Here’s a free video game idea for you: The Haunting of Animal Crossing Villages Past. In the spirit of the season it’ll bit a horror, of course – well, half the villagers are nightmare-fuel anyway (Pietro has been Freddy Kreugered directly from my darkest dreams) – and take place in the cold, weed-infested villages and islands we let fall to ruin. The islanders left behind will be emaciated husks, starved of what they crave most – your friendship and camaraderie – and hellbent on making you pay for your abandonment. Nook wants to hoist you up on the flagpole outside Resident Services. Mabel’s next big seller will be a Hawaiian shirt made of your skin. Flick has gone full vampire – he wants those bugs to eat, dude.
My pals don’t have to worry about that, though. Though many islands are now abandoned, lost to weeds and tumbleweed, YuccaVee (it’s funny if you’re Welsh) is faring just fine, thanks. Animal Crossing: New Horizons wasn’t just a brief distraction to keep me going when the full force of Lockdown #1 hit; Animal Crossing: New Horizons is probably the only thing keeping me sane right now.
2021 has been… well, a lot. I’m not going to bore you with it, mainly because when I write down what’s happened to me in the last six months, it looks so unbelievable I’m not convinced even a soap opera would touch it. But I’m pretty sure things would’ve been significantly more stressful if it wasn’t for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the kind of game that, on paper, I typically loathe.
There’s not even much to do, to be honest. It’s not like the old days when I stood barefoot on the shore, hooking Sea Bass after Sea Bass in an attempt to inflate my bell balance so I could afford that fancy kitchen unit at Nook’s Cranny. Thanks to a few tasty turns on the Stalk Market – nope, not a typo – I’m sitting on a Bell balance of around 25 million (oh, if only it was real) which means these days, I jump onto Animal Crossing: New Horizons not to get my chores done as much as I jump on to give me a brief 30-minute reprieve from real life.
My favourite time of day to visit is 6pm. This is when the sky burns pink and the 6pm music kicks in – a soft, dreamy acoustic piece that manages to unhunch my shoulders from the very first note. I’m not very good at getting online at 6pm, so – and yes, I’m aware how sad this might sound – I’ve changed the timezone on my Switch to Eastern US so that when I jump on at the end of the day around 11pm UK time, the shop’s still open and my favourite tune is waiting for me.
I have a set routine now. It starts by checking the mail, followed by a jog along the shoreline of my island, collecting seashells and my daily message-in-a-bottle. If I pass fellow islanders, I stop to say hello, see what’s new, and gift them a new item of furniture or clothing. Sometimes they reciprocate. Sometimes they don’t. It’s cool. They rarely have anything I want, anyway.
Then it’s time to search for fossils. There is zero archaeological merit in this pursuit these days as my fossil exhibition in the museum was complete months and months ago, but I like the sound the spade makes when it digs things up, and selling them helps keep my Bell balance high. If I pass a weed I’ll pull it, naturally – ironic, given the state of my own back yard – and if I spy a piece of grass that gives off a golden glow, I’ll dig that up – 1000 Bells! Tidy! – and replace it with a 10K bag. In three days time, it will mature into a full, lush tree that grows not fruit but bags of cash. In this world, money really does grow on trees.
There’s more. Stone whacking to find the magical rock that gives you money. Tree shaking for – for reasons I do not understand – loose pieces of furniture. Someone somewhere is crafting a new DIY recipe, and while I think it’s been the best part of a year since an islander has shared something new with me, I can’t shake off the feeling that if I don’t check in with them today, I’ll miss out. Sometimes, I’ll tidy up the wild flora – my island is looking more like Night of the Triffids with each passing day – but most days I don’t. Most days it’s post, shells, fossils, money tree, rocks, and a brief stop at Nook’s Cranny to check out the wares.
If it sounds like pointless busyness, that’s because it is. None of this is particularly important. I can’t do much else in the game beyond bulldozing everything down and starting over, so it means if I forget to plant a money tree or grab a fossil, it doesn’t matter. No harm done. It’s just me, the sound of the ocean, and that gentle 6pm music.
Because while everyone else stopped giving a shit about Animal Crossing eighteen months ago, I’m still here. And I’m still here because it’s 30 minutes of my day where I can stop thinking and grieving and worrying and just concentrate on being present. Being okay. So until someone takes me up on my offer and makes a game in which Lloids soak up your lifeforce through their cold, empty eyesockets, that’s perfectly fine with me.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is out now for the Nintendo Switch.