There is no doubt that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has taken the world by storm. The numbers prove it: as reported by The NPD Group, it was March’s best-selling game in the U.S. New Horizons has already become the franchise’s best-selling entry, moving 5 million digital copies in its first month.
Yet what’s most fascinating is the timing of the beloved slow-paced slice of life title. At the time it launched for its exclusive Nintendo Switch platform, tension and worry about the pandemic was seeing its first global peak. And ever since March 20th, people all around the world have been turning to New Horizons’ serene gameplay aspect as a way to escape uncertainty and the doom and gloom of mass panic.
To some, the game offers the feeling of control, perhaps now needed more than ever. Such is 19-year old Connor McGee, who stated that the bubbly universe of New Horizons is the perfect way to cope and build a sense of stability for him. “It is nice to be able to put all fear aside and dive into the peaceful world of the game where your biggest worry is wasps stinging you”, he adds.
The loneliness of self-isolation has also been a universal worry, with people being physically disconnected from most of their loved ones. Martina Cortez, 16, had the following to add when discussing her experience with the game’s social aspect: “I’ve been playing with friends and I’ve been making new friends too! Since I can’t physically see them right now, I can visit their islands and still get interaction with them. I’ve also been able to make new friends by trading with people who need specific things”.
New Horizons also offers the chance for people to celebrate important landmarks with their friends and family. For instance, 22-year old Tonirose held her birthday party on her virtual island: "I invited my family and friends to celebrate. It was almost as if we were all really together! I miss my friends and family a lot, but Animal Crossing makes the quarantine less painful. “When you can’t leave the house, this game is a beam of happiness and escapism”, says 27-year old Cincinnati-based artist Bobby Diddle, who has found that Animal Crossing has given their days something to look forward to: “Every day I’m excited about my new money tree, about the new fish and bugs, what NPC has visited my town for the day”.
“My kids and I are pretty close even without games. But, being cut off from the world right now had them pretty scared and worried. This game really has helped put them at ease. If the game hadn’t released when it did, I think my family would be going stir crazy right now”, explains 40-year-old Christine Seaman, who tracked down stores in a 100-mile radius in order to purchase a Switch Lite for her 14-year-old daughter after the console had rapidly started selling out and online retailers were gouging costs. She now plays the game on a daily basis with two out of her four kids, still hunting the impossible-to-find handhelds for the rest.
A key way to stay in health during quarantine is organizing our days now that structure has been, for the most part, ripped from them. 17-year old Bennet says that the game does just that: “It gives me a way to structure my day and still make it feel like I did something useful during it. I wake up, do all my daily chores, play the game in the afternoon, and work on my in-game projects in-between the other things that I have to do. I do all of this at the same time each day”.
For 21-year old Lucy-Helen, the game meant physical and mental healing in moments where it was needed the most. “I was in the hospital due to my diabetes. Whilst in critical condition, my stomach collapsed and had to have surgery to save my life. When I was able to come home, I needed to rest all day, and my mental health was on a low. But my boyfriend bought Animal Crossing for me a few days after, and everything has since turned around. Instead of days dragging on and feeling suicidal because I felt so trapped, I feel happy and have connected with people because of the game. It sounds silly, but Animal Crossing has kind of saved my life.”
The role which Animal Crossing has played in helping players with their mental well-being in a time of crisis is heart-warming and nothing short of admirable. Sharing her own experience, Jamie Dorzio, a 24-year old Atlanta-based artist has said that she has been in the “high alert zone” ever since the quarantine started: “I have varying degrees of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I tend to be scared to leave the house anyway, but COVID-19 has really sealed the deal for me”. On how New Horizons has helped with her mental health, she adds: “It is helping me in an incredible way right now. I can go on walks, to the beach, listen to the ocean, just live in my own little world. It’s a space to be free from the reality we all are living through right now”.
Whether it’s fishing on hours end, building the island of your dreams, or trying to get friends stuck in your butterfly net, Animal Crossing proves to be a cathartic, carefree world where cuteness rules all and troubles are limited to pixelated wasps and tarantulas trailing you. It’s an escape many needed right now, and perhaps that’s what makes it so wonderful.