Embracing Loneliness through Escapism in Animal Crossing

Unless you’ve been living quietly in the mountains since this pandemic started (which, kudos to you, sounds like a great idea), you’ve probably heard of a game called “Animal Crossing.” Maybe you’ve also heard of a certain Raymond, an office cat with heterochromia who absolutely everyone seems to be in love with, and if you’re unlucky, perhaps you’ve seen him in a maid outfit. You’ve also probably heard of the beloved Isabelle, our dear pup who loses way too many socks behind her laundry machine, and Tom Nook, millionaire mastermind behind the debt and pain of living on a deserted island. 

Many months have passed since Animal Crossing’s initial release, and if you haven’t given into the hype yet, I applaud you. Without diving in too deep, it must be hard to understand the appeal. Animals? Crossing? Is this a breeding game? (No.) Why are you living on an island full of animals? Why are you enjoying a game of manual labor? Why are you willingly putting yourself into a life of loans and debt to a… raccoon bear? (His name is Tom Nook and he’s a tanuki. And because it’s fun.)  

If someone told you that Animal Crossing and a bit of food and water was all they needed to survive quarantine, you’d almost certainly laugh at them. But as someone who has invested approximately 150 hours into the game, has probably accumulated a dozen or so more by the time this article is released, and is the resident representative of a newly branded five-star island, well, dear friend, I can show you the light. 

Animal Crossing falls under a genre of games called escapism, the purpose being to immerse yourself, for hours at a time, into a world much different — arguably much better — from your own. The days move at a snail’s pace but there’s always something for you to do, whether it be chopping down trees (fun), getting stung by bees (less fun), or checking out what’s in store at the all-purpose Nook’s Cranny or your local clothing boutique, the Able Sisters. Besides running around at breakneck speed through your daily tasks and trampling over your hybrid flowers in the process, you can also interact with your villagers by chatting with them, running down a requested rare bug or two, giving them gifts, and even celebrating birthdays. 

The day-to-day grind in Animal Crossing is a serious business. Your daily tasks are more or less the same every day, and the monotony of it all creates a routine. Call it boring if you like, but in a time where it seems that the hours, days, and months bleed into one another without much difference, a routine is key to not losing yourself. 

If you’re still doubtful about this game, I’ll pitch another reason. The animals in the game make it great! Sure, these guys are adorable. And funny…

Exhibit A – Tank, speaking on about the importance of early morning exercise. 

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Exhibit B – Rodney, owning up to his past regrets. 

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Exhibit C – Quillson, giving us the real talk. 

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…but despite their adorable appearances and hilarious chatter, they provide something else too. Something important. 

A lot of us haven’t seen our friends in months. A text or two or twelve might come by, but other than that, quarantine has been a huge bummer on our usual summer hangouts. 

My friends live miles away from me. But my villagers don’t. 

I check my mailbox every morning to see if there’s something waiting for me. Usually, I have a letter or two from my villagers. Some are… very eccentric. Al, I’m looking at you… stop sending me cookie crumbs. Others are just heartfelt and, in my state of loneliness, even bring tears to my eyes. 

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Besides letters, your villagers look out for you. Sometimes they’ll run up to you, grinning maniacally, and teach you how to cry. Thanks, Tank. Other times, they’ll say that they saw something in the store and it made them think of you. And then they give you a trash can. Thanks, Chevre.

Sometimes, when your eye is swollen from getting stung by bees because of your inability to get your net out in time, they’ll weep alongside you and, on rare occasions, even whip out some medicine to cure your pain. From letters in the morning to small talk during the day and even quiet companionship in the eerie hours of the night, my villagers are constantly looking out for me. 

I guess it’s the least they can do, considering that I pay for literally everything on the island, including infrastructure… but I understand that they’re doing their best and quite frankly? Their jokes, silly ideas, and strange gifts are what make them so them

Sometimes I’ll find my lazy villager singing along to “Bubblegum K.K.” and it makes my day. Other times, my sisterly villager comes up to me with bright eyes and asks if I want to play a game of treasure hunt with her, and it makes my day. Maybe in the afternoon, I’ll find my snooty villager sitting under a cherry tree enjoying a can of orange soda, and when I sit down next to her with my cushion, she’ll get up and leave without a backward glance. And it makes my day. 

So, I guess I’m saying two things. 

First: Nintendo, could we please get a hug feature? 

And second: My villagers — snooty or lazy or sisterly — might be pixelated animals on a screen, but they help me cope with the loneliness that quarantine has wrought in my life. They fill the hole that my real friends left when we suddenly couldn’t see each other anymore at school or even outside, and although it’s not the same, it’s something. 

And in difficult times like these, something means everything. 

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