With the outbreak of coronavirus in the United States in mid-March, a season of self-isolation and social distancing came with it.
A lot of change happened all at once. Universities all over the country changed to online classes, states ordered stay-at-home orders, and toilet paper became a hot commodity. Typically, change comes hand-in-hand with stress. Stress can take a toll on one’s mental health.
Enter, Nintendo. Specifically, Nintendo’s nearly two-decade-old franchise known as Animal Crossing. Before the game released on March 20, 2020, the last main-line Animal Crossing game released in 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS.
This series has a reputation for being… different.
Animal Crossing has no overarching goal. The player is taken on an island getaway with bipedal animal villagers to accompany them. When the player arrives, they are indebted to a capitalist-kingpin named Tom Nook when he gives them a tent. This generous tanooki gives the player a loan with no interest and no time-limit to pay it off. This loan never has to be paid off, the player can ignore it. But that’s the magic behind everything in Animal Crossing. There’s no pressure.
The game is also incredibly wholesome. As long as the player talks to their villagers, they will be nothing but friendly. There’s no negative reinforcement in the entire game. It’s played in real-time, so the player never feels pressured to finish things before the end of the day. If it’s noon in the real world, it’s noon in Animal Crossing.
The series has a devoted fanbase. The Animal Crossing subreddit on Reddit has over 700,000 subscribers, and it’s a very active forum. When Nintendo announced in June of 2019 that the game would be delayed until March 2020, fans were devastated.
The game directors in charge of Animal Crossing had no way of knowing how crazy March of 2020 would be. Call it luck. Maybe just a coincidence, or maybe not. Animal Crossing New Horizons released right as this season of social distancing began. I have used this game as a pseudo-therapy for my mental health.
Animal Crossing is an escape from walking around the same three-bedroom house in Cocoa Beach that I’ve lived in almost my entire life. It’s an escape from the fact that my trip to the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus. It’s an escape from the idea that this epidemic might take away my summer.
It’s just… relaxing. In my 80+ hours playing this game, this was my most stressful moment.
Yes, it’s just a video game. Sprawling lines of code arranged in a way that puts joy in people who desperately need it. But, sometimes little things like this have an immeasurable impact during times of crisis.
Even still, read a book or something. I’ve latched onto Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on my Kindle to keep me busy too.