Animal Crossing: New Horizons Helped the Masses Through the Worst of the Pandemic

And how it will continue to keep us sane.

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Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

In the United States, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was truly a time none of us will forget. From the quick rise of “Tiger King”, to the constant panic buying of toilet paper, it has not been like any other experience. Another huge milestone at the beginning of the pandemic was the long awaited release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch.

With this release occurring during the midst of the pandemic, that definitely led to its tremendous success. Nintendo reported the game sold 13.41 million units after being on the market for the first six weeks and is now one of the best selling games on the Switch. Since the rise of this game’s popularity started in a time when everyone had to constantly maintain proper social distancing, it definitely made a huge impact on the community when the outside world was in a tough spot.

That being said, I too started playing Animal Crossing at the beginning of the stay-at-home order, and it helped me stay afloat much more easily during the pandemic then if I didn't have the game. Therefore, I wanted to share all of the qualities Animal Crossing: New Horizons has that has helped me not only stay in a good headspace, but keep me endlessly entertained during the strangest time in my life.

ACNH Helps You Keep a Daily Routine

Unlike other video games, what makes the Animal Crossing series unique is the game connects with your system’s internal clock and runs in real time. For example, if it is 8 P.M. where you are and you turn the game on, your Animal Crossing island will also have a time of 8 P.M.

While this doesn’t seem like a huge feature, this feature affects almost every aspect of the game. Different kinds of bugs and fish can only be caught during certain parts of the day and year. The shops on your island close at a specific time every night and don’t open until the following morning. Turnips can only be bought between 6 A.M. and 12 P.M. on Sundays and will spoil if they’re not sold that following week.

Once you establish a routine in Animal Crossing, it can be much easier to establish a routine in real life. This game won’t keep you up until the early hours of the morning, because Nook’s Cranny (the in-game general store) isn’t even open for you to sell or buy items. Along the same lines, many of your villagers will be asleep at night and up and about during the daytime.

Since this game follows a traditional daily routine, it won’t impede too much on your actual daily routine. You most likely won’t stay up through the night playing this game, because the shops are closed and your villagers are asleep, thus giving you less to do. Over time, if you’re able to keep a stable routine in a video game, it is more than possible to do the same in the real world, even if we weren't always leaving our house.

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Leif’s weekly visit in the Island Plaza where he sells plants and buys weeds. Image from Business Wire.

There is Something to Look Forward to Every Day

Just like real life, Animal Crossing has new and subtle changes every day giving the player something new to do. A common example of these small shifts include NPC’s (non-playable characters) that visit your island every week or a few times a month.

There’s Leif who sells you plants and flowers, Sahara the Camel who sells rugs and “mysterious” flooring and wallpapers, or C.J. and Flick that give you fishing and bug catching challenges. Many of these characters visit on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, but other than that it is pretty random as to what day they come to your island. That being said, it is always a small surprise to see the small daily events that change your island every time you log on.

In addition to the NPC’s, “campers” can also visit your island at random times. These can be any randomized villagers that (if you have the space) you can invite to live permanently on your island.

The beauty of these day to day changes is they are subtle enough where the core gameplay doesn’t change too much, but also different enough that it changes the pace to keep you coming back the following day and isn’t too repetitive.

Animal Crossing Mirrors Real Responsibilities

I know what you’re thinking, how can a game where you build a fully functional society on a deserted island with animal villagers be in any way similar to real life? Hear me out.

In every Animal Crossing game, there is a similar pattern where as soon as you move in, Tom Nook the tanukichi gives you a small house or tent but at a cost. Once you have a place to live, Nook has you take out a loan to pay off your house. This then leads to you doing a major part of the gameplay, which involves catching bugs, fish, and sea creatures to sell for “bells” (the game’s currency) and using those bells to pay off your loan. Once you pay off your loan, you have the ability to expand your house in exchange for a new loan and so on.

In addition to paying off loans, your villager can do a lot of daily tasks in order to keep your island afloat. This includes talking to your villagers so they don’t move out, watering your flowers so more can grow, and digging up fossils so you can donate them to the museum.

When we were stuck in our houses with no work to do, this is a fun alternative. Furthermore, paying off your home loans gives you a sense of accomplishment and progression knowing you worked towards something. When it comes to being in a pandemic, these small goals can definitely lift your mood when there’s not much going on in the outside world.

What You Do is Your Choice, and At Your Own Pace

One of the best parts of Animal Crossing is the objective of the game is up to you. There are no tasks to complete past the tutorial, there’s no deadlines, and there’s nothing blocked off from not having enough experience.

The open-ended atmosphere of Animal Crossing easily makes it one of the most comfortable and relaxing gaming experiences of all time. Animal Crossing is a game that doesn't require a lot of attention or energy, and is a game you can play in a more sedated state.

Additionally in New Horizons, you are able to customize the entirety of your island to your liking, from where you want your shops to landscaping the rivers and cliffs. Again, this is all optional and can be done whenever you choose, making the game much less intense and more relaxing.

The beauty of this, especially during the pandemic, is a lot of circumstances in the outside world seem out of our control. Yet in Animal Crossing, everything is in your control, giving you some ease in uncertain times.

The Animal Crossing series has always had some of my favorite games. But with the release of New Horizons at such an ambiguous time, it has made coping with COVID-19 (and pretty much any stressful situation in general) much easier.

If you’re new to gaming, or just want a feel good and relaxing experience in unpredictable times, Animal Crossing is the perfect game to bring you to a peaceful headspace when everything around you seems unsettling.

College junior in Media Communications. True Crime Fan.

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