How Animal Crossing saved my (everyday) life

You’re probably not one of the estimated 11 million people playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). This cute little time-waster has been called the game we all need right now – it hit the e-shelves on March 20th, just at the right time to occupy millions of kids and adults stuck at home with a Nintendo Switch and nowhere to go….including me.

I jumped on the ACNH bandwagon on March 29th, to give me something to do in the vast span of time between finishing work at 4.30pm and bedtime. This time used to be allocated to community work – meetings, admin etc. In lockdown, early evening was the hardest for me. I’m used to leaving work and racing around doing stuff – now I move from the study to the living room (four steps), and then what? After the first week in Alert Level 4, I was all caught up on my TV watching and podcast listening and wasn’t sure what to do next. ACNH was the perfect gap filler.

It’s a life-making game. You create your character and then find yourself on a small island with a few supplies and Tom Nook to help you find your way. The goal of the game is to decorate your island by planting flowers and trees, upgrade from a tent to a house (and then a bigger house) and make furniture. Once your island is looking sufficiently lush, you’ll get villagers come join you – up to ten little animal characters with their own interesting quirks (randomly selected from hundreds of possible animals). Your job is to make friends with them by spending time with them and giving them items so they can also live their best island life.

It’s really hard to explain why I love this game so much. It’s slow, there is nothing much going on, and no pressure to do much of anything. Most days when I’m playing, I potter around – fishing, tending my gardens, taking to my islanders. In fact, that’s exactly why I love it.

The whole family was playing the game during lockdown – me, Megan, Antony, Bronwen, Isaac and eventually Stephen. The game has a feature where you can fly to another player’s island for a visit, and trade items. It became a nice way to connect when we couldn’t see each other in person. Once we finished lockdown, the kids went back to regular life, but I am still playing daily. I find it relaxing, and I’ve grown fond of my little islanders on Taimoana (the name of my island).

A huge online world has opened up around the game too – it’s amazing! There are several YouTube and Twitch channels where people stream their playtime. There are Discord servers where you can share items and ideas. I’m sure it will come and go just like other fads have, but right now it’s a cultural phenomenon – maybe it will be studied one day!

How did I get here?

The last couple of months has been a wild ride. The world (and I mean the whole actual world) has been turned upside-down by Covid-19.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, and I just haven’t known where to start…

I’m in my seventh week of working from home – since March 23rd. What started as a small viral outbreak in China in December has swept the world and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 12th. Today, the stats look like this:

  • Worldwide cases: 3, 525, 116
  • Worldwide deaths: 243, 540
  • Highest deaths: USA 61,906; Italy 29,079; UK 28,734

It’s mind boggling, sad, and not about to end any time soon (although death rates are now slowing in most countries as they restrict movement of citizens).

New words and phrases have entered the lexicon – lockdown, bubble, flattening the curve, Zooming.

Lockdown

The New Zealand government put the country in full lockdown – Alert Level 4 – on March 25th. All but essential workers were expected to stay at home except for food shopping or exercising in our local area. All shops were closed except groceries and petrol stations. This ended on April 27th.

New Zealand is currently in Alert Level 3. This means that everyone who can work from home should do so, and everyone is expected to stay at home unless they are travelling for work, exercise or shopping. I’ve only left the house for walking/running and grocery shopping since March 20th. It’s the complete polar opposite of my regular life!

I’m looking forward to Alert Level 2 where we may be able to go out a little more often – businesses can open as long as they can follow some rules around maintaining physical distance (1 metre) and contact tracing.

At the moment, Alert Level 1 seems a long way off. That would mean the resumption of ‘normal’ life within New Zealand, but no travel outside of New Zealand.

The Bubble

My Level 4 bubble has been me, Stephen and Bronwen. We were excited to extend our Level 3 bubble to include Megan, Isaac, Antony, Wyatt and Arlia. These are the only people I get to have close contact with until Level 1.

Flattening the Curve

New Zealand, along with many other countries, has been focussed slowly the rate of transmission of the virus so that the health system is not overwhelmed with cases. New Zealand has been very successful at this – I think amongst the best in the world. We locked down early, stayed that way for a long time, and most people complied with the rules. That meant that we had a spike of cases followed by a gradual reduction over the last few weeks. It looks like this:

Zooming

Weirdly and suddenly, Zoom has been part of my everyday life. When we first started working from home, my team was using Skype. Then out of nowhere, Zoom appeared. Now I’m using it to connect with all kinds of people – colleagues, friends, family, community groups. I admit, I’m pretty Zoomed-out at the end of most days.

What my everyday looks like

I’m working from home, playing at home, everything at home.
Some days it’s a grind – I find it hard to stay focused and just want to get up and walk away. Lots of micro-pauses is the key – I take small breaks to have cups of tea, do a bit of crochet, watch a YouTube clip, or just sit in a chair in another room for five minutes.

I haven’t been able to go to the gym, go shopping (except for groceries and a bit online), or do any community work. This last one is hard! I’ve been a community busy-body for so long I hardly know what to do with myself!

But there is also a peace in staying at home – I’m safe and warm and being (fairly) productive. It’s starting to feel normal.