Writer: Francesca N.
Visual: Sirah D.
Editor: Sarah P.
It’s ready and negotiated. You swear to earn enough money for your keep. You look at your tent with a tear in your eye. My new home, you think, admiring the faded canvas while shaking hands with a sweater-wearing raccoon.
98,000 Bells, you think to yourself as you catch a fish. 98,000 Bells, you think as you shovel into a nearby lake. 98,000 Bells, you think as you purchase a Rococo armchair you definitely didn’t need.
You head to the furniture store, the 98,000 Bells chant miraculously absent, and then you see him again at the counter, singing and ready to sell you a radio. You brace yourself for the reprimand, the fury of the loan shark. And yet… Tom Nook smiles at you. You move on. There’s no conflict. “Take your time,” he says cheerily. Your loan has no deadline.
Behold, the magic of Animal Crossing: a world with no monsters, battles, or stakes. No rush. Even its twinkling theme song sounds like a warm memory, mellow and ambling and young. It’s simple and detached and the exact opposite of exciting or cool—it sounds like childhood.
Standing bright-colored and wide-eyed against fierce role-playing games, Animal Crossing is the anomaly of video games. While you can battle off beasts in League of Legends or shoot off foes in Call of Duty, Animal Crossing lets you pay off loans and catch butterfly variations with cheer. Even among Nintendo’s other family-friendly franchises, you’ll still be battling other Pokemon or fighting Bowser. But whether it’s basking in the golden hour or watching a nighttime meteor shower, Animal Crossing differs from other games with its focus on slowing down. In a world that races against the clock, scrambling for innovation and gold medals and trends, your Animal Crossing haven is at a standstill. There is nothing but you, your villagers, and your town.
Nineteen years after its first release, New Horizons comes out as the fifth installment of the Animal Crossing franchise. Unlike its predecessors that launch its players into a bustling village either as a resident or its mayor, New Horizons, the newest world, is a deserted island. The possibilities are endless, and it’s up to you to transform the no-man’s-land into a thriving community. Its colorful chibi-like animals started popping up on people’s social media stories: goofy pictures of characters whacking villagers with nets, funny pictures of innuendos built into town designs or letters, wholesome pictures of two friends sitting on a bench. In a world of sensationalism, Animal Crossing’s a game that’s timeless in its simplicity and replayability, and admirable in encouraging its players to appreciate all things wholesome. And now, at a time when our world is in the midst of a devastating and frightening pandemic, Animal Crossing gives the kitschy escapism we so desperately crave. On your island, there is no pandemic, no homework, no loss. It is a world that you can mold yourself.
That’s the refreshing thing. It shows that we’ve become exhausted of conflict and problems that need solving. Teenagers have grown dark-humored, sarcastic, and satirical, but Animal Crossing is pure. Little outbursts lead to quick forgiveness, and animals walk away smiling after simple conversations. Simply complimenting them on their outfit is enough to make them sing. It’s comforting to explore a world so untainted by adult complexity, so unbothered by the need to get things done now. Animal Crossing is the chicken soup for the soul of the video game world, a healing respite from the typical torrent of conflict.
The game doesn’t last forever. There will come a day when your town sparkles with gardens and fountains, and there’s nothing you want to change about it. One day, you will grow out of your old friends’ antics, deciding that maybe they should learn how to deliver their own presents in the game. Perhaps college applications roll around and you decide you want to give them your all. So you turn off the console, it settles into a corner of your bedroom, and those hours upon hours you spent in your slow-moving animal world come to a close. But for a while, you had them. For a while, your finest accomplishments weren’t crushing the boss level or getting something done in time—they were making colorful animals smile under an endless, deadline-less sky.