Lately, I’ve been thinking about the games I spent a lot of time with during our mass social exile. The middle of March might usually be rather late for this kind of year-end retrospective, but if we learned anything these past 8766 hours or so, it’s that time is meaningless. This was originally going to be some sort of list-y blurb-y thing, but then I realized that there was only one real option to write about and it was obvious: Animal Crossing: New Horizon.
Like seemingly everyone else on the planet with a Switch, I spent the first several months of the quarantine on a tropical island with an insatiable realty racoon and other anthropomorphized animal friends I spoke with on a daily basis. Seriously, I played this game (at least a little) every, single day for months straight. I think ACNH’s appeal for me was two-fold: first, it gave me a space in which I had nearly total control to order the world to my liking: my own virtual paradise. I could move rivers and hills, demand my friends say what I want them to say, and even start a friendly cult! Second, I could invite my IRL friends and family who played the game to marvel at my shiny new items and/or visual puns, and I could go see theirs.
I’m sure I’m not the first to praise the game for providing something to focus on as so low-key as where on the beach I should set up the lounge, during a time when “daily numbers” were growing incomprehensible, when information poured constantly, but news trickled. Everything felt so massive and beyond any scope in which I could ever matter. Galuga gave me 112 x 96 screens of digital paradise to hyper-fixate on. And there, I am the center of the universe. Everyone is super excited to see me (like too much sometimes,), they send me gifts in the mail, and hell, they’ll even let me tell them what to say. There are no worries in Galuga. There, we were just happy that Marina decided to move to the island (I told her to) and that Drago moved his house (me, again) or that Doc can’t call me “ol’ bunny” anymore and, as a matter of fact, should report to Isabelle for cloistering. What can I say? It was nice to have control.
I don’t really have a reason why I stopped playing. I suppose I finally got a little bored of some of the more monotonous aspects. Gradually, a few days would go by without me hearing about Isabelle’s TV habits. Then a week, and then just like so many other things, it’s suddenly been months since I even thought about it. Judging from all the Halloween decorations I found when I logged on for this blog, I quit playing sometime around the start of November. I felt a bit of shame upon my return to this place. These animals were my friends and I ghosted the shit out of them! But it was oddly unchanged. Sure, the weeds had gotten a little out of control, but all my followers — I mean, friends only reminded me how long they had been without my presence and then carried on like nothing had happened. Like I was the boss. It’s a far cry from the feeling of being the new kid in town, like in the GC’s Animal Crossing where villagers do what they do and will move the eff on if they feel like it. You could only do your best to make them want to stay. I’ll admit to not having played any of the intervening AC titles but the dichotomy between from the 2002 to 2020 titles is an interesting one.
I’ll admit, too, that the experience of the game probably shifts considerably when more than one player lives on an island. I only ever played the game as a single (if not still very social) player experience. But I can’t help but feel that the end result would just be TWO cultish leaders, though of course the power play between them could be pretty interesting. And anyway, something tells me (without doing any research whatsoever) that the player using the Switch’s primary profile would have the final say always.
What made this game so great and so, so needed during the early and middle (is that too optimistic?) weeks of the pandemic was the sense of striving for short-term and long-term goals, making progress, and achieving them. That’s what made the game part of millions of player’s daily routine. Wake up, drink some coffee, make a round or two on the island, and then wonder around the apartment aimlessly for a bit before lunch. In fact, if not for Isabelle telling me what day it is every morning, I’d have never known.
My Switch tells me I’ve spent nearly 500 hours playing this high-control group simulator: a three week vacation spread out over 3 hours here, 4 hours there. A few entire days scattered throughout. And so many of those hours were spent chatting with people I love, watching shooting stars, fishing, and planning for the resurrection of the all-powerful, all-loving Galug. I can’t imagine getting through this year without it.
I see this whole thing running into an interesting question of whether it’s comforting to know that life goes on without you in a game? I know Animal Crossing always seemed like too much to manage for me. I get hyperfixated. But if it was a place I could go, knowing that it would change, knowing that people would forget me – I’d play more.
For sure! Yeah, and I think that “too much to manage” sort of got to me in the end and it just felt like I had tasks piling up and talking to the villagers didn’t feel any different than hitting rocks. Or catching a sea bass.
The real-time game clock is I think Animal Crossing’s (as a whole) neatest features. It does give you that bit of FOMO that gets you invested in the gameworld and its goings on. In this one, there IS no goings on if you’re not there. Visitors come but they’ll be back. And they’re probably selling you stuff you don’t want. You *might* miss a birthday, but they understand. NBD.