By Frances Clause
As global efforts continue to focus on lessening the spread of COVID-19, digital entertainment has become a main way for people to relax and connect while social distancing.
Although traveling to an island to escape the pandemic isn’t an option, millions of people are creating their own in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a life simulation video game released by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch.
Within the first three days of the game’s release March 20, 1.8 million copies were sold in Japan. It has become a hit among gamers in the U.K. and U.S. – including students at Youngstown State University who say it is helping them through drastic changes due to COVID-19.
Brandon Maffitt, a senior sports broadcasting major, had never played an Animal Crossing game until the release of New Horizons and said it is helping him stay in touch with friends.
“The game just came out when I got the Switch, so everyone and their brother was playing it,” he said. “The game allowed me to connect with friends and even make new ones by visiting each other’s islands and helping each other out in growing our islands.”
Aside from users cultivating their island by building tools, bridges and homes for anthropomorphic animals, known as “villagers,” that inhabit it, the game delivers a sense of routine that many people have lost due to the pandemic.
“I also like that you can customize almost anything [in the game,]” Maffitt said. “No two islands are alike and [it] allows the user to show off their creative side.”
Maffitt also enjoys the QR code feature that enables users to create their own in-game clothing and share the design with anyone who plays New Horizons.
“Since the game develops over time, you can have something to look forward to every time you start it,” he said.
Julie Johnson, a junior linguistics major, looks forward to playing every day and believes it’s a therapeutic experience.
“Work, homework and other forms of time consumption are reminding us of how bad the world is right now, and [it] takes a high amount of mental presence to complete,” she said. “Animal Crossing is offering an experience where we have control over what happens and allows for low-stress activity.”
Johnson’s favorite in-game activities include fishing, planting flowers and redecorating her island.
“[These tasks] may not seem all that revolutionary, but it is exactly what me and I think many others needed during this time,” she said. “Being able to find the cutest clothes on [Animal Crossing] forums and finally perfecting a garden are such normal, calm things that have just made my brain feel so much happier.”
But the gameplay of New Horizons isn’t the only aspect making people happy. Some Instagram users have made accounts with large followings dedicated to the game.
One of these accounts is animal.cursing and is run by Conner Goldberg of Glasgow, Scotland. He posts New Horizons memes and has reached over 29,000 followers.
Although Goldberg hasn’t gotten the new release because of a Switch shortage due to the pandemic, he is looking forward to playing when his console arrives.
“[The routine] aspect of the game has been helping people for a long time, especially individuals with mental health issues such as depression who struggle to get into daily routines,” Goldberg said.
He is passing time waiting for New Horizons by playing the previous game in the series, which is made for mobile devices, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
“This is a perfect game for both nongamers and casual gamers, and if someone has the means of trying out the franchise, I would absolutely recommend it,” he said. “The game is a relaxed, stress-free sanctuary for anyone who needs it, and in times like these, that is a thing that everybody needs right now.”
To find out what the Animal Crossing hype is all about, a list of retailers selling Nintendo Switch consoles is updated frequently here.