• Elliott

Animal Crossing, One Year In

There's another big anniversary that the world is experiencing at the moment, but I think I covered it well enough in my '365' post about working from home. If you want a personal, hard-hitting reflection on the implications of a year of lockdown measures, that's the place for you.

If you'd like a light-hearted and whimsical reflection on the implications of a year on a tropical getaway island with a bunch of weird anthropomorphic animals, you've come to the right place.

Today marks my 365th day here on Goo Island. I took up Tom Nook's Deserted Island Getaway Package, said farewell to my old life, and saw to it that Goo Island would become a thriving new community to call home. And what a year it's been.

I've remarked previously on how well-timed Animal Crossing: New Horizons's delay ended up being. It released worldwide mere days after most nations declared a state of emergency lockdown, and those who were furloughed, off school, shielding or self-isolating suddenly had an excellent excuse to jump into Animal Crossing and escape from the dire state of the world for a bit. At just three months after launch, I'd already racked up over 160 hours playtime, and I was playing every day and keeping up with everything that the game had to offer.

I acknowledged that this wouldn't be the case forever, and as I paid off my final in-game mortgage, got my island to a five-star ranking, and decorated both my house and my island to my liking, I found that I had less and less reason to keep playing consistently. Sure, there were seasonal changes, in-game events and a peppering of updates from Nintendo, but the bulk of the game had been "completed". Or, as close to "completion" as you can get with a game like Animal Crossing.

So then came the great drought. From late July until the end of October I barely touched the game, logging in only every month or so to check out what autumn would bring, maybe catching a few new bugs or fish, but my villagers began to call me out on my apparent disappearance, my island had grown unruly with weeds, and my house had attracted some unwelcome squatters in the form of cockroaches. Not exactly the most welcoming way of inviting players back, hm? I will say though, that New Horizons has toned in down compared to the previous entries in the series. Villagers would up and leave without warning in Wild World, which was pretty heartbreaking for my twelve year-old self.

Anyway, I digress. I began to pick the game up again a bit more consistently during the late autumn and winter. There was a fireworks display event, a slew of Halloween-themed additions, and of course, Christmas. There was also something very novel and endearing about seeing everything covered in snow and making snowmen. But once again, once I'd run out of goals that I'd set myself, my interest began to wane. Another couple of months went by, and my villagers once again began to wonder where their glorious leader could have disappeared to. Their supreme overlord, who could simply decide to move their houses at will, dictate where bridges, ramps and ponds would be placed, who exploited the economy and made his millions by simply selling shells and fruit - had once again vanished.

And then...when all hope seemed lost; he returned. Persuaded by the promise of new Mario-themed items, and armed with a vision of a new, overhauled Goo Island, the demigod himself emerged from his mansion. And demolished absolutely everything.

Goo Island will rise from the ashes. We're back baby.

New Horizons is by far my most-played Switch title. That's not to say that it's my favourite, but it's the kind of game that just absorbs time from you. As long as you're motivated to play and have your next goal or aim in mind, it's a blast, and it can be very addictive. It encourages habitual, bite-sized check-ins, and rewards patience. I've enjoyed games like Link's Awakening or Bowser's Fury more, but they're much more limited and finite in what they can offer. Once the game is over, it's over. I'll probably replay them both at some stage but Animal Crossing doesn't ever really end in the conventional sense.

Ultimately, it's simple expressionism in a beautiful 3D cutesy environment, and it's the ultimate chilled out escapism. It was what the world needed this time last year, and although things are definitely looking promising with regard to vaccinations and case numbers, we're not out of the woods yet. Animal Crossing's enormous success during these troubled times is the perfect allegory for why we need lighthearted escapism in our lives. You might not be into games, so maybe your escapism is a good book, a Netflix show, or grabbing some popcorn, a blanket and your favourite movie. Whatever it is, keep on escaping. We're nearly in the clear as far as COVID is concerned (I really, really hope we are this time. Even just so that this post doesn't age poorly). But - even once we return to normality in whatever form it takes, we'll still need escapism to give us a break from our day-to-day troubles... Which is why it's all the more important that I finish Goo Island's refurbishment. Long live Animal Crossing.

The grand refurbishment has begun.


Can't get enough of this topic? Well, I've got some good news for you. I've put together a short list of related articles, videos and other content from around the web that is related to what I've written about. Feel free to click away and take your brain on an adventure.

The Psychology behind video games during the COVID-19 Pandemic - OnlineLibrary

'It's Uniting People': why 11 million people are playing Animal Crossing - The Guardian

Animal Crossing and Escapism - Old Fashioned Games, YouTube

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (dunkview) - videogamedunkey, YouTube

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