In the face of adversity, we often turn to mediums of escape to create a false sense of belonging. The 1929 stock market crash brought about a golden age of cinema — films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” reassured American audiences, allowing them to find hope in a landscape of economic turmoil and political upheaval.
Escapist entertainment is almost always used as a palliative to the noise of modern life. Almost a century later, amidst an unending stream of COVID-19 headlines, Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has become a tender escape from reality.
Throughout the entire franchise, “Animal Crossing” has functioned as a utopian social simulation game. Players befriend irresistibly adorable anthropomorphic animals. Money literally comes from trees. The depressive episodes of adult life are nonexistent.
“New Horizons,” being the latest release of the franchise, has come at a time when millions are in self-quarantine. Facing a lack of human connection, I personally find solace in establishing a daily routine centered around my “Animal Crossing” island.
When I long for the warmth of my closest friends, I visit their island virtually, engaging in lighthearted dialogue for hours on end. The game has an enchanting way of creating intimacy and breaking physical barriers in the process.
This is a universal feeling, too. Despite being marketed to a younger age group, “Animal Crossing” resonates with everyone, forging unique bonds between people of all cultures, genders, and ages.
Though “Animal Crossing” life is distinctly separate from human life, what makes it so appealing is that it borrows from our collective realities. Alongside the adolescent fantasy of talking animals are aspects of the real world.
Time plays a large role, deciding what wildlife will spawn and which villagers are awake; Tom Nook, a greedy real estate raccoon, insists on the player taking out six-digit loans for a slightly more spacious house; storage space is a rarefied commodity.
In times of crisis, what humans crave more than anything is a romanticized distortion of reality — and “Animal Crossing” is just that.
On my first day in self-quarantine, I stumbled upon an old screenshot from “Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Kitty, a snooty cat villager, tells me, “It’s 2016. Boys are wearing makeup. I say deal with it!”
It’s strange to imagine, even four years later, a world where makeup isn’t overtly genderized. Even though “Animal Crossing” characters talk from a recurrent script, Kitty spoke to me in a way that the real world couldn’t — 2016 me was an insecure high school freshman too afraid to flaunt his glittery gold cut creases to his classmates.
It is only now that I realize how “Animal Crossing” forces us — as humans in an ever-deteriorating world — to find meaning in the trivialities of life. That is exactly what we need in this stagnant period of quarantine: a profound appreciation for the smaller things in life. Perhaps it’s time we learn a thing or two from villagers like Kitty.