Because I’m such a nerd, video games have been a big part of my life. They’ve helped me get through some of the lowest points, allowing me to escape to another world where I’m not limited by my challenges and can define my destiny. They’re my anti-drug. This year, however, one particular game has stood out to me more than almost any other game in my life, and that game is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ll try not to nerd out about the game too much, this is a blog about mental health after all. But I do want to write about how this game has made me feel in a year that’s been so difficult for all of us.
Coming out near the end of March, Animal Crossing hit when the pandemic was in full swing in the United States, and I had been out of work for a week or so. It was probably not the wisest investment on the surface, dropping $60 on something so frivolous after losing my job in the midst of a pandemic, but I did it. I absolutely did not regret it.
For those unaware of how Animal Crossing works, it’s a game where you live a virtual life in a village that you build up, and befriend the animal residents that come to live in your creation. You can fish, catch bugs, craft furniture, and collect various items to decorate your fantasy home. It doesn’t sound very interesting on the surface, but it’s weirdly addicting.
Because the game happens in real-time I built up a routine. I’d wake up, make some coffee, and do my daily in-game tasks. Throughout the day I’d check-in, work on my village, and build little attractions for my new animal friends. I dove right into the game’s world, and it helped keep me sane in the opening months of the pandemic. It kept my anxiety and depression in check at a time when it should have been out of control.
Also, the real-time nature of the game means there’s always something to look forward to. Whether it’s a holiday event, or my villagers throwing me a virtual birthday party, or just something as simple as waiting for some flowers I planted to grow, the game has consistently given me something to look forward to.
Most importantly though, it helped me stay in touch with friends and even make a few new ones. The game has an online function that allows players to visit each other’s villages, trade items, and just hang out. There was no hanging out in real life, so we would visit each other in-game. Also, through the game’s very extensive community I made a new friend from the other side of the world.
Of course, none of this replaces life. But in a time where life just feels like it’s ground to a halt, Animal Crossing has been a much-needed diversion. I don’t play it quite as obsessively now as I did the first few months, mostly because I’ve needed to put my energy into goals that are a bit less fantasy. I allowed myself to get so into it because it’s what I needed at the time, and because I thought things would be relatively normal again after a few months and I’d be back at work. Obviously, none of that happened. However, I still indulge once in a while when I need to hang out with some quirky anthropomorphic animals for a bit, and it’s secured itself as a staple of my self-care routine.