I was about 6, when my dad and I played Animal Crossing: Wild World on our Nintendo DS. About a week after Wesleyan announced that campus would be closed, my dad got me Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a gift, citing that I had been “pretty down” and he thought it would help bring a little cheer into my life. And he was right.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, my Animal Crossing island is one of the first things I think about when I wake up. I get excited to see what new items are on sale at Nook’s Cranny and The Able Sisters, and I look forward to hearing if Isabelle has any new announcements for the day. Many of my routines have been trashed since COVID began, but I genuinely have a morning routine in Animal Crossing: check my mail, go dig up the fossils that have spawned on the island that day, bring them to Blathers (an owl) at the museum to get assessed and donate any new ones, sell the duplicates at Nook’s Cranny and use the money to buy any items I want there, then put what’s left towards whatever debt I have at the moment. As menial as it all is, it has brought a little piece of stability to my life. 

I also get the kind of freedom of control in Animal Crossing that I have lost in real life. Although I’m incredibly lucky in that I have a stable  home to go back to when a global pandemic strikes, it’s still a difficult transition to go from living alone and getting to do whatever I want, whenever I want to having to inform my family whenever I do anything. 

But in Animal Crossing, I am completely free. I get to own a house, and design the rooms however I want (snapping turtle as decoration anyone?), something I don’t know if I’ll ever ever be able to do in real life #goingintoarecession #decimatedjobmarket. I literally have the power to terraform my island however I please, a godlike ability that thus far I have only used to move a pond slightly to the left to make room for my flower garden. I get to be the sole curator of a museum, something I didn’t know I wanted until it happened. I am the queen of my own tiny world.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has online capabilities that allow you to visit your friend’s islands and have them visit you, an adorable feature that has led to some very sweet antics shared online. Unfortunately for me, none of my friends have Switches (they’re all PC gamers :P), so I’m out of luck on that front. But that doesn’t mean Animal Crossing-Me is lonely. I have 9 villagers living with me, and they all love me to death. 

 In New Horizons, you take on the role of Resident Representative for their island, basically meaning that you plan and pay for everything, and that makes you an island celebrity. My villagers are always happy to see me, and genuinely think I’m the coolest. We chat about island happenings, give each other gifts, and write each other notes. As someone who’s social distancing, and who sometimes struggles socially even in normal times, the feeling of unconditional love and connection, even from a cartoon squirrel, is heartening. 

Animal Crossing is a true gift in the time of coronavirus. It’s everything we wish the world could be right now. Nothing is urgent. Goals are attainable. Everyone is happy. There’s no violence or pain. No one dies. I can’t solve COVID, but I can improve my island life, and for now, I think that has to be enough. Thank you Animal Crossing. I couldn’t do this without you.

I caught my first oarfish at 1 am one night and I laughed so hard I worried I woke my family up because LOOK AT HIM