The Days of Our Animals

I didn’t expect the world the US to still be a burning pile of tires here, in August, but here we are. How have you been coping? Me? I’ve become deeply invested in the lives of a bunch of pixel animals and their fictional dramas.

Yeah, I’m talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, because that is how I have been getting through the days and nights of life during this trying time. This is my first real game from the franchise. I played Pocket Camp for a little while (and re-downloaded it long enough to get the exclusive items for New Horizons and damn, has it gotten micro-transactiony), but I don’t really count that one as a true Animal Crossing experience.

I delight in how beautiful this game is. There is meticulous detail in so many things. The first time that I actually docked my Switch and played on television, I sat and just stared at the flowers for several minutes, just marveling over how lovely that they looked. As for the rest of it, I obsess over how much my animals like me. My best friends are a small squirrel with a unibrow, a blue unicorn horse, and a cat with heterochromia. I have become utterly charmed by a zebra horse called Savannah, who keeps refusing to love me. My fairy godmother is an alligator who resembles a wealthy widow in both looks and personality. I have taken as a mentor an octopus that resembles a snack:

© Nintendo – I realize that Zucker is meant to resemble takoyaki, but my first thought was that he looked like fried ice cream. My apologies.

Indeed, Zucker. Let all of us yell “bloop” hard today.

And you know, sometimes that’s what it’s taken for me to get through the day. The idea that this shall be the day that I, too, will go hard. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I try.

To say that I am obsessed would be a gross understatement. Sometimes the only reason that I wake up and keep going is the fact that I don’t want my beloved animal friends to miss me. It’s been a very therapeutic experience. I will take any light that I can find in this dark place, and this game has been a huge ball of sunshine for me. Further, this game has managed to enrich my life in other ways, namely in allowing me to connect with people both already in my life, and utter strangers that I may chat with one time.

My friend Keyes and I exchange almost daily text messages, sending pictures back and forth of what we have for sale in the shops, showing off the ridiculous antics that some of our residents have displayed, and just chatting in general about the game. The phrase “confused Hamlet” is enough to bring at least a smile to my face these days, as is “Summer People,” thanks to all of the many hours of chit-chat that we’ve exchanged. In June, after we had had enough of designing lovely anniversary photos for a charming alpaca couple (stay with me, those who don’t Animal Cross), we took the entire photo shoot scheme off the rails. Keyes staged a cosplay convention in the middle of recreating the wedding day. I exposed the cold truth of existence to the happy couple.

© Nintendo – You’re in the Matrix, Reese.

All of this talking, of course, led to a broadening of the conversation; Keyes and I have been good friends for a while, but I feel like we’ve become better friends as a result of the game, and that warms my cold little heart so much. In this, a time of extreme alienation for many, I am finding that connecting with people over a shared hobby has been easier than expected.

I have dedicated myself to doing random acts of goodness in the game whenever I get the opportunity. I haunt Animal Crossing Reddit almost daily, trading with people, giving items away, making things for people if I happen to have the knowledge that they lack. I’ve come across some people who are being extraordinarily kind — I spent three hours on somebody’s island cataloging* almost the entire furniture collection as it currently exists. They asked for absolutely nothing in return. They do this because they enjoy helping people. This takes an enormous amount of trust, as many of the item in the game get quite expensive. To acquire all of them, in all of the variations, must have cost a fortune. I can’t believe that there’s a person this trusting and kind to regularly allow actual strangers to visit and risk theft. The online community surrounding this game is, as a whole, great. I’ve seen people get ripped off, but I’ve seen those same people get paid back tenfold for what they’ve lost. People are sticking together, even if it’s over a video game.

Would that this would extend into the rest of the world.

Well, that took a turn. Let me just leave you with this, an image from early when I started playing. Goodnight, Withywoods.

© Nintendo

*Cataloging, or touch trading, in this case refers to picking up an item and then dropping it. This registers the item as something that the player is able to order. For most items in the game, if you’ve held it even once, you can order it again, no matter what you choose to do with it.

All images are Nintendo’s property as screenshot by me on my Switch.

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