How Animal Crossing is helping me stay social while social distancing


There is something strangely therapeutic about repeatedly hitting a rock with a shovel every morning. And before you go thinking that I’ve lost my marbles, I am merely referring to the farming mechanics in the new Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Released on the 20th of March, the latest installment in the long-running social simulation franchise has already proven to be quite popular with fans of the series, with the game selling over 1.8 million copies in its first three days of release in Japan alone. It has also been receiving rave reviews from critics, and currently has a score of 91% on the review aggregation website, metacritc.

But why exactly is the game being received so fondly? Or more importantly, what makes it so relevant in this day and age of self isolation and social distancing? To answer those questions, I would first need to give an overview of what the game is all about.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Simply put, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a social simulation game with crafting mechanics thrown into the mix. Similar to previous games in the series, the new game has players taking control of an in-game avatar, who is thrust into a small, untamed settlement, populated with a cast of anthropomorphic animals. This time around, players get to define what their avatars look like, and the settlement in question is a deserted island, complete with sandy beaches and flowing rivers.

You start out with a small tent, but this can eventually be upgraded into a full-blown home decked out with furniture of your choosing . The game’s various upgrades come at a cost though, and most of the game has you repaying your various upgrade loans to the benevolent but somewhat shady raccoon in charge of your settlement, Tom Nook.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The primary objective of the game therefore is for the player to transform his or her settlement into some semblance of a tourist destination. You do this by farming the island for resources, and in turn using those resources to craft items like tools and furniture. These tools include fishing rods, which can be used to catch fish, and nets, used for catching bugs, as well as axes and shovels, which can be used to gather even more resources like wood and iron.

It is a deeply-satisfying gameplay loop that finds me farming for resources every morning, and using those resources to craft the items needed to build the ultimate island paradise. The game takes place in real-time though, meaning that progression is slowed by having to wait actual days for certain events to take place, or certain actions, like building shops or bridges, to complete.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It’s a good thing that you are never without things to do in the game while you wait, as it constantly presents you with a virtual to-do list of activities you can perform. Completing these tasks earns you Nook Miles, which can be redeemed for in-game items or recipes which can be used to craft all sorts of items. Aside from this, you also have side activities like populating the exhibits in your island’s museum by catching bugs and fish, and digging up fossils.

But perhaps the best thing about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that it lets you visit other people’s islands, as well as allows them to visit yours, through local and online multiplayer. This is where the social aspects of the game come in. You can show off your island in all its glory, as well as get some inspiration from other islands. You can also trade items with visitors, such as fruit, of which your island only has one type growing natively.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

And even if you don’t have friends to play with online, there is still a lot of joy and fun to be had by simply interacting with the various animal residents on your island. Each one has a distinct personality and goes about their daily routine in lifelike manner. And the fact that the whole thing keeps going even while you are not actively playing lends it a believability not found in many games.

It is almost impossible to describe the level of immersion I have felt during the past two weeks of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The game sucks you in with its simple yet intricate mechanics and its beautiful and serene visuals, and never lets up. I can easily see myself still playing it in the weeks and months to come, possibly even years. And with everyone currently stuck at home while the whole world remains on lockdown, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

A screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

How have you been coping with self isolation and the ongoing lockdown? Are there any other video games, books or TV shows that have kept you occupied? Let us know in the comments section below.