In March, Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the fifth title in the popular video game series. In the game, you, the buyer of a vacation getaway package, have just set up your tent on a natural resource-rich deserted island. With you on your adventure are a few cute anthropomorphic animal neighbors, and Tom Nook, a raccoon who holds your mortgage and runs a general store.
Before long, you’ve completed enough small tasks – catching fish and bugs, collecting wood, building furniture and clothes – to move from your tent into a home with a new, larger mortgage, and more tasks to complete, and the cycle continues. You can expand your home a half dozen more times, each time with a new mortgage. Your island grows, too: soon you’ll invite additional residents, unlock new characters and features, build bridges over your island’s rivers and explore previously unknown territory, but there’s no roadmap to get there, and gameplay progresses at your preferred speed.
With a release date that coincided with COVID-19 related stay-at-home orders, the game has been a smash hit as millions of gamers have looked for an escape from the stress of real life in a time of pandemic.
A big reason behind the success of Animal Crossing is the sense of control offered during a time when the world seems out of control. “A fantasy of a place where things are clean and orderly, where we have control of our surroundings, where things are somewhat predictable and logical, sounds pretty good right now,” Christine Celio, Ph.D., a California-licensed psychologist recently told Bustle. “Reading the news increases that sense of insecurity, whereas playing a game like this creates a sense of calm and predictable outcomes.”
The recreation of your real-life community is also an important function in the game. One feature of the game allows you to host real-life visitors from other islands, or visit those islands yourself for some social time that doesn’t break physical distancing guidelines. This allows you to invite friends to your island for fishing trips or to swap in-game items like furniture or clothing.
The feature has quickly been seized upon by people who have been deprived of community-based events large and small. 2020 grads who didn’t have the opportunity to walk the stage at graduation have taken to using the game to host digital graduation ceremonies. In May, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the only known Animal Crossing player in Congress, attended a graduation ceremony and even gave a short commencement address. Others have held family reunions, crafted obstacle courses, even convened wedding ceremonies.
— Kotaku (@Kotaku) May 10, 2020
If you find yourself diving into this distraction from the real world, remember to do so in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your health. If any video game is disrupting your life, seek the services of a mental health professional. In California, these professionals are licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Psychology.