How Animal Crossing New Horizons Fosters Routine and Connection

Throughout quarantine, Animal Crossing New Horizons has helped me to cope with my anxiety by helping to foster routine and connection with friends and family. This virtual getaway couldn’t have come at a better time, and it was honestly cathartic to produce this new video. I hope you enjoy it!

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Read the Transcript (Closed Captioning is Available, Too):

Let me be honest: I’ve been struggling lately. I’m stressed out and frustrated.

Most mornings I haven’t been able to remember which day of the week it is, and the days that I do remember I wish I hadn’t because it reminds me how long it’s been since life was normal. I’ve felt lost amidst the news cycle covering the coronavirus pandemic and the global recession we’re facing. Every day the number of confirmed deaths climbs higher, and the subsequent fear is like a cloud that I can’t get out from underneath. 

I feel disconnected and overwhelmed. When I do interact with others, I have trouble focusing or connecting because my thoughts are muddled with anxiety.

I’ve needed an escape, or at the very least, a getaway. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a life simulation game wherein players move to and eventually cultivate a thriving island community. The player’s job is to convince anthropomorphic animals to move to their village by developing plots, expanding homes, landscaping, and furthering projects like a museum, clothing shop, and furniture store. These amenities are subsidized by Tom Nook, a wealthy raccoon that players spend a large portion of the game indebted to in exchange for various construction services. The associated debt can be paid off with funds earned by performing daily activities like fishing, collecting bugs, and excavating pre-historic fossils.

Through its specific game systems and mechanics, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has served as a celebration of time management and routine, which has helped me to feel a modicum of normalcy in these uncertain times. Also, the game’s inclusion of online multiplayer has helped to reconnect with loved ones, all the while hosting elaborate home tours that would surely make MTV proud.

Each installment in the Animal Crossing series features an internal clock that’s synced with real-time, so as the seasons change outside from Spring to Summer or the time of day shifts from morning to evening, so does the game world. Why does this matter? Well, the occupants of Animal Crossing’s ecosystem operate on individual schedules. For example, creatures like scorpions and grasshoppers only appear during the summer months, while the rare Stringfish spawns during Winter – but only after 4:00 PM. Nook’s Cranny, the community’s general store, is only open for business between 8:00 AM and 10:00 PM while the Able Sisters’ clothing shop operates via separate store hours. 

Through this mirroring of real-time, the game encourages its many players to develop a routine with which they can effectively manage their time to maximize productivity, and ultimately, their earnings. 

In the early days of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the hours seemed to slip away as I slowly became indoctrinated in the ways of island living. I’d start my day by collecting shells that washed up on the beaches overnight or harvesting any tree fruits that were blossoming. Then, I’d spend my afternoons catching bugs and fish while digging up the occasional fossil, all of which could be donated to help the museum’s collection grow. Finally, at the end of my session, I’d sell my wares at Nook’s Cranny in exchange for landscaping tools or furniture to populate my modest house. After a few weeks, this grind became a part of my lifestyle, and as infrastructure was developed and new villagers moved in, I witnessed my island transform from a desolate ocean rock into a bustling town.

However, as rewarding as it’s been to chart the progress of my community’s expansion on my own, Animal Crossing is at its best when the experience is shared with other players. As dark as the state of the world is, there’s a small comfort logging into my Nintendo Switch to see dozens of mutuals online. Whether I’m cataloging workout equipment to help populate my brother’s gym or visiting a far off island to purchase a unique rug from a friend, it’s the connections that I’ve formed while playing New Horizons that have helped me to feel a little less alone lately.

Sure, there are financial benefits to playing the game with others, too. If people miss the chance to sell items or buy goods like turnips during specific hours of the week, they can always visit a friend who lives in a different time zone or hemisphere. The online community has even cultivated innovative fan-sites like the Turnip Exchange or Nookazon, an Amazon-like website whereby players act as pseudo-merchants, placing and fulfilling orders of rare furniture and crafting recipes on behalf of other players.

In short, the Animal Crossing series is more connected than it’s ever been, and for that, I love the game. 

I often take for granted the escapist qualities of video games, the aspects of play that allow a person to slip into another world and enjoy a brief distraction from the struggles of reality. These properties are often boiled down into liquid marketing jargon in an effort to convince us to purchase a product, and in the end, I am often left jaded. Yet, that’s exactly the experience Animal Crossing: New Horizons has gifted me – the freedom and toolset to escape to another world.

Since our city shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, my wife and I have spent many evenings playing Animal Crossing together. We frequently call our best friends from back home on the East Coast, and the four of us play the game together from our separate living rooms. We host fishing tournaments and bug-catching competitions and play “Hide and Seek,” all while chatting and laughing about life.

Honestly, it feels a little bit like the old days.

Before COVID-19. Before the anxiety and worry. Even before the mortgages and stresses of adulthood, back to our childhoods when we’d stay up late together watching movies and playing games until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. Animal Crossing: New Horizons not only serves as a brief respite from the current state of the world, but it’s a celebration of routine and connection – one that reminds me of a different time.

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