For months, I have been eagerly awaiting my upcoming vacation. It’s finally here tomorrow – March 20. But I’m not jetting off to a hot country or a cultural hotspot. Instead, I’m heading off to the virtual deserted island that is the setting for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And now, more than ever, escapism-driven games like Animal Crossing are so vital.
For as long as I can remember, Animal Crossing had provided me with a comfortable social space when the real world wasn’t able to. As a kid, my friend and I would tuck ourselves away in a corner and play Wild World during school lunch breaks. Growing up in Britain in the early 2000s, boisterous games like British Bulldog would dominate the playground, and, quite frankly, they terrified me. Being able to indulge in a game where you ran around picking flowers, harvesting fruit, and catching bugs with your friends appealed more to my meek tendencies.
When I eventually drifted away from that friend, Wild World became a near-constant haven for me. Almost all my social interactions revolved around jumping into my Wild World town and making the rounds. I’d ensure my favorite villagers weren’t moving out before engaging in conversations with them until they got so angry, they told me to go away.
When City Folk released, my sister and I would play together, communicating via the Wii’s awful Wii Speak accessory (yes, I really bought a Wii Speak, I know.) Being 14 years older than me, I didn’t get to see her as much as I’d like to. Animal Crossing was a great way to interact with her when I wasn’t able to see her in person. If you asked her now, she would probably tell you she only played Animal Crossing: City Folk because I liked it. But I think she also slowly became attached to the series in a way she never expected.
Then when Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out, I suddenly found it to be a considerable icebreaker in making friends. I had just dropped out of school and was feeling apprehensive about making friends in my new job. Animal Crossing became something I bonded with many of my co-workers over. I had also reached an age where I was avidly online and began making friends from different parts of the world, all of us bonded by our mutual love for the Animal Crossing series.
I used New Leaf to communicate with friends all over the world, from those who I shared a desk with at work to friends I had made miles away in Canada. We fished together, traveled to the island together, and made memories I’ll never forget.
Animal Crossing has always had this funny little way of appearing at the right time for me. Seemingly, whenever I’ve been going through a particularly rough patch, there has always seemingly been an Animal Crossing game there for me to escape to. And with the current climate, that couldn’t be truer right now.
The recent global pandemic COVID-19 has been a wholly unprecedented, terrifying experience for many of us. We’ve seen lockdowns, closures of schools and business, jobs lost, and friends and family scarily sick. In my own life, I am due to graduate this summer. Now, COVID-19 has seen my university closing and my graduation canceled. It’s been an incredibly tough time for myself and many of my peers.
But funnily enough, the one thing we have all held onto in these confusing times is the upcoming release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. When we’ve wanted to take our minds off the insanity of the real world, we’ve been discussing what villagers we want to move in, what fruit we want our island to have. We’ve even put plans in place to try and have a different native fruit on all of our islands.
We’ve tirelessly discussed every trailer, screenshot, and YouTube video we’ve come across. We even went out of our way to get together and watch the February Nintendo Direct together. While we initially made plans to get together in person and experience the beginning of New Horizons together, we’ve now set up a Discord server dedicated to all things Animal Crossing.
I myself am self-isolating during this time, but my friends have so kindly decided to go out and pick up my copy of New Horizons and deliver it to my house first thing in the morning. It’s small acts of kindness like this, centered around a video game franchise that has dominated my formative years, that has truly kept me sane.
So tomorrow, I’ll be heading off to Luna Isle, the name I have chosen for my island. As soon as I’m able to travel to other islands, I’ll join my friends. They’ll inevitably invade my island too, probably to chastise me about my lack of creativity. In a time where social distancing is quickly becoming the norm, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is going to provide some much-needed social time with some of my closest friends. I, for one, can’t wait.
Everybody needs escapism every now and again. Whether it be getting lost in a book, immersed in a fantasy television series, or jetting off on an island getaway. Now, more than ever, games like Animal Crossing are so vital to ensuring that when it feels like the whole world is going mad, there’s always somewhere tranquil you can call home.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons will release on Nintendo Switch March 20. Haven’t thought of a name for your island yet? There’s an amazing island name generator making the rounds on the internet! You can also read our Animal Crossing Nintendo Direct recap, which has oodles of info about new features!