An ode to Animal Crossing.
I have a confession to make (the hints in the title).
I am obsessed with Animal Crossing. And better yet, I have yet to meet someone whose played it who isn't.
When I think back to my days when I was in my pre-teen prime, still enjoying being a kid by running around with my friends and climbing trees, but not yet old enough to face the insecurities that accompany puberty, Animal Crossing: Wild World was there.
I remember reading an advert for it when I was 10 years old in an old Sugar or Mizz magazine and falling in love with the style; the whimsical, playful characters, the friendliness of it, the fun and joy the characters seemed to express playing throughout their virtual world.
I did what all kids do and begged my mum and dad for it; at the time I had an original Nintendo DS (which I still proudly own and play on occasion). Eventually, it seemed, they relented and caved in and bought it for me and my sister (I was always jealous of her for having the Nintendo DS Lite in baby pink, mine was the clunky original silver one). And we played. We discovered, ran about, donated fossils, collected clothes and weird homewares, met and be-friended villagers (and even fancied an anthropomorphic bear called Teddy, a little bit) and discovered the wild world. And better yet, we did it together. With DS to DS connection, we could visit each other's towns and share the joys together (and yes, we may have run over each other's flowers a few times out of spite). This was the first game we had in our worlds that we could play together and enjoy.
And then, our friends got it too. Next door neighbours where we would press ourselves up against the ajoining wall between our houses and try and connect through the wall to their towns, and collect the precious fruit grown from their trees (to this day I'm still in awe or anyone who starts off with cherries in their town). Our cousins had it and we played, too.
It was a shared experience at a time of great uncertainty and change, just when the scales were tipping for us all from the innocence of childhood into the looming darkness of adolescence and provided an escape for me, and many many others from the worries of the world. A more personal time of upheaval too, where my family were moving continents at the time to an entirely new way of living, Animal Crossing provided some normality where it didn't matter what country I was in, my town was always there.
A calming, soothing game, there are no scares (unless you count getting stung by a wasp or the capitalist undertones of Tom Nook) and you are always the hero, the revered amongst your villagers. Your friends in the game are always happy to see you, there's always something to do and the music is enough to lull you to sleep.
Now, we have passed through the cringiest point of our lives, done some soul searching and for want of a better word, we are all adults. Of sorts. We are old enough to make our own decisions and have started figuring out the world and where we want to fit in, but we are still young enough to make mistakes, show up to work hungover and laugh it all off. We still rely on our friends and worry about the world, but the worries are different. Instead of homework, hair appearing under armpits and spots, it's now council tax, the environment and politics. And something else, something bigger that's affecting us all. I don't even have to name it. If you're reading this in the future, think Spring 2020 and it'll come to mind.
That's right. Is it any wonder at all that when the world is a mess and we're surrounded by anxieties, worry and uncertainty, we turn to a calming, soothing game where you live in your very own paradise, surrounded by friends you can actually visit, paying a mortgage with zero interest or planned repayment, in a world where everything isn't falling apart around you.
Animal Crossing has evolved now, like it's players. You can form your own island now and share designs across the globe, creating even more of a community than there was before. You can still play with friends, but also with people online (thanks to websites like Dodocodes.com) who may need help watering flowers or donating to help build a bridge. Now, more than ever, people need a sense of community and together-ness as we're not spending time with people any more, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides it.
On the surface, the happy, easy-going music, distinctive playful art style and bright friendly colours draw you in, but trust me, it's more than that. It's about building your own island to your own standards, making it into something you love, and creating your own happy place. It's truly a place to feel happy and make you happy; there are no monsters, no uncertainties and it is entirely soothing. It's the perfect game to escape the world, just for a little while, and forget the stress and anxiety of now.