The past week hasn’t been the easiest. After nearly a month in isolation, the positive effects of being homebound have started to wear off, leaving room for anxious thoughts and habits to take hold. Nevermind that the absence of an hour-long commute equates to enough time for eight full hours of sleep every night and some light experimentation with breakfast smoothies in the morning: I am shopping in binges, I have medication lost somewhere in the United States Postal System, and my household is running on a supply of two rolls of Scott toilet paper whose inadequacy I am forced to revere.
Fortunately, I have no desire to face those issues, or to do anything else beneficial for myself in any way, other than play Animal Crossing. As many people have been made acutely aware (certainly anyone who’s been within earshot of myself within the last six months) Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the brand new game from Nintendo that is magically making everyone forget about their billowing depression.
As the newly-anointed Resident Representative of my virtual island, Torbilund, I tell you it is all true. Over the last two weeks, Torbilund, its residents, and its landscape have consumed me in every way. I have found myself booting up the game multiple times throughout the day, craving the feeling of running through a rose-filled field or eating fresh fruit on a whim (It is incredible the amount of visceral pleasure one can derive from watching a digital character scarf down a pear in three crisp bites).
Animal Crossing, in addition to reminding me that there are things such as trees and places and words, has also provided me with a sense of financial comfort and responsibility. In all of the Animal Crossing games I’ve ever played, I have proven more than capable of fiscal responsibility. In Torbilund, for example, I efficiently allocating my money (Bells, if you will) between responsibilities like my home loan and town projects, while still having enough left over to buy every pink item in the entire game. Perhaps Nintendo’s failure to include crippling student debt and medical bills in the Animal Crossing universe is the reason why I can actually manage to have a sizeable-fake savings account.
Meanwhile, in real life, I am much less proud to announce a recent purchase on Amazon.com (a very evil institution whose existence I do not approve of) for several plants, bags of soil, and a tiny green plant spritzer with a bronze handle. I was clicking “Add to Cart” when I should have been preparing for my Zoom-based Constitutional Law Class. Now, I will be forced to answer the door and face the individual carrying a box that says “Live Plants” on the side before stuttering “thank you” and scurrying into my kitchen to unpack my molecule of serotonin. Perhaps it would have just been easier to plant some flowers in Torbilund, after all.
Animal Crossing has also proven one of the sole venues of romantic harmony currently in existence. It seems for many couples, a month of confinement has been a downward spiral of bickering. Meanwhile, in Torbilund, all is bliss for my partner and I. The other night, our characters made plans to “hold hands at the bonfire” — and we did! This past Saturday, we woke up early, sipped our coffee, and constructed an entire lake-side restaurant, complete with a brick pizza oven and floral centerpieces, over the course of a slow and pleasant morning. My well-founded psychological theory is that two people are capable of feeling less on top of each other if given a colorful virtual space that requires absolutely no domestic labor.
It’s easy to see I’m not the only one relying on Animal Crossing for these experiences. Each day, the AC-themed Facebook groups of which I am a member are filled with posts proclaiming that the game is the only thing propping up their crippled will to live. It’s not all so morbid, though. For each borderline-concerning declaration, there are posts sharing carefully curated and often touching in-game displays dedicated to a parent, a pet, or a partner. The game is a ready vessel for displays of love and compassion that are not quite as easy to articulate in “real life.”
I have no idea when I’ll be allowed to walk outside again. I fear I will watch all of spring come and go from my bedroom window. To experience something beyond the indefiniteness of a four-walled reality is about as close to freedom as anyone can get right now, and Animal Crossing is about as close as anyone can get to that something beyond. A well-painted sunset, even a fake one, can do wonders for the heart.