Settling in for an evening of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons

It’s the game that has taken the world by storm. Released on March 20, 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out at just the right time for us all, as coronavirus spread across the world and countries were forced into lockdown. Tia Sanders explores how the game has provided an escape for people all over.

For those not familiar with the game, Animal Crossing is a series from Nintendo that first came out in 2001, and has five editions and three spin-offs. The storyline involves your human character living in an area, usually of forest-nature, and working to make it better for your animal friends and neighbours.

New Horizons is set on a desert island that money-hungry raccoon, Tom Nook, wants to make a popular destination, with your help. You work to open a supply shop, a tailor‘s and a museum, as well as getting famed canine musician K.K. Slider to perform for your animal residents.

With over 31 million copies sold worldwide, 5 million in the first month of its release, it is no surprise that New Horizons was nominated for Best Game of the Year by numerous award bodies, winning in Japan.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the second best-selling game on Nintendo Switch and the best-selling game exclusive to the console. Credit: Nintendo

Featuring real-time gameplay, a calming soundtrack, and continuous story progression, New Horizons has provided some much-needed escapism for people since the start of the pandemic.

Bryony-Elissa Villiers, a 20-year-old learning support assistant from Lincolnshire, has played for over 200 hours, working to get her island looking the best it can be. “I find it a great source of escapism as it is really interactive and provides you that joy that sometimes reality lacks.

“I envelop myself in the game and find it so easy to get lost in it and spend hours on it. It’s so helpful in reducing my stress, as work can be quite stressful at the moment. There’s something very therapeutic about interacting with little animals.”

Keeping in contact with far-away friends via New Horizons. Credit: Bryony-Elissa Villiers

“The additional activities in-game, like the terraforming [altering your island’s landscape] are really cool too. I recently redid my entire island, it took a while but it was worth it, and it’s nice to spend that time on something I enjoy.”

You can play with your friends who have the game too, and visit each others‘ island, which is really important as we can‘t see each other properly right now.”

Steff Hanson, who is a content creator, voluntary social media assistant and furloughed cinema worker from Worcestershire, has been playing the game since it first came out last year.

“It definitely provides escapism for me as I can make my house and island the way I like it, and I find the music and beaches relaxing.

“I also treat my house in the game as a retreat in a way, somewhere where I virtually go to calm down too. I also love my villagers and it feels like a community even though they’re virtual animals.”

Living on an island with wholesome animal neighbours is a dream many of us wish was reality. Credit: Steff Hanson

The 25-year-old has managed to clock up over 465 hours of gameplay throughout this pandemic, but she says it has been a massive support to her.

“It helps me to forget about the lockdown and the stress of reaching hurdles within my online jobs. It also got me into creating gaming content for my Youtube channel, as well as starting streaming. Having extra content to share with my viewers can be difficult when I can’t go anywhere interesting because of the pandemic, so it’s been really helpful there too.”

Although I‘ve only had New Horizons myself for two weeks, I’ve got over 50 hours played, which I’ve somehow juggled alongside university lectures and assignments. I can see how easy it is to dedicate hundreds of hours to the game, and it definitely distracts from the realities we face.