Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Coming Home with Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Hard

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons provided a diversion when I needed it most during the pandemic. The real world was seething with stress and anxiety, but that wasn’t the case on an island ruled by raccoons. As I questioned their money-making plans, these little critters put my mind at ease with the escape that struck like a warming ray of light.

In the first moments of the pandemic, my mind shifted from terrible COVID-19 reporting to determining what shade of blue I wanted my walls to be in my beautiful home on my beautiful island. My emotions were bouncing all over the place like a chaotic pinball game of life, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped me overcome my fears and uncertainty. It took my mind off the pandemic or gave me time to calm down and not panic so intensely.

I’ve always loved the Animal Crossing series, but this entry has a more unique charge than its brethren, and it’s not because of the difference. I hold it closer to my heart because of the circumstances in which it was played. Building a different life with animals as neighbors was just what I needed at the right time. Hearing a hamster wish me luck is something I probably wouldn’t have thought of much about in any other Animal Crossing game, but with a virus sweeping the world and my future and my health tied to it, its words actually had some weight. I dug the hell out of this little guy. He always knew what to say.

I visited my home away from home almost every day until the swim update arrived. I was away for a week or two here and there (especially during the Easter egg hunt), but did my best to stay on top of my tasks and routines. I worked hard to pay off my mortgages and create my ideal home.

I roamed my island and others in search of all the fossils and fish I could find for the museum, but didn’t care much about diving for new finds when this swimming update arrived. . I had fallen from it like I had all the other Animal Crossings before him. This series holds my interest for a few months, then I move on.

I want to have an Animal Crossing in my game rotation, but getting back on track has always been a challenge for me. After being away for months, the virtual abode in which I lovingly devoted time and effort is no longer like me. The villagers who loved to see me are now surprised that I am there or do not even know who I am. My house is full of cockroaches and it takes some serious detective work to figure out exactly what I was saving or planning to do next.

Part of my disconnect comes from the way I’m wired and how much knowledge of the game I retain, but a lot of it comes from the way this particular game is designed. Animal Crossing is great because it doesn’t hold your hand, give you extensive mission logs, or breadcrumbs to follow. We connect with it in a very different way than most games, but once that connection is cut, not having these things creates a bit of confusion on a trip home.

That bond I formed with New Horizons at the start of the pandemic is no longer there either, and perhaps could be a reason why I’m having such a hard time getting back into that particular installment. Nintendo organized their goals better thanks to Nook Miles, but I still feel like an outsider in a strange land trying to figure out what to do. The magic she held at this particular moment in my life was enormous, but is now just a memory.

Going back to any game over time can be difficult. Animal Crossing is one of the most difficult for me, and always has been. Unlike MMOs or competitive games, its hooks do not have the same resistance or strength. They dissolve for me after a few months and then I move on. I sometimes think of the houses I had in those games and fondly remember how I made them mine. They are more vacation homes for me than second homes for some people. I envy those of you who continually get something out of these games because I really love their brilliant outlook on life, and pandemic or not, could use a dose of it often.

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