By Tatiana Lira
When I was 9 years old, I was gifted with my very own town. In Animal Crossing, that is! Animal Crossing games are known for their relaxing music, entertaining villagers, and addicting activities. Even if you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game, you may be familiar with a few of their starring characters already, like the lovable secretary dog Isabelle, or the real-estate agent raccoon Tom Nook, who is infamous for the costly bills he sends you for upgrading your in-game home. Above all, this series helps players maintain a sense of normalcy especially during stressful times, which is particularly critical during COVID-19 and the current shelter in place orders across the world.
Even before this pandemic, Animal Crossing provided an escape that helped me through difficult periods of my life. For example, in the summer of 2015, my parents had both completed their bachelor’s degrees at UC Berkeley and our family began the process of moving out of the university’s family housing. Most of my surrounding friends had already moved out, so I couldn’t socialize with them. The lack of in-person interaction, similar to the quarantine we’re currently experiencing, brought me to Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s virtual hangout island on the 3DS, where players and community members can fish, go for a swim, or even play mini-games together.
This island was a social escape from the changes that were happening in the world around me. I still remember two of the online friends I made there: Ninja, a kid around my age, and Sam, a player who identified as queer. One of my fondest memories with them occurred on the 26th of June in 2015, the day when gay marriage was legalized across the United States!
When we heard the news, the three of us decided to hang out and celebrate at Ninja’s island, and we stared upwards at a rare rainbow gracing his bright blue Animal Crossing sky. I recall Sam feeling extra tearful, saying that they and their friends would finally be able to be with the people they loved. That was one of the many beautiful memories my online friends and I made, along with the day-to-day Animal Crossing activities we’d do together, like watering each other’s flowers, trading rare items, or playing virtual hide and seek.
As a pre-teen who couldn’t text my besties to plan a play date, the online interactions I built in Animal Crossing were vital to keeping my spirits high. Now during quarantine, I find myself with Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch. The game allows me to relax during a stressful period for people all over the world. And I’m definitely not alone. With in-person social interaction stripped from our daily lives, millions of gamers have flocked to New Horizons, either to meet new people or plan hangouts with their friends. Some have even coordinated mock graduations for the class of 2020. You might not think purchasing trendy clothes from a family of hedgehogs, wishing on shooting stars, and planting coconut trees by the seaside can soothe anxious minds , but it’s how many of us maintain a sense of normalcy during these trying times.