words by Lewis Empson
In our recent article discussing completionists versus casuals, I admitted that although Animal Crossing was definitely the game to keep boredom at bay during the first major lockdown, I swiftly dropped it as soon as lockdown rules relaxed and never returned to my island paradise that I had spent hours trying to pay off from the greedy capitalist paws of Tom Nook. Ever since my final trip to my island home, I have genuinely felt guilty about abandoning it; from the carefully laid out houses and shops, to my community of villagers, there was this guilt brewing deep within me for never going back. There was a tipping point to which I knew I couldn’t go back, so Animal Crossing: New Horizon sat gathering dust on my Switch homepage for months on end.
I have mustered up the courage to return, inspired by sharing my shame and also, surprisingly, by so many other people admitting to doing the same. TikTok was particularly awash with guilty gamers professing to leaving their villagers unattended for months on end; a far departure from the unending slue of videos from those same people who bought Switch consoles with the specific purpose to play New Horizons. Seeing this strange inverted trend, watching a game getting such public and immense hype in casual audiences to then be turned on and have so many people in that initial hype group disown it and make a trend of abandoning it, was a peculiar phenomenon.
I shall clarify now, I never left the game for this reason; for me it fell victim to the reemergence of IRL life – which feels really weird to say. New Horizons was the perfect escapism during the strictest lockdown, a way for me to relax in a new environment that wasn’t my bedroom or back yard, yet when actual freedom was reinstated, my virtual escapism felt no longer necessary and I just didn’t end up finding time for it.
Now enough of the excuses as to why I wasted arduous amounts of time planting flowers and chopping trees (and not to mention £50), here’s the part I have been dreading. Dropping back into New Horizons, I was expecting to be met with an unkempt island, villagers that had vendettas against me for abandoning them, and Tom Nook ready to relieve me of my virtual kneecaps for failing to meet my loan payments – it had been 9 months after all.
But none of this was the case surprisingly. I loaded into an island that was basically unchanged, blooming with spring flowers (I had obviously missed the winter season) and still chirping with upbeat tunes and smiling villagers. When I got to talking with my residents they all had varying reactions that all lead along the same lines of “oh you’re back? It’s been nine months!” None of them were angry or resented me, in fact most of them were either excited to see me or were upset that I had left them for so long but were still relieved to see my digital avatar still alive. Now in any other game I wouldn’t care this much about NPC characters, but considering how each of these villagers have different personalities, back stories and history with my avatar; it was kind of daunting talking to them again. It was sort of like messaging a friend you haven’t spoken too in a long time with that first awkward “heeey its been a while”.
Now I’m still undecided if their reactions made me feel relieved or more guilty. Relieved in a sense that I was accepted back into this digital community that I had put hours into and became immersed within during a particularly not-so-great time; in the grand scheme of things shouldn’t mean that much to me but it’s oddly sentimental. And guilty in the sense that they weren’t mad at me for leaving, just sad and disappointed but also ready to forgive me; curse these virtual anthropomorphic animals for making me feel emotion.
I think that Animal Crossing has always been this unique example of a game that requires commitment to a level that you become so personally invested and begin to intertwine your daily routines that it almost breaks out into its own genre. The fact that it feels so realistic in its simulated life despite it being a cartoon game about talking animal villages has always intrigued me and this new perspective has made me want to try my hardest to get back into it – consider it a new gaming resolution for me, although, I won’t make any promises.
And if you too have an island gathering cobwebs that you’re dreading to return too then I advise taking the plunge, New Horizons has just received some crazy new Super Mario tie in content and its a world that’s constantly expanding with free updates so there’s plenty of content that’s worth checking out that’ll get you invested in the game again – you’ve got nothing to loose although you may have to come to terms with abandoning all of your furry, feathery and scaly friends… happy Crossing!
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