Animal Crossing: New Horizon – One Year On

Animal Crossing: New Horizon – One Year On

Happy Anniversary to one of the best games in, well, a lot of things really. Unpredictable is too kind of a word when describing the success of New Horizons. Nintendo wanted us to play this game for a long time, and they’re keeping their word. However, I’m pretty sure the popularity and fanbase of NH has altered those plans for the better.

Who would’ve known that three years after the release of the Switch, Animal Crossing would’ve beaten Pokemon, Zelda, Mario, and Spaltoon in terms of hype, profit, and maybe even fanbase. There’s now an entirely new generation of young Animal Crossing fans. One day, twenty years from now, the eight-year-olds of today will remember New Horizons with fondness before returning to the latest and greatest entry of the series.

Yes I fully believe that Nintendo is immortal and timeless, unlike other companies I will not mention in my semi-wholesome games piece. And how could I not? If humanity doesn’t completely wipe itself out, Mario and Link will be 100 years old one day. I’m pretty sure they will be bowing down to Kirby; last survivor of Smash and Master of Never Having A Bad Game. And Isabelle will be right there next to them.

Animal Crossing’s history has its hiccups along with its highlights. I never played Happy Home Designer and happily never will. New Horizons quality of life doesn’t compare to the flavor of the earlier games, as Jaiden Animations so delightfully put it in her video. Unlike Kirby, Animal Crossing has never been a perfect series and New Horizons isn’t a perfect game.

Bunny Day, the first major event after the game’s release, was a major failure and the absolute worst and biggest misstep from the game’s first year. I have little faith in the event’s improvement and am currently having nightmares of Zipper’s return. Wedding Season became stale quickly. The rest of the holiday events, while repetitive and swiftly lost their charm, we’re still enjoyable leading to the buildup of the big day. May Day, the shortest event, was the sweetest and most heartfelt with the brief return of Rover and gifting of his suitcase. I miss him everyday.

While the events were hit and miss, the free updates were the nail Nintendo hit on the head. Who doesn’t love new themed items to decorate their space with? The reward of earning the entire set was an event of its own. While not my favorite set because I’ve been traumatized by all things mermaid, opening the ocean and bringing back Pascal was the most fun I’ve had finding set pieces. Sadly however, it’s been an entire year, and there’s still no sign on Brewster. Nintendo, whatever you’re doing, I trust you, but please, please bring back my boy… I don’t know how much longer I can go without my favorite character anymore.

I would say, about 30% of the reason why I’ve loved this game over the past year, and the series as a whole, is for its aesthetic. When I think of Nintendo’s aesthetic as a whole, I think Animal Crossing. 

There’s a great sense of comfort I find when playing Nintendo games. Splatoon gets my heart pumping in a way only running though sandy summer beaches can. Braving the storm and traversing through Hyrule on top of Epona, reminds me of rainy spring days indoors. And Mario is, well Mario is just perfect at any time of the year. But I do prefer to escape into the world of Odyssey than be outdoors in the shit fucking cold ass Michigan winter.

Animal Crossing is all of that rolled into one. The steady passage of time, the friendly immersion into a welcoming world, the pleasantness of a peaceful, rainy day. I have too much empathy in my heart to exactly describe my affections towards Animal Crossing. Maybe because it’s a very personal game to me. I’ve already gone on record in a video of my own on how New Leaf once helped me cope with extreme depression, insomnia, and constant suicidal thoughts. I’m forever grateful to that game and this one in return.

I recently gave away my 3DS with full knowledge I’ll never play New Leaf again. My deep connection to the game will never withdraw, but the tie was severed long ago. I’ve lost interest in my 3DS. It no longer served me and, as a minimalist, I knew it was time to let it go. The Switch is my baby now. I already mailed my PS4 and Wii U to friends with all of their games, the 3DS was my last gaming system to leave me.

So, in my endless attempt to escape the abusive hellhole I’m trapped in until college, I gave the Switch to my current partner. “One less thing I’ll have to drag with me to “med school”.” I told her. It honestly was, and I knew the handheld would be safe with her. She happily took it, and jokingly got upset at me for giving her yet another physical item for free. She mainly wanted it for the chance to finally play New Leaf. She also hacked the shit out of it, made it Jojo themed just for my amusement, and started Ace Attorney based on my recommendation. Thanks my girl :).

Since then, she reported to me how grateful she is to have my old 3DS and how much fun she’s having with New Leaf. Just like me, she has her bad days. And just like me, New Leaf has been keeping her company. She loves playing her 3DS in bed at night, and told me New Leaf helps her fall asleep as it makes her feel more at peace.

In recent days, I’ve been working on my island, happy with the progress, wondering how she’ll like it when she finally visits me. Her finally visiting my island makes me all the more hopefully for a Switch Pro. I plan on pre-ordering it the instant it drops. Once it arrives I’m selling my current Switch to her, because she won’t allow me to give it to her for free lol. Hopefully then, my island will be ready.

When I think about that connection, and how I’ll be a little less lonely in college, many states and a nine hour drive away from her, some of my anxiety slips away. 

When Nick recorded his section on the game in his “2020 Best Of The Year” video, he said that Animal Crossing made us all feel normal again. I’ve been thinking about that a lot while drafting this article. Because he was right when he said that, and he doesn’t even play the game! But it hits differently now due to how I’ve been holding up in recent days.

I’ve been pretty open about my mental health for sometime now. I’m not ashamed to be open about it to strangers on the internet. I don’t want any sympathy, I want to promote a conversation and help whoever out there feel a little less alone. I got diagnosed with PTSD on Monday. Thankfully it’s not complex PTSD, but it is pretty bad. The diagnosis wasn’t what fucked me up, it was my lack of shock at being told I was checking off all the boxes. During this, my abuse was once again being reinforced. 

I was told it didn’t matter, to apologize, that I was being disrespectful. When I said no, I was exhausted, and wouldn’t apologize or accept an apology because it was abuse, eyes rolled. Thank you assholes, for continuing to make me feel worthless. Thank you for once again making me cling onto my humanity and identity with an iron grip while it’s once again being ripped away from me. Thank you for once again reducing me, a grown ass woman, into a pathetic child.

This was all in the span of three weeks and I felt broken for some time. During that time, I allowed myself to reach for Animal Crossing. A luxury I hadn’t properly given myself in months because I just felt too busy for video games. My less-than-a-quarter-done Christmas decorations still up, and too much empty space to bare from the last remodeling attempt. I relocated the yoga studio and a villager home, rebuilt a gym and created a shared lawn for two homes. Worked on backyards, a mini campsite was placed, finally made use of that phone booth that was lying around. I killed all the cockroaches that’ve been plaguing me for months, made a movie theater, fishing holes, and started a rock garden just in time for spring.

I once heard a story about a group of people who were very ill. They were complete strangers to each other, all a part of the same therapy group for depression. The group was given a garden, and over the span of a few months, they found that when the garden grew, they grew with it. They connected with each other, became worried when one member wasn’t present in the garden. And they all worked together in harmony to help the garden flourish. 

This is a similar feeling I find when playing Animal Crossing during my worst days. With every path made, every item placed, strolling through the island I created and watching it grow made me feel a little more sane and whole again. On my best days Animal Crossing is a cozy companion, on my worst, it’s my coping mechanism.

Animal Crossing and mental illness is a long standing topic in the game’s history. My story is one of many that can attest to the game’s healing abilities. Last year, mental health was collective challenged on a global scale and it’s tragically still ongoing. Thankfully, we still have New Horizons.

The social aspect of New Horizons is what made many fans, including myself, declare it as the best installment of the series. Thanks to the power of the good ol’ internet, the game grew to unimaginable heights. I’ve made use of the marketplaces on Reddit and Nookazon. What I love about those platforms is the chance to invite complete strangers to my island just to rehome some inventory.

There was one time a player returned to my island just to say hi to a villager who was his buddy in New Leaf. Who was I to deny their friendship? I hope they’re enjoying their time together after he moved out. He explored my horrible island that’s trapped in a constant state of ‘work-in-progress’. Came into my home and before he left I gave him my spare Cloud Floor just for the hell of it. 

It’s those interactions that I love and remember the most when I play video games. My team cheering me on as Mercy while we escorted the payload. Building giant stadiums in Minecraft with friends over summer. Even just gushing with my partner about our favorite titty mods for The Sims 4. Those little wholesome interactions have elevated to a grander scale when the entire internet is playing New Horizons.

I love the memes and comics. The recent video on the sub reddit where a disabilied player is enjoying the game with the help of a mod. I smile everytime I need a new collab and merch. Though I will not partake in them, I know it’ll make someone happy. Hell, I even made my partner a purse that looks like a Bell Bag. She’s going to use it as a 3DS carrying case. God I wish I could marry that woman.

It’s only in the time we’re living in that we can have a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Only with a game that allows for so much creativity and a steady internet connection, that we can have entire recreations of Hamilton and Spongebob episodes. Where we can live out our Cottagecore fantasies, be whoever we want without judgement, and just, escape. Escape into a dream world where we can protest in peace and have virtual tea parties. Where I can receive a box of chocolates from a friend on the other side of the world. Where nothing at all can harm us. And everyday is pleasant while we live in the present moment.

Sometimes I need to be brought back down to earth. When abuse and anxiety takes over, I forget the lessons I’ve learned over the past years. When I’m really, desperately sick, I reach over for my Switch and play Animal Crossing.

Because Animal Crossing is the ultimate reminder of all that is good. A day, a friend, a flower, an outing. The little things and moments that we take for granted so much. And that’s combined with the underrated stress reliever known as creativity and art. There’s a great amount of pleasure and health to be found in the psychology of making things for fun that I will not get into here. But the opportunity found in New Horizons in terms of the psychological joy of creation is part of what makes Animal Crossing, Animal Crossing. And in New Horizons, it’s better than before.

Maybe I’ll get into that psychology soon in another article or video on Unboxed. But for now, I, along with many others, want to celebrate. This was my story of one year escaping into my New Horizon, and there’s many more out there being shared at this moment. To my fellow players, I look forward to another year with you. I’ll continue to silently lurk and gaze in awe at your creations and creativity. Continue to feel the warm fuzzies at your wholesome interactions and achievements. Continue to dread Bunny Day…

So, here’s to another year of health and freedom in Animal Crossing. Let’s try to make the world a little safer, but remember to take care of ourselves as well.

Be seeing you on the New Horizon. And hopefully, one day, beyond.