In 2008, a little tipsy after watching the Fallas burn in Valencia, a woman from New York told me that her niece was waiting for her to get on Wii to visit her Animal Crossing village to get some fruits.
It would take 12 years, a pandemic, and a very early birthday surprise from my brother and his family for me to finally understand what she meant.
These days, my Nintendo Switch Lite is always within my reach, ready for whenever I need a quick escape from this virus-plagued and politically toxic world.
There is no coronavirus on Finland, my Animal Crossing island, named after my nephew Fin. Neither is there a government of clowns. There’s only Tom Nook who runs the island and who is, fine, a capitalist, but at least when I give him bells (that’s Animal Crossing currency), I can see where it goes. And he has never told me to drench anything in gasoline or inject myself with bleach.
There’s no lockdown in Animal Crossing—I can run like the Mapayapa Village ostrich as much as I want, as long as my console still has power. I can talk to my neighbors without wearing a mask. No one goes hungry. Money literally grows on trees. You’ll have debt, sure, but you’ll never experience bill shock and you’ll know exactly what you need to do to pay it off (catch some fish, sell some fruit, shake some trees).
It’s no wonder so many people have found refuge in this game. Everyone starts on equal footing and you always see the fruits of your labor. It’s like real life but better, a utopia created by Nintendo.
The New York Times called Animal Crossing “the game for the coronavirus moment.” And it is. The latest edition, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, was released at the perfect time: in March, right around the time the lockdowns started.
Consoles and copies of the game sold out in many parts of the world and continue to break sales records. I have a desperate friend in Berlin who has yet to get his hands on a Switch. Luckily, here in the Philippines, consoles are no longer hard to find. And if New Horizons proves to be elusive, you can always choose to download the digital version.
As the quarantine continued, millions of people—both kids and adults (oh, there are so many adults who play Animal Crossing)—focused on developing their islands as an escape from the quarantine. Miss traveling? In Animal Crossing, you can fly and explore other islands. Miss going out to shop? Head out to Nook’s Cranny or Able Sisters and spend to your heart’s content. Missing your friends? You can hang out with them on “Animal Crossing.”
When I started playing, my cousins welcomed me to New Horizons with massive care packages. They went to my island to drop off all kinds of wonderful things: musical instruments, clothes, DIY recipes, even trees. I can’t wait to do the same for friends who are about to take the plunge.
The beautiful thing is you can play Animal Crossing at your own pace, no pressure. You can devote as much or as little time as you want to your island, depending on your work-from-home or school schedule, and still find enjoyment in it. Updates are released now and again so even the most dedicated Animal Crossing players can always find something new to enjoy—like swimming in the ocean and diving for all sorts of creatures and treasures.
I’ve been taking it slow. While my friends have managed to build their own malls and hotels on their islands, Finland is kind of a mess. My house has empty rooms, I can’t find the DIY recipe for an ironwood dresser (and I need it to build an ironwood kitchenette), I have tree branches everywhere and my pockets are always full. I need to get more villagers to move to my island and I also still have a lot of fossils I need to find for Blathers’ museum. But that’s okay. Because Animal Crossing is serving its purpose.
It’s how I celebrate when I finish my tasks. It’s how I cool down when the headlines get me angry. It’s how I take a break from worrying about this country.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trees to shake.