I have lost control over my life. “Animal Crossing” returned it to me. – Washington Square News
Coronavirus makes me anxious. I know I’m not alone in this. In particular, mentioning his symptoms and his victims, especially the ones I know, sends me into a deep spiral that I can’t get out of on my own. There is nowhere to hide from a sudden explosion of unwarranted graphic information, which seems to be coming much more often these days. It’s even harder to hide when you work for a small news organization in New York City.
I knew the future, how my family would celebrate the upcoming holidays; now, instead of hosting our entire extended family for the Passover seder, my family ate alone. I used to rely on my color-coded calendar and make plans by the minute; now I find myself furiously deleting and rewriting every email from the Provost or a professor. I took my relationships for granted; now I cling to FaceTime as a lifeline. My friends are miles away and even the few who live nearby can come and sit in my yard only at a distance of five feet. I thought I was going to do a summer internship in the city; now all my internship applications have been rejected because internships no longer exist. I lived in a small shoebox apartment in Manhattan, complaining about the broken elevator; now i still pay the rent for that apartment, but i live with my parents, and i don’t know if i will ever live in that apartment again. I only thought about the health of my friends and family when it was an immediate concern; now is the only thing I think about.
I have a deep fear of instability, which is further aggravated by an unyielding fear of the unknown. The current global crisis isn’t exactly helping, and the fact that NYU has made life-changing decisions on short notice hasn’t helped either. Everything is spinning out of control and I needed a rock to hold on to, just to stabilize myself. Until March 20 I couldn’t find a stone and I was losing it.
On the same day that I moved out of my Manhattan apartment and into my childhood bedroom for the foreseeable future, Nintendo released the video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for the Nintendo Switch. The release of the game was highly anticipated, but not particularly from me: I didn’t have much free time and didn’t even have a console to play it on.
In elementary school, my friends and I had played a much earlier chapter in the series called “Animal Crossing: Wild World” on the Nintendo DS. I didn’t remember much of what I had done in the game at seven, but I do remember that I had a city and called it Butt City.
I looked around: I was sitting in my childhood bedroom with two duffel bags waiting to be undone staring me in the face. As a child, I had more control over Butt City than my current adult life situation.
I asked my brother if I could borrow his Nintendo Switch. My copy of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” arrived in the mail the next day.
I don’t usually play video games. I once downloaded “The Sims” but was so concerned about the health and comfort of all the different people I was responsible for that I eventually wiped the game from my hard drive. I played “Nintendogs” when I was younger and rediscovered my Nintendo DS Lite while cleaning my room last April. My virtual dogs were still alive, but nine years of neglect had left them emaciated and full of fleas. I cried for an hour.
Life simulation games usually stress me out. Maybe it’s because they do their job a little too well. Attention to detail and dedication to realism often results in an experience that can be as emotionally exhausting as real life.
But everything that I have lost control of in the real world lies at peace in “Animal Crossing”, patiently waiting for me to log in and seize the moment. All of my problems are made so incredibly accessible in the game that I often forget the immense anxiety their real-world counterparts cause.
Everything, every day, follows a simple program in real time. The local shop closes at 10pm, the tailor shop closes at 9am, and the museum, airport and resident services are open 24/7. A cute anthropomorphic boar named Daisy Mae comes every Sunday until at 12:00 to sell turnips. If there is a change in the schedule, I am told well in advance: preparations for the first in-game festive Bunny Day started two weeks before the actual celebration and the island management made two announcements before the tournament. fishing that took place on Saturday.
I don’t have to force myself to be close to my friends in “Animal Crossing”. My relations with my villagers are quite simple: if I talk to them every day, our relations are good; if I give gifts to my villagers (especially the ones I know they will like), our relationships are great. If I talk to them too much, ignore them completely or barricade them in the house and hit them repeatedly with a net, our relationship is terrible and they will probably leave. There is really no middle ground.
Some things are permanent, and those are the things that matter. My character cannot die. I will always have villagers, no matter who they are. There is never anything to do, more specifically, I am always able to do something. Shake the trees. Digging holes. Run through the museum. Shoot a gift from the sky and hope it’s iron nuggets so I can create an item I want. Find five branches of a tree, then build a fishing rod, then go fishing. Maybe donate a fish to the museum. It depends on me.
The economics of “Animal Crossing” makes no sense. The money comes from both trees and holes in the ground. Those who control the local economy – two little raccoons named Timmy and Tommy – will buy literally anything, including tree branches I find on the ground and trash I accidentally fished out of the lake. I have a steady income, which comes from the sale of the various things I find on my island: fish, insects, shells, flowers. But despite the fact that the “Animal Crossing” economy doesn’t really make sense, it’s much more stable than ours right now.
My landlord, another raccoon named Tom Nook, is relatively nice to a landlord – he grants me living space and I’m able to pay off my home loan on my own time. Since there are no deadlines, there are no penalties for non-compliance. In fact, there are no penalties at all in “Animal Crossing”.
There are no doctors in “Animal Crossing”; rather, there is medicine. Medicine solves everything. Wasps tips? Medicinal. Flu symptoms? Medicinal. Dweller who feels under the weather? Give them the medicine. There is no complexity. It’s just a medicine. It is always available from Nook’s Cranny and is relatively inexpensive. And if I can’t afford the medicine, I can shake a tree until I have enough branches to sell in return.
Right now, I’m writing this article from my bed. So far I have left my room twice today, and I have gone out once last week. My phone is on my left, lying face down, so I can’t see any news updates. My Switch is to my right, in case a stubborn notification somehow reaches me.
But unlike my real self, my avatar in “Animal Crossing” comes out every day – in fact, it’s hardly ever in his house, even though it’s beautifully decorated. He spends time tending his flowers, talking to neighbors and fishing. Sometimes she builds something – a piece of furniture, perhaps, or a tool – but it doesn’t take her a lot of time or effort, so she doesn’t think twice. She floods her villagers with gifts, pays off their mortgages with relative ease, and sports pink hair and a color-block sweater she designed herself. He’s fine, and that’s why I am too.
A version of this article appeared in the e-print edition of Monday, April 13, 2020. Write to Abby Hofstetter a [email protected]