I’ve woken up feeling overwhelmed a lot this month. Between constant push notifications alerting me about the downfall of the economy due to Covid-19, and not knowing when I’ll be able to see my friends and family in person again, it’s a strange time to be a human on this rock. If I’m not overwhelmed, I’m some other adjective: anxious, melancholy, or varying degrees of unsettled.
Last Saturday, the stress really got to me, so I tossed my phone on the bed, left my Apple Watch on its charger, and went to the basement, where I made a cozy nest of blankets and put on some headphones. I proceeded to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons on my Nintendo Switch for the next 12 hours straight. It was the best thing I’ve done for my mental health this year.
Just What I Needed
When the going gets tough, it’s only natural to seek solace wherever you can. For myself and many of the staff here at WIRED, that place is on our respective islands in the new Animal Crossing.
Animal Crossing has always been therapeutic. It’s not like other games. There are no battles, hard-and-fast rules, time limits, or big bosses to defeat. Like Stardew Valley, your job is to chill and make a pleasant little life for yourself. Your daily tasks involve picking fruit, fishing, redecorating your home, and helping out your neighbors. Or, you can spend your time customizing furniture to decorate your house or changing your clothes. It’s up to you. Sure, you typically owe a greedy raccoon a few thousand Bells (the currency in this world), but he doesn’t pester you into paying your rent or charge interest.
It seems only fitting that after eight years of waiting, Nintendo’s newest Animal Crossing came out now.
In real life, your friends need to be at least 6 feet away, but in Animal Crossing, they can hang out on your island for hours at a time—no social distancing required. Socializing is very low-pressure; you can run around and bonk your friends in the head with nets, or use a more robust third-party service like Discord to chat while you and your pals fish together.
The same low-pressure theme applies to any number of in-game features. The biggest problems you face are things like deciding between whether to slingshot presents out of the sky or to hit rocks for money. Every day, you’ll be met with new items in your island’s shops, new fossils to dig up and identify, and new surprises waiting in trees you can shake.
New Horizons adds a lot of fresh gameplay elements to the series, too. Most noticeably, your character now has a Tom Nook-branded smartphone that can be used to access various apps. There’s an in-game camera that offers some pretty powerful photography options, and it only takes a few clicks to share screenshots from your Switch to Twitter or Facebook.