Animal Crossing. If you don't play it yourself you will still no doubt have heard about in the media recently. It's been called the 'perfect game for quarantine' and it has millions of adults globally heading to their islands multiple times a day, occasionally to be delighted by a visit from (also quarantined) celebrities including Elijah Wood, Danny Trejo and Dylan Sprouse.
What it may surprise you to learn is that experts – psychologists, doctors and recovery specialists – all seem to agree that taking control of an initially deserted island while presiding over a 'neighborhood' filled with cute looking talking animal characters does indeed have valuable psychological benefits in these uncertain times. Here's a look at why that is.
What is Animal Crossing Anyway?
As a franchise, Animal Crossing has been around for over 20 years, and it already had a devoted global following. The latest installment, the one getting all the press – Animal Crossing New Horizons – had been slated for a 2019 release, but to gamers disappointment that was pushed back to March 20, 2020, coinciding with the escalation of COVID-19 and the lockdowns and work at home orders that have followed.
In essence the game is simple. You, a human, have chosen to start a new life on a deserted island. Not so deserted though, as one of your tasks as 'Island Representative' is to attract nine others to share your paradise while also hosting others at your campsite.
You spend your days fishing, catching bugs, picking fruit and landscaping your island. You have some no pressure tasks to complete and you do owe – at least in beginning – a significant debt to a character called Tom Nook (who is probably a raccoon) for your home but his repayment demands are lax.
This video offers a look at a little typical gameplay:
How Animal Crossing Is Helping Millions of Adults Through COVID-19 Quarantine
At the time of writing Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold 13.41 million copies to date. Sales of the console on which it is played – the Nintendo Switch – have skyrocketed, and it now isn't easy to find (although the Switch Lite is being restocked everywhere) The audience is largely adult – and primarily a Millennial and Gen X one – and, as we mentioned many are hailing it as a great help in managing the mental health challenges life in a pandemic creates. But why?
It Brings Calm
Things are far from calm right now, and anxiety, the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the world, is on the rise. The news is depressing – and even terrifying to watch – even WHO issued a warning against watching too much of it – and we are cut off physically from most of our friends and family.
The calm world of Animal Crossing is an antidote to all of that. All is well on (insert your island's name here) and many people are finding that fact a huge comfort.
It Brings Rewards
In the world we live in, there are two unfortunate realities:
- While hard work is often necessary for success, it does not guarantee success. We can work incredibly hard at something and yet still be unsuccessful.
- Life is often not as rewarding as it could be. For example, we study for years to receive a diploma as a reward, and employees may wait month to receive a financial reward for their hard work.
To combat the lack of rewards in our daily life, psychologists recommend setting goals for ourselves that give us a sense of achievement and fulfillment When we look at our to-do list and see everything ticked off for the day, we feel good about ourselves due to receiving a rush of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that improves our mood, helps us to relax, and can even act as a natural pain relief
Animal Crossing not only allows us to set ourselves goals for the day (for example, raising enough money to pay for a bridge for the island), but Animal Crossing as a game series typically comes with built-in goals.
Common goals in the Animal Crossing series include paying off your house debt with Tom Nook, completing fashion challenges (e.g. dressing head-to-toe in ‘comfy’ clothing), and completing the game’s museum of fish, bugs and fossils.
The beauty of these goals is that they are commonly achieved with good old-fashioned hard work. For example, people are paying off their home loan in New Horizons by repeatedly catching and selling pockets filled with tarantulas (yes, seriously) or harvesting cherries, apples and pears and selling them to Tom Nook's kids.
In a world that often seems unfair, Animal Crossing is a game where you are frequently rewarded for hard work and perseverance. While you won’t get a diploma or paycheck from it, it’s a nice getaway into a digital world where hard work and persistence often pays off, and our brain rewards us for it in the form of happy, positive feelings.
It Brings Social Interaction
Since Animal Crossing: Wild World, – a previous incarnation of the game – players have had the ability to visit each other’s towns and islands. This can enhance our COVID-19 social lives in two ways.
First of all, it allows us to connect and spend time with our friends and family from the comfort of our own home. This is especially helpful in the current worldwide situation, with friends even organizing Animal Crossing weddings for those who have had to cancel their wedding.
Animal Crossing helps us stay connected and make precious memories with our loved ones, which is helpful for both introverts and extraverts. The user-friendly and basic nature of the game means that there is a low barrier to entry, so we could theoretically play with our parents and grandparents while in isolation (and many are)
Secondly, Animal Crossing has a bustling and multifaceted online community. Whether you’re trading items, engaging in the stalk market (the series’ humorous take on the stock market), or just inviting people to hang out at your island, there are many opportunities to make new friends in the Animal Crossing community.
The benefits of playing games with others online has been highlighted in research by psychologists Cole and Griffiths (2007). They found that 75% of those surveyed made good friends due to playing online games, and 30% met a romantic partner through a game. These friendships are often of a high quality, with over one in three people stating that they talk to their online friends about problems that they wouldn’t talk to their offline friends about.
Animal Crossing can keep you entertained socially by engaging with and watching the antics of personality-filled animals, or it can be a relaxing and fun way to stay connected with loved ones or even meet new friends. And maybe even a few celebrities.