Animal Crossing is a Kind of Therapy

New Horizons launched at exactly the right moment to soothe my anxious soul

Odessa Denby
May 26, 2020 · 3 min read

When my husband bought a Nintendo Switch almost two years ago, I never expected that I would use it. I didn’t grow up with video games and have found them hard to get into as an adult. I played a few multiplayer games with him more to bond as a couple than to enjoy the game or even try to win. I didn’t know what I was doing, but we could laugh together and he could share his hobby with me.

What a surprise then, that I now use the Switch far more than he does. When Animal Crossing launched, I didn’t understand the fervor of its dedicated adult fans. I never played the original game. My husband bought it soon after it came out and made me a profile as well. We were going to share this island and he even named it after us. It was pretty cute. I gave it a try.

Animal Crossing is largely non-confrontational. It’s not about trying to take people out before they take you out (although tarantulas and scorpions may cause an unpleasant surprise). Instead of being a high-stakes game about kicking butts, it’s about collaboration. You’re building a community and a home. Making friends, decorating your surroundings, being creative, and encouraging cultural enrichment.

“How could I spend hours running around an island collecting seashells and popping balloons?” But somehow, I do. Right now, I can’t see my friends, and my finances are terribly unstable. Sometimes my heart rate jumps for seemingly no reason.

Animal Crossing is an island of calm in an increasingly chaotic world. It gives me the satisfaction of spending time with friends when doing so in person isn’t feasible. It allows me to impulse buy a Sphinx statue or an Acorn Hat for no good reason without actually harming my real-world bank account. While I’m stuck indoors in the suburbs, I can imagine myself running around a beautiful beach with a fruit grove and watching meteor showers at night. It’s a world where wishing on a star actually makes wonderful things happen.

Yes, it’s full of annoying puns, Tom Nook is a dubious capitalist, and I kind of want to give Filbert the boot from my island — he says he talks to the bugs on his floor. That is incredibly unhygienic. Also, it sounds like he might be high. But the soothing nothingness of the game is so reassuring. The excitement of having someone at your campsite or different vendors show up throughout the week is somehow enough. At least, it is for me. In an increasingly unpredictable world, the gentle rhythm of the game gives me a sense of normality.

I think after all this time, I’ve found my genre of video game. Low-key, open-ended collaboration. When I feel my anxiety creeping up, or feel the need to over-achieve (I had to exile myself to the back porch to keep from grinding out work on a Sunday), I can pick up Animal Crossing.

Players around the world can feel connected by this innocuous game. Look at the memes, the conversation threads, and videos dedicated to this game. People even can visit each other’s islands and enjoy a little togetherness from a distance. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found solace in the game.

So, what’s the price of turnips on your island today?

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