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[FEATURE] How Animal Crossing: New Horizons saved my isolation.

It’s very dark outside.

Looking at the clock on my phone it’s blasting back in return the fact it’s currently 04:34 am, confirming my suspicions that I’m finding it very difficult to sleep. This rather alarming time of the morning was again read back to me by the ever calming presence of Isabelle, a very good dog who seems to be organising my current life with far more fervor and talent than I could ever hope to conjure. I realise at that point this was the first day since purchasing a game you may have heard of called Animal Crossing: New Horizons that I haven’t actively been playing it. The only time Isabelle explains the date and time to you is your initial login each day, so what the hell have I been doing and why am I only jumping into the mighty island town of Zendonia at 04:34am? And how does Isabelle stay awake all day every day?

In this moment, you assimilate the sudden moments of realisation into a single unquestionable truth – life right now is really weird. Yes, I know. This isn’t news to anyone, I only proclaim such a statement in the hope that I can summon the motivation to do something other than play Animal Crossing one of these days. On this day, it would seem I did, but I’m still thinking about it. I scour Twitter hashtags for new designs and creations I can steal, I stare with envious eyes upon other people’s ridiculous islands and wonder how on earth they found the time to create such masterpieces. My mind seems to always return to the future betterment of my island. I cling onto it, if only to feel like I have control of something. I need softwood for the table.

That’s why I can’t seem to let it go. The way life has come to a complete standstill for the majority of us has me falling back into the ever constant purity of Animal Crossing. To say it’s been released at a time where an experience such is this was so desperately needed isn’t exactly an understatement. The baffling coincidence that may lead to philosophers scratching their heads in decades to come makes you wonder if Nintendo were in on it, such is the utter perfection of the timing.

New Horizons is the polar opposite of everything we’re being told to do during ‘Lockdown 2020’, the only festival that’s playing this year that we’re all invited to so long as we’re not physically present. It’s requires your attention each day in order to progress in the way the game is generally wanting you to. You don’t want to miss each day for fear of missing visitors that can throw more Bells at you for your stuffs than the little Nookling kids, a duo that in any other day would have been written as a more colourful version of the Kray twins. One-hundred and fifty hours into New Horizons later, I’m starting to ache pure jealousy for my islanders. Their lives, in a perfect utopia of sunshine that I’ve built for them – are far more free than mine at this moment.

Living with anxiety and mild depression means if I wake up one day and decide ‘well, today isn’t my day’ I’ll fall into a mental slumber. I’ll remain active, work, write, edit and focus on conversations with the best people in my life. but I’ll do it with a smile stapled on by the other side of my brain who tells me everything is fine. Hunky dory, if you like. There are times when picking myself up isn’t the easiest thing to do. I try to remind myself that it’s fleeting. It’ll pass. Escapism is the only form of peace I may be able to find at any given moment, forever falling into films, books and games to find some solace away from the villainy working overtime in my mental faculties. Maybe I’ll plant some hyacinths.

Animal Crossing isn’t particularly the only game I play to balance out the ying and the yang once again. Over the last couple weeks, depending on my mood, I fallen into the majesty of Jump Over The Age’s In Other Waters, fallen head over heels for Final Fantasy VII Remake and got lost in shoving demon bones directly into their stupid faces in Doom Eternal. Each are cathartic in their own way offering, obviously, vastly different experiences but producing highly similar results come the time I’ve switched them off. An awful lot of us use video games as a means of escape, but it’s only Animal Crossing I keep going back to. Perhaps I’m just invested. Perhaps 150 hours of my life probably shouldn’t go wasted – even if they may have already done so depending on who you ask. The welcoming, peaceful vibe of New Horizons allows you to fall into it with open arms. You’re free to do whatever you wish at any moment without any time constraints. You’re free to reshape, create and imagine the wonderment you can create by exploring the outside world.

Crikey, what a concept.

So it’s 04:50am. The last sixteen minutes of my life has been catching bugs and fishing for Red Snappers, at the bare minimum. I haven’t done too badly. I’m going to take what I’ve caught to the Nookling’s drop box, sell them and collect my Bells the next day, seeing as their store is currently closed. I’ve just noticed some weeds growing near the fountain, I should probably take care of that. I don’t like weeds on my island. Nibbles wants my attention, I’ll go talk to her/him (no idea) and see what they’re after. Huh, turns out Nibbles isn’t after anything. He/she just wanted to pass on a present because I’m their ‘best bud’. It’s a Diner Neon Clock. Awesome! That’ll look good in my new room I’ve just acquired for the house. On the way home I notice a large fish in the pond. Could it be a Koi? It’s probably not going to be anything else this far away from the ocean. I pull out my fishing rod and sure enough, it’s a Koi. Excellent. I’ll throw that back to the Nookling’s for some sweet sweet Bells. Or maybe not? I love the ambience of fish tanks in the house, I could throw him next to the Clown Fish and create a little aquarium in the new room? Yeah, that sounds like a plan. I’ll do that instead. Right. Back to the house. Oh wait, I can hear a balloon flying overhead. Thank Christ Bunny Day is finally over so at least I know it’s going to be something relatively decent. Bells? Crafting stuffs? Ah, it’s a dress. I’ll be sure to pass that onto one of the villagers if I come across one. The sun is coming up. Maybe I should try to sleep?

I thought I’d be set for isolation. The majority of my life I’m working from home, so why should isolation change that? It’s just an extended period of being able to write without the distraction of, well, going outside. Where the people are. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life, there’s enough of that inside me thanks very much. Still, it turns out that not just being able to jump on a train and head into the city, or even to back to my hometown and see my family and friends – something I was due to do before the lockdown – is the most isolating thing of all.

I keep telling myself it could be worse. My sister lives in Spain and hasn’t seen two of her three kids since their ‘police and military on every corner’ lockdown began because they can’t travel in a car with a passenger. Her husband can’t work. It’s far more serious and in comparison, we have complete freedom yet each country is handling this pandemic differently. I’m required right now as a human being to do a little as humanely possible in order to save the world and I can do that quite easily, and yet the idea of human interaction with those I hold closest to me seems so far away.

The best we can do is boost up the stock price of Zoom – seriously, I bet they can’t believe their sodding luck right now – or, as I’d much prefer to do, visit a friends island and explore their creations like I’m taking a trip to their house. Something I actually cannot do at this point in our personal timeline. This feature obviously isn’t something exclusive to Animal Crossing, but it’s where it’s become the most refined, the most fun. I love just following my friends around their island as they show off all of the cool areas they’ve spent hours of their time and thousands of Bells creating. It’s their pride and joy and all they want to do is show it to you. It’s a simple and wonderful semblance of absolute zen the world needs right now. I’ll look around a little more, they’re so proud of their island.

The beauty of this of course is if they have flowers or fruit or something your island doesn’t have, you can just share your items. They’ll follow you back to your island and the cycle of discovery and joy starts all over again. This time it’s you leading your friends around everything you’ve created and it’s a feeling quite unlike any other.

Yes, in 150 hours I’ve managed to create a football pitch at the top of Zendonia, but I still don’t have a ball to actually use. Gloriously, my friend has one. She leaves my island and comes back ten minutes later with a football. I repay her efforts by passing on a gift from my Trading Corner and then we kick back on the beach in sun loungers and have a conversation through our characters. Absolute bliss. I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons hasn’t cured my depression. It certainly hasn’t put a lid on my anxiety. You have to wonder if anything ever really will but right now, there’s very little else that’s allowing me to create a routine, create a state of focus and zen. You’re given the tools to shape the world exactly how you wish, all the while surrounded by characters who go out of their way to tell you how great it is to see you. The future endeavours of Zendonia remain in my hands.

And so long as the world is locked behind its front door, it’s gonna be there to remind me that just maybe, things aren’t so bad. Even at 06:40am.

Oh hey, the sun is coming up.

Able Sisters will be open soon. I’ll buy some new threads.


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