So this is it. We’re back in lockdown.
Since Royal Holloway will remain open during Lockdown 2, many of you perhaps won’t notice its effect, and carry on as normal. But others, myself included, are worried about how our mental health will be affected after another month of isolation. As busy as we all must be, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve become very limited in what we can do to wind down and forget about everything that’s going on.
In preparation for another lonely month, I’ve taken a look back at the gaming phenomenon that took the world by storm back in March; Animal Crossing; New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.
The timing of its release could not have been better. A mere week after the UK went into a national lockdown, where no one could go to work, meet up with their friends, book any holidays, or do anything fun outside of their own home, out comes a game that lets you live a virtual life, complete daily goals and long term projects, interact with people, and have fun with your friends by trying to cut each other down with axes. As a result, New Horizons sold better than every other Animal Crossing game combined! It was exactly what people needed at the time, to the point where you have to wonder if Nintendo created the virus to boost the games sales!
Given that our collective mental health is probably going to take a dip over the next couple of months, I think it’s worth revisiting what made Animal Crossing such a success, and why it might be good for us to revisit the game over the next month.
A fun project
Animal Crossing has always been the kind of game that you could sink hours and hours into. I’ve only had the game for about three weeks and I’ve already put about 50 hours into it (possibly to the detriment of my degree), and I’ve still got so much I want to do in it. Because there’s always something to be getting on with; growing fruit to sell, catching fish and bugs to sell, visiting other deserted islands to get resources to sell, crafting furniture to sell, picking up items to sell…basically getting stuff to sell. Making money lets you build up your island, get a bigger house, create bridges and inclines, and eventually even terraform the island to get it exactly how you want it. It’s about balancing creativity and patience to build an imaginary home that you can be proud of. Even though it’s virtual, it’s still a project you’ve undertaken to stimulate yourself in a way that lockdown doesn’t allow.
The pace of Animal Crossing has always been slow, largely because there’s only so much you can do in one day. Plants and fruit take real-world days to grow, projects can take a day or two to be completed, and usually only one can be completed per day. In previous entries, it often felt like you could only play for so long before you would run out of stuff to do. New Horizons introduced crafting and full-island customisation, so there’s always something else you can be getting on with, but you have an entire day to get it done before the next one. For me, it feels like the first Animal Crossing game where you can truly go at your own pace (especially if you change the system date on the Switch, you dirty time-traveller). Now that everything is kind of awful, it’s worth taking a little time out of your day to truly relax.
The goal of lockdown is to increase social distancing, one of the key tenets to controlling the coronavirus. The further apart we are, the harder it is for the virus to spread. So, while we can’t have physical interactions with our friends for a while, it’s nice that New Horizons allows us to have digital ones. While interactions are limited, your friends can invite you over to their islands to show you what they’ve done, give you gifts such as furniture or clothing, and generally just show off and annoy each other. It’s a form of existing in a shared space that isn’t available to us for a while, and even before lockdown, I was glad to play with the friends I couldn’t immediately see.
Create. Relax. Socialise. While we stay indoors, it’s important to stay stimulated and calm, to maintain connections, to make sure we keep on top of our mental health, and I think that video games, especially ones like Animal Crossing, are a good way to that. Stay safe, gamers!