If not for a pandemic, I don’t know if the March 20 release of Animal Crossing New Horizons would have been such an important event for our family. But it was. At least for me: the 50 year old who had never played the game before.
I’m reminded of this every morning I wake up and move to the couch to log in and take my avatar for the first stroll around her Tom Nook-created tropical oasis: crossing over bridges to admire newly blossomed tulips, picking peaches, oranges, and coconuts from trees, collecting giant clams and sand dollars on pristine beaches, netting butterflies, dragonflies, and lady bugs, comfortably socializing with fellow residents or random visitors, digging up fossils for the local museum, and making mental lists of needed infrastructure and landscape improvements.
And I’m remind of this every night as “Mamamoo” takes her final tour of the island of “Tootsie,” now lit by softly glowing lanterns and moonlight. Aside from the occasional tarantula attack, sitting on a beach-facing bench and gazing up at the stars while listening to the wind and the crashing waves – the beacon of a distant lighthouse peeking into view – proves to be more satisfying than any nightcap or sleeping aid in calming the ever present COVID-19 edge.
It’s worth mentioning – for those who don’t know about the game – that you get paid for everything you do whether it’s planting flowers, fishing, catching bugs, or harvesting lumber and fruit. This labor earns you money in the form of “bells” that can be used for your mortgage or infrastructure upgrades, or can be spent in the local shops on a rotating menu of eclectic fashion, housewares and home furnishings, gardening supplies, tools, medicine, and curiosities.
The point of the entire game – at least for me – is very simple: to create an ideal simulation for whatever “ideal” means to you and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The biggest draw right now? Aside from random tarantula attacks after dark and occasional wasp swarms, there is no danger in Animal Crossing. No harm can come to you. Even these venomous attacks – at their worst – simply return you to your doorstep to continue where you left off. You can even make the medicine yourself that brings down the swelling in your face.
My kids are amused by my new obsession. Sure, they laughed when I first made my own account for the game. That is, until I started leaving them gifts and paying for the bridges and other accoutrements they’ve grown accustomed to. It turns out they also like to hear island “gossip” about what I’ve been up to in my role of Mamamoo: eccentric tropical socialite with a penchant for gardening, military-inspired outfits, and wigs.
With my anxiety spinning out of control and the unexpected arrival of frequent panic attacks, finding something to calm my racing brain is priceless. And it turns out that creating a virtual life on a remote island with endless amounts of resources, friends, beautiful scenery, and without any real danger seems to be just what I need for self-care in this moment. If I could only overcome my arachnophobia, the game would be perfect. Those spiders are worth a fortune on the open market.