If you were to ask anyone right now what their dream scenario would be, going out to explore a tropical island might top a lot of people’s lists.
Go ahead and close your eyes and imagine lying in a hammock. Sun on your skin, a light breeze caressing your face – these are all simple pleasures that, right now, feel like impossible luxuries. Well, each day for the past couple weeks, I’ve been able to do all these things and more!
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Hell, you can too – some of you already have! – if you can manage to get a Nintendo Switch.
Before I entered Sung’s Garage and donned the Racer M mask, other circles knew me as Gamer M.
It was a moniker forged in the flames of sleepless nights playing my elder cousin’s NES and crystallized by the procurement of every iteration of Sony’s PlayStation. As a child, video games were my digital reprieve from the daily grind of earning A’s. Gaming has been a passion of mine that’s withstood the passage of time.
Now, in the midst of this Coronavirus pandemic, we’re all searching for something to get our minds off the current situation. Sung’s got his new car build Oppa; David’s is definitely anything but vienna sausage.
Isolated and left to my own devices, I’ve witnessed gaming become the greatest commodity: a distraction, a time suck for this time that sucks. And of all the games that have been on my rotation since this whole thing started, Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch towers above all others as particularly engaging and comforting.
It’s my Oppa.
For the uninitiated, the Animal Crossing series is a Nintendo property that began at the dawn of this century. In the games, you play as the lone human in a town full of anthropomorphized animals.
At the start of each entry, a Japanese raccoon dog by the name of Tom Nook gives you a loan to purchase a starter home in a small town, and the rest of each game involves you paying off said loan while you make friends with the other residents and improve the feng shui of your house.
There’s no ending in these games, no overarching goal of saving the world or stopping a great evil. You just kind of… hang out. The series stands as a stark contrast to most other games out there, opting away from adrenaline and more towards relaxation.
In New Horizons, your character lays down their roots on an island paradise. As you progress in the game, more and more neighbors move in and make your acquaintance. When you’re not redecorating your digs, you’re planting trees, catching bugs, and going fishing. You’re crossing streams with your vaulting pole and traversing the local orchard gathering apples and cherries.
My adventures on P.Gunsmoke, my Animal Crossing island, sustain me on a day-to-day basis. Self-quarantining in this very important time is priority number one, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being out and about like usual.
With the inescapable oppression of sheltering in place, the mere act of going outside in the game feels like a virtual panacea. The sunlight that teases me through my closed window in the real world warms my Animal Crossing avatar directly, and now that vicarious thrill means so much more. And, perhaps ironically, the greatest thrill of all is just being able to act like everything is normal.
On P.Gunsmoke, there is no Covid-19. No one has to stay inside. We can all skip joyously outdoors and breathe that sweet, sweet air. Hell, I can even create a Dexter-style basement in my island home.
And I’ve saved the best for last because, in New Horizons, you can have visitors from other islands join you in your antics – there’s multiplayer!
Through the in-game Dodo Airlines, you can travel to your friends’ islands, and they can come over to yours. In these trying times, visiting the people you care about most is a real world impossibility. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fun, light-hearted way to bridge that physical gap.
As enjoyable as the core gameplay already is, there’s something about connecting with your loved ones in such a pure, innocent context that’s like chicken soup for the soul. You can show off the fruits of your many hours of interior (and exterior!) decorating. Friends can walk you through their museums, populated with the fossils and other specimens they’ve collected! Y’all can even compete in a fishing tournament together!
The power of Animal Crossing: New Horizons lies in its ability to bridge us to the communities we may all feel separated from right now, be they family or friends. It lies in the way it enables us to express ourselves – through our avatar’s clothing or the decor of their house – when we might feel most stifled.
And, more than that, it lies in the new connections the game helps us form.
I was reading some of the reactions on the Sung’s Garage Instagram and Facebook, and it makes my heart sing to see the joy it brings y’all. It really sounds like people from all walks are finding Animal Crossing‘s blend of adorable aesthetics and soothing gameplay to be just what the doctor ordered right now.
In honor of the Fast & Furious’s emphasis on family, I’d like to extend an invitation now! If you’re so inclined, comment below with your Nintendo Switch friend code and you just might find some new pals visiting your island soon – just be sure to put a face mask on your character first!
And you know, chime in with how the game could be better! Maybe Nintendo’ll listen. (I for one wish we could mass craft items!)