How Animal Crossing reconnected me with my friends during COVID-19

Residents+of+the+island+celebrate+the+opening+of+a+new+bridge+in+Crocoville.

Media: Tomas Gonzalez

Residents of the island celebrate the opening of a new bridge in Crocoville.

By Tomas Gonzalez, Visual Managing Editor

Today, I did something I hadn’t done in a while. I went outside to meet up with some friends—except, I didn’t leave my sofa.

My friends and I went fishing, visited a few shops, and even took a trip to the museum. It was a fun-filled day, and we did it all while talking to candy-colored, gibberish-talking animals. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest entry in a franchise that has quickly become one of the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch games to date. Even though I was already excited about the laid-back game because I’m a fan of the series, it couldn’t have come at a better time. With COVID-19 forcing me to prematurely leave Boston and the U.S. to go back home, I was disappointed that my time at school was cut short over unforeseen circumstances.

During the pandemic, I quickly see the worsening of economies and the daily massive increases in confirmed cases. I am uncertain and scared about a lot of things. Will I possibly be able to go back to Boston and finish my career? How will we recover from all of this?

I am under lockdown in my house and haven’t actually left it since I got back from Boston three weeks ago. But in Animal Crossing, I live in a different universe, one where I can actually go outside. 

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In this game, you arrive on a desolate tropical island and work with anthropomorphic animals to make your island into a little community everyone can call home. There are easy daily objectives that you can do in addition to longer ones like adding rooms to your home if you pay off your debt. The game runs in real time, so when it’s 4 p.m. in real life, it is 4 p.m. on the island.

I called my little soon-to-be village “Crocoville,” named after a character I love from another video game: Super Metroid. Recently, my brother came to visit my island via local wireless play and interacted with a couple of my villagers. After he left, Lyman—a green koala—came up to me and started complimenting my brothers’ charisma, much like it usually happens in real life.

Photo: Tomas Gonzalez
Lyman, the green koala, enjoys a doughnut after a day of working out.

My classes weren’t the only ones that transitioned online, but friendships did too. Now, I find solace in still hanging out with my friends through video games. Animal Crossing provides a casual, laid-back setting for my friends and I to meet and visit each other’s islands. Through this game, not only have I been able to keep in touch with my friends from college who live in another country, but also reconnect with friends back home whom I cannot go out and see because of government regulations. I turn on Animal Crossing, hop on Discord or Zoom, and talk with my friends while we all give each other different items and make fun adventures. 

I think I would hardly do half of the things I do in Animal Crossing with my friends in real life—I don’t really see myself running around Boston Common with a bug net catching butterflies—but the way that the games allow me to be with my friends is something I really cherish. My friends and I don’t have to undertake some complex goal, because the fun we get out of the game is by simply being with each other, something that COVID-19 ripped away. I still wake up craving those human interactions I had with my friends, but being able to share in fun little mundane tasks helps.

And it’s not just me. A recent article in The New York Times talked about how Animal Crossing provides an escape to the onslaught of news we get on the daily and lets us reconnect with friends. 

“Whenever the crushing tonnage of real-world news was too much, I would check into [my island], where I could simply collect shells on the beach, watch a meteor shower or encourage a teal squirrel named Nibbles to pursue her dreams of pop superstardom,” the author wrote.

Animal Crossing not only allows me to connect with my friends, but it also helps me escape this stressful time. Being a journalism major, I am tied to news; I love writing and reading news, but sometimes the constant stream of increasingly worse news is taxing. I find myself without any real motivation to do my assignments or responsibilities for my classes. Animal Crossing is there for these times, a perfectly crafted, pressure-free game given to me at the essential time. 

This game has quickly become a part of my daily routine and has given me some much-needed grounding and escape during this time of lockdown. Instead of spending time worrying about the future of my college career, I can just go and talk to Lyman about how many butterflies I caught in a day. I don’t want to watch the increasing number of bad news that plagues my phone anymore, I want to relax and take this situation as we all should, just one day at a time.