If you’ve been glued to social media for the last couple weeks like me, you have may noticed something between updates on coronavirus and videos from stir-crazy quarantinees.
Images of a brightly-colored island with cartoon animals in cute clothes. Maybe some strange babbling about fruit, building furniture, and catching bugs.
These may be the signs that someone you know is playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a simulation-style video game for the Nintendo Switch. Released in North America on March 20th, it’s the latest entry in a series that goes back almost two decades.
With schools and businesses closed, players have had a lot of time to spend in their own virtual islands, meeting their bipedal animal neighbors, and completing tasks for a demanding, capitalist raccoon.
I know it sounds strange, but bear with me here.
For the WAMC newsroom, at least three of us have been getting a break from the heaviness that is working in media during a pandemic by checking up on our sunny islands. Newsroom Producer Jackie Orchard began working here in February.
“Not only is this like the craziest it’s been, but these are also like my first few weeks in this job. So this is all I know. And I was like, if this is what I just signed up for, I need some kind of outlet.”
Some of the staff still comes in every day, but most of us have been working remotely whenever possible, including Roundtable producer Sarah LaDuke.
“Because they wanted to thin out the newsroom so I’ve been home. This is my second full week of being home.”
Both Jackie and Sarah tell me they aren’t big gamers. I’ve been a fan of Animal Crossing for a few years, and sunk hours (it’s a lot, trust me) into the series’ last installment on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013.
The game is designed with friends in mind. There are thousands of ways to customize your home or clothing. It’s a blast to share about what fish you caught or which of the hundreds of characters you spotted on your island that day. There’s no end to the game and no competition. You water flowers, pick weeds…
It’s a welcome activity for Jackie, who is new on the job.
“One of the things about this job that I felt like was kind of missing was a little bit more of like a personal comradery because we work together all day long and we’re so busy just on the grind that we don’t really talk about silly or fun stuff. But then ever since I started playing Animal Crossing, I have something to talk to you and Sarah about that isn’t what’s in the rundown or who we’re interviewing…”
In addition to my coworkers, I’ve been playing with my brother and sister. My twin brother Brett lives in Midcoast Maine, and I’m unable to see him for most of the year, anyway, restrictions or not. Our sister Grace came home from her second semester of college earlier this month. For an early birthday present, my brother and I bought her a Switch and a digital copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
With online play, it allows to connect at a time where we can’t see each other.
Sarah LaDuke has also been playing online.
“I went to visit my friend PJ and his son Cooper’s island the other day. And Cooper kept like playing this little…oh I don’t remember what it’s called…it’s a little like mouth harp. He kept playing little tunes for me and I was like, well, OK! I was just running around and stealing things…not, not stealing…it’s acquiring resources. Oof. That sounded very capitalist, indeed.”
And Jackie Orchard says she’s been bugging her siblings to get the game too.
“My brother lives in Los Angeles in California. My sister lives in Michigan. And my other sister lives in Buffalo. So all of my siblings are separated and even in we could travel we couldn’t be together because we’re all quarantined in different areas. So I’ve been begging them to get Animal Crossing because it’s so relaxing and I think they’re missing out. I mean, they’re all stressed out. We all are. They all have really high-pressure jobs. And it’s just such a relaxing, serene, easy thing to do at the end of the day."
Just be careful, you might get sucked-in too. But then again, a lot of us have bit more free time these days.