We’re living in unprecedented times, the world as we know it has come to a stand still and for some of us, it’s becoming a really difficult place to navigate. Everyone is fighting their own battle, for a lot of us, our education has come to a stand still, for others, the loss of jobs. It’s a time of immense pressure and stress, and the world has become a very scary place – perhaps this is why so many of us are seeking refuge in an entirely different world – the virtual world of animal crossing.
As someone who struggles with insomnia, the moments I find the most difficult whilst I get to grips with the current state of the world, is when the rest of the world is asleep and I’m left alone with my thoughts. It’s in these moments of desperation, where the world seems most dark, that I often reach for my device which transcends geographical and economic boundaries and instantaneously transports me to a world where I can have companionship (even though it’s from anthropomorphic animals).
Like so many other millenials, the world of animal crossing has always been special to me. In fact, I was first introduced to it over a decade ago with the release of Animal Crossing New Leaf in 2005. Perhaps this is the reason I was reluctant to purchase this one straight away – could playing a game as an adult really be as compelling as it was all those years ago? It’s true, this game does feel different. Of course – there is a sense of nostalgia, reminiscent of my childhood imagination. But this time, the game means more. It resonates with me on a completely new level – and I have a more appreciative and psychological connection with it. In a world that is scary and overwhelming, something that allows me to detach from my real life worries and stresses, even momentarily is a great comfort.
Unlike other games on the market – animal crossing differs, in fact, there is no real purpose to it. One is simply able to amble around an island, fishing, tending to wildlife and chatting with villagers. Perhaps this is why it is so appealing – anyone, anywhere can use it, regardless of your age or gender. In fact, animal crossing actively promotes social connection, which is essential given today’s climate where there is an overwhelming sense of detachment and isolation. On the surface, this game sounds boring – what is the point of playing if there is no end goal? But
that is part of the attraction- we are reminded that it is the mundane which should be celebrated and is almost a metaphor for life in general. What echoes this sentiment is the fact that animal crossing is set in real time – making it replicate the real life even more. Yet there is never any need to rush and this calmness is so good for anxiety.
With the coronavirus pandemic in mind, I think what a lot of us are struggling to come to terms with is this loss of control – both our work and social lives have been taken away from us, and animal crossing gives us what were seeking – a world that is entirely our own that is free from the bounds of humanity. Our virtual worlds provide us with the solace and control over that we long for, reminiscent of our lives just a matter of weeks ago (which seems like a distant memory). Animal Crossing helps give us some form of stability – and helps us have some sort of routine. This also helps us feel as though we are being productive, when the world of economics is falling – we are still able to pay our mortgage and these goals are made attainable.
People with depression don’t tend to see themselves as worthy, and often end up neglecting themselves since it’s difficult to look after yourself when you fail to see yourself as a priority. This is often why counsellors use the analogy of looking after yourself as you would a baby.. This detachment theory can be applied to the appeal of animal crossing, since you are responsible for a smaller, virtual version of yourself. Unlike other games, animal crossing actively encourages you to form social connections, which is a daunting prospect in the real world for some. This concept of looking after your ‘self’ can help in terms of confidence and self esteem, as well as establishing your identity. Thinking of yourself in the third person helps you to be kinder with yourself, whilst you externalise your problems.
Although comparing a virtual world to the real world is inevitably flawed, and games alone won’t eradicate your real life problems, they can, however, help to equip you with tools that you can implement into your real life as well as providing you with the solace and strength to carry on.