It was a Christmas gift; one from my best friend. I had watched him and Ricky use the game to help cope with pandemic stress while I poured my heart and soul into the Galar region. I avoided the game not because of malice or not appreciating the gift; depression makes it hard to want to start new things. It’s easy to stay in relative comfort because the disappointment of not liking something can be crushing under the additional weight of mental illness.
It was the desire to get goods from my favorite Sanrio character, PomPomPurin, in-game that made me finally start the gift I had neglected for 5 months. And even though I loosely knew the game, I never really understood it. The Animal Crossing boom passed over me as I was playing Cooking Mama and Pokemon; games that in my opinion offered similar wants for me. I never needed a game like Animal Crossing; especially in the early days of the franchise.
But knowing that I had to hit certain milestones in the game before I could load up on gifts and merchandise of m favorite Sanrio character meant one simple thing: I would achieve those goals, I would go the distance, I would be the very best like no one ever was; and all for my round pudding son. I started the game and was almost immediately bored out of my mind. I didn’t like the dumb baby language everyone was talking in, the verbal ticks that I had come to love as a longtime anime fan were driving me mad. I was tired of having to figure out mechanics and quickly got sick of pulling weeds and living in a tent.
Fortunately, I got a huge boost from my best friend who helped me out with bells and materials to make things feel more like home and more like a fleshed out experience rather than essentially LARPing capitalism and indentured servanthood in a video game. Once I had a home and stopped hating my neighbors, I found a rhythm in the game. I pulled weeds, sold them to two semi-naked racoon children, caught fish, caught bugs, focused on redecorating and reorganizing all the while paying down home loans with astonishing ease due to a little help from my friends and before I knew it; I had a bustling island with neighbors I liked, a home that is as quixotic and strange as I am and clothes that fit my personality (still no good shoes, though. Get it together, Mable).
I didn’t “understand” Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the longest time. I saw its appeal to some, sure. Even enjoyed some of the content separate from the game before I received it through Let’s Plays and such. I already had a semi-known canon of characters I thought were cute and characters I thought were strange but playing it on its own was at first strange. It wasn’t until I realized I could get lost in pulling weeds for hours and spend even more hours just trying to get one room just right that I figured out why it became such a sensation when the popular title was released at the start of the pandemic. In a world marred by chaos and uncertainty, your island is a balm of calm, peace and routine. You wake up, get your Nook Miles from the capitalism ATM, you talk to the capitalist racoon and his capitalist nephews, greet the neighbors, pull weeds, catch bugs and go about a day in a serene sandbox where the worst possible thing that can happen in game is fainting from seeing a scorpion or being stung by wasps too many times. It’s a relief, an escape, a joy to have such small worries and so many little joys.
I get it now. I get why people enjoy this franchise and have for years. I get why this game was so popular and continues to be so and I get why my friends who saw me at some of my mental lowest points during the pandemic would think that I’d benefit from a game like this.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go scare an argyle owl with some ladybugs.
And if you’re ever nearby; Stolas Bay is a pretty neat place to visit, but I may be biased on that opinion.