Animal Crossing New Horizons: An Island of Stability in an Unstable World
It has been said before and will be said again (and again), but 2020 has been a chaotic year for pretty much everyone. Some of the main themes of the year has been uncertainty, instability and sudden, drastic change. Right as the first wave of lockdowns and global fear about COVID-19 was starting to rise, Nintendo released Animal Crossing New Horizons to the public after teasing it for years. In this essay, I want to cover what I like about the game and how that made my experience in lockdown easier.
As of writing this essay, I have 315 plus hours in Animal Crossing New Horizons. I have fully maxxed out my home, acquired a few seasonal furniture sets and so much more. It is a game that I go back to at least every few days.
What is Animal Crossing About?
Animal Crossing exists in its own category of games. It is a lifestyle simulator, or a kind of game that simulates everyday life. In New Horizons you are flown out to a deserted island and work on setting up a new life from scratch. Time progresses in real human time. You can catch bugs and fish, dig up fossils and acquire art from a shady businessman. These bugs, fish, fossils and art can be sold, placed on your island (or in your home) or donated to the museum in order to contribute to the cultural enrichment of your island.
As the year progresses, the seasons on your island change. Those changes alter the appearance of your island and what resources your island offers. Spring gives you sakura petals you can use to make spring furniture. Summer offers you shells you can use to make your house like a beach. Fall gives you mushrooms, acorns and leaves that give you a unique set of items. Winter gives you snowflakes and snowfolk that you can get winter-themed recipes from. These changes accent the base formula of the game.
You also make friends on the island. You start out with a few villagers randomly picked from a pool of many. These friends start off not knowing you very well, but as you talk you end up growing bonds through gifts, errands and living together on a small remote island. You can get new villagers through random island trips, visiting your friends in an airplane or randomly through your island's campsite.
One of the big additions to the game compared to other games in the series is the crafting system. The crafting system unlocks an entirely new set of furniture, tools, clothing, wallpapers, floor patterns and rugs for your home or your island in general. You can unlock new things to build with DIY recipes that you can find in balloons, in messages in bottles, from traveling NPC's and from your friends on the island.
In general though, Animal Crossing is a vibing simulator. You all just vibe on the island and live together. It's a very peaceful game. Things are stable. There are no sudden drastic changes, no stress, no real enemies to defeat. It is a very laid-back and self-directed game.
The Chording Dissonance
This game released at the end of March, 2020. COVID-19 had just started to spread globally. In response, many governments started issuing orders to reduce contact with friends and family in order to limit the spread of this deadly disease. With so many people socially and physically isolated, a huge gap emerged. New Horizons came out at the perfect time in order to give people something to do.
The week that New Horizons came out, my friend group became alive with activity. Screenshot upon screenshot was posted. We formed a fruit cartel to distribute items and foreign fruits to eachother. This group lasted for months. We worked together and built up our islands to make them shine.
Ironically, as COVID-19 separated us, we were brought closer together through Animal Crossing. This same pattern showed up and was repeated all over the internet, and the Nintendo Switch became and still is the most popular console because of this.
The Significance to Me
When I was a kid, the first Animal Crossing game came out for the Gamecube. It was a very minimal game in comparison. You could collect furniture, harvest fruit, catch bugs and fish, make new friends, and that's about it. However it was a blank canvas to create things upon. A lot of the game's details (such as where villager houses would go) were managed by an RNG. This left you as a sort of guest in the village. However, the game offered a lot regardless. There's still an active speedrunning community for Animal Crossing!
However my experimentation into self-expression via Animal Crossing was limited then, and not just by the in-game tools. This was a home console game, and my family shared the Gamecube between multiple people. Animal Crossing also took up 59 blocks of storage on a memory card, which was the entire storage capacity for the base, most cheap memory card.
Then the Nintendo DS came out, and after a year or two Animal Crossing: Wild World came out for it. The Nintendo DS was revolutionary because it was a fully portable console. Having Animal Crossing on it means that I could do whatever I wanted in private without people easily discovering it and judging.
Around this time, I was also starting to explore my gender. I started out playing the game with a male character, but after I got an action replay I was experimenting with codes and found one to change your character's gender from male to female. I ended up liking it that way, but I couldn't place why. Years later I realized this was the first time that I was actually figuring out that I didn't identify with the gender I was born into. Without Animal Crossing I would have probably gone down a far different life path filled with denial and self-loathing.
New Horizons is the first game in the series since Wild World that really stuck to me. I've tried to go back and play Wild World again, but it's not really stuck to me like it did when I was a kid. It just doesn't feel the same.
My island is named Ma Ilo (toki pona for tool place). I have been working on making it my place of refuge. In order to get a five star rating on your island, you need to coat your island to the gills in stuff and maintain that rating for two weeks. I don't like how that looks, so I don't go for that.
Right now one of the bigger projects I'm working on is setting up a chapel-type place. I hope to use this chapel as a part of the socially distant reception that a close group of friends and I would use to celebrate my marriage, when it happens. Me and my fiance's wedding plans were put into shambles as a result of the lockdowns. I don't know if this chapel would be fully put into use as a part our future plans, however it would make for a useful island feature in the future. A large meeting room can only be useful in the long run.
In conclusion, Animal Crossing New Horizons is my 2020 game of the year. It is a very calm game. It contrasts against the drastic drama and chaos of 2020. It helps me keep perspective in the face of so much danger and pain. Animal Crossing came out at the perfect time and has given me an island of stability among all of the unstability that 2020 has brought. It should have won game of the year at the Game Awards (or should I say The Last Of Us: Part 2 awards), but I can understand why it didn't.
If you have a Nintendo Switch, pick up Animal Crossing for it if you want your own island of stability.