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‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ is exactly what we need right now

The newly released game is the perfect tool for getting through social distancing

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As seen by its status as a new internet meme at this point, “Animal Crossing” couldn’t have come at a better time.

My Animal Crossing: New Horizons avatar stands outside her home.

Screenshot, Nintendo

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” the fifth installment in the popular Nintendo game series, was released last Friday.

The game places your customizable character on a deserted island to start a new community with just two other villagers — I got Coach, a bull who loves working out and Mira, a friendly yellow bunny — and the Nooks, the business moguls behind the whole endeavor.

After naming your new island community, its time to get to work, making tools, decorating, fishing, gathering fruits, catching bugs and building relationships with neighbors.

This is exactly the kind of game we need right now.

“Animal Crossing” is a uniquely peaceful game, with calming music, aesthetics and no real competitiveness about it. It’s also uniquely accessible. The game is a hit with all ages as its incredibly engaging while still being family-friendly.

Previous editions of the game have brought joy to senior citizens by providing them with a social outlet and opportunity to interact with new — albeit virtual — friends.

Now, we’re all finding ourselves in a similar position to those senior citizens. Amidst concerns over COVID-19, people have been asked to socially distance and even quarantine to slow the spread. While this is a vital step to flatten the curve, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this, but it’s made life lonely.

Which is where “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” comes in.

According to Nintendo Life, Katsuya Eguchi, the game’s creator, once said in an interview:

Animal Crossing features three themes: family, friendship and community. But the reason I wanted to investigate them was a result of being so lonely when I arrived in Kyoto! Chiba is east of Tokyo and quite a distance from Kyoto, and when I moved there I left my family and friends behind. In doing so, I realized that being close to them – being able to spend time with them, talk to them, play with them – was such a great, important thing. I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind the original Animal Crossing.

In a time when we are separated from our family, friends and community, “Animal Crossing” becomes more important than ever. Not only does the game offer a virtual community, it has the most advanced multiplayer set up in the series — enabling players to visit their friends’ unique communities, chat and do in-game activities together.

For example, yesterday evening, I visited a friend on his island. We toured his recently built museum together, an activity that seems almost unimaginable in actuality as many museums across the world are closed. “Animal Crossing” provided my friend and I a fun way to be together, while apart.

My friend Jake and I tour his freshly built museum while playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

My friend Jake and I tour his freshly built museum while playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

Screenshot, Nintendo

In “Animal Crossing,” you’re rewarded for talking to your in-game neighbors every day, even if it’s just a short chat. It reminded me to reach out to loved ones I cannot see — even if it’s just a short chat — so we could reap those real-life benefits and maintain our relationships.

The game provides some opportunities that used to seem a lot less magical. For example, I traveled to and explored unknown islands at my leisure. The idea of taking a vacation right now seems like an absolute work of fiction, an absolute impossibility.

But, surprisingly, the most soothing part of the game was the control. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is extremely customizable, and it’s all up to you. You get to name the island, create your own clothes, decide who gets to stay and who leaves, design your house and even terraform the land. Everyone on the island looks to you as de facto leader.

In a time where I can’t control where I go, what supplies are available and who I get to see, “Animal Crossing” and its customizability offers a unique comfort, making it the perfect game to get us all through this troubling time.