So far in 2020, we’ve been met with raging bushfires, conservative human rights abusing leaders wanting to be presidents for life, a life-threatening virus that’s quickly spread across the world shutdown cities, countries and the entire entertainment industry, an entourage of RuPaul’s Drag Race scandals and a supermassive black hole in our galaxy that’s becoming increasingly more active.
Cool, cool, cool.
But do you know what’s arrived just in time? What’s finally going to save us from all this mess and save us during our time of self-isolating need? Animal. Fucking. Crossing. New. Horizons.
Happy Animal Crossing: New Horizons day, bitches.
But, what is Animal Crossing?
Animal Crossing is a life simulator game (perhaps the most famous next to Stardew Valley) by Nintendo. In each addition, you arrive in a town of friendly animal villagers of various shapes, colours and species, and are assigned its new mayor. Indebted to real estate agent Tom Nook (both financially and emotionally… love that raccoon), you then set out on exploring your village, gathering resources, building new things for your home, mingling with residents and going about your everyday life.
Each day is played out in real time. If you boot up the game at midnight, most of your residents will, understandably, be asleep and in their homes not wanting to be disturbed. Villagers come and go as they please, continue on with their lives much like we do in our own lives. In a way, it’s a sweet and simply crafted game that on the surface is about making your dream home, but actually, teaches you about friendship, the importance of routine and self-care.
And, unsurprisingly it resonates with our generation, a generation torn by eco-anxiety, identity crises and a desire to belong. A generation that likes the simple and gentle things in life like cottagecore.
And, the wait for New Horizons has been brutal
It has been a long seven years since we last visited Isabelle and her adorably charming, everyday animal critter neighbours in Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS.
In fact, 2013 was a very different time.
Back then, Barack Obama was still President of the United States. The Avengers had *just* battled Loki in New York, unaware of the purple thumb-faced intergalactic dictator Thanos or his plans. The conservative politicians had yet to totally take over the world.
In that year, Vine, our generation’s biggest series of inside jokes, was born (along with Prince George, lol). We witnessed Malala Yousafzai speak at the U.N. about her inspiring and life-or-death journey to get an education, and heard of the tragic death of Nelson Mandela. The top 40 at the time consisted of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” (truly the whitest of whites, folks).
Most of us were still in high school and questioning who we were. For me, my identity led to a depression spiral. I found comfort in spending my weekends playing expansive RPGs like Persona 4: Golden and Final Fantasy XIII, big boy games like Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would’ve killed for a game like Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Why is now the perfect time for Animal Crossing: New Horizons?
Animal Crossing has helped many cope with their struggles with mental health. As YouTuber Boldly Wired explains, the simple everyday routine gameplay of Animal Crossing, its wholesome and two-dimensional villagers who come and go as they please, and soothing music, helps some ease back into everyday life and society after long periods of clinical depression and isolation.
Flashforward to today and society and the news is looking *extremely* dire and stressful. Covid-19 is infecting more and more people each day, alt right movements fester and take over communities and online spaces like a corrosive rash, and our eco-anxiety grows each day as governments fail to prepare a fast and effective enough plan to save the planet and lower our carbon footprint.
According to a mental health report on young people by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute, psychological distress among young people rose by 5.5 percent in the last seven years. One out of every four young people is dealing with mental health issues and 33 percent of us who do experience it, don’t feel comfortable talking to someone about it. Yes, it’s conveniently the same amount of years since Nintendo released a new Animal Crossing game (Pocket Camp doesn’t count, lol), but it’s also a reflection of our generations’ fears and anxieties dealing with modern life.
Now, in a period of Covid-19 pandemic and panic, the World Health Organisation is advising us to stay indoors, limit our social activity and self-isolate. Sure, we have Netflix, podcasts, plenty of books to get through and the opportunity to check in ourselves and our wellbeing, but none of those crave our innate desire for connection and to feel like we belong. Animal Crossing and its virtual cast of neighbours and social interaction is just that. The perfect thing to get us through these trying times.
In this way, Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes to us in our greatest time of need. Isabelle and Tom Nook come knocking on our doors in an era of irony, where everything has to be a meme, have some aesthetic value or deeper layer of cultural references akin to pop cultural osmosis. That’s led to some incredible memes, including vines recreated with Animal Crossing characters, but more importantly, reflects how we use social media and pop culture to both escape reality and shine an ironic light on the very things that upset us.
I can’t wait to return to Nintendo’s most wholesome and kind franchises and my virtual friends, take a step back and relax. Happy Animal Crossing day.