Animal Crossing gave me structure in an informal year

I have laid my foundation Animal Crossing: New Horizons Honkland Island just three days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country would be locked. I was pitching my tent and was about to deliver a bunch of supplies to Timmy Nook to help build the island’s general store.

I enjoyed my first one Deer crossingbut I hadn’t quite got to the point of getting it. The menus were slow to navigate and I wasn’t sure what I was working towards. Mining most of the material from each of my island rocks was a complicated process involving dug two holes and then pounding them repeatedly over several seconds. When picking fruit, a tree was first shaken and then each piece was picked up individually. It felt inefficient on purpose.

“As of tonight, I have a very simple instruction to give the British people: they must stay home,” said the Prime Minister during his March 23 address. “You shouldn’t meet friends. If your friends ask you to meet, say “no”. You shouldn’t meet family members who don’t live in your home. You shouldn’t go shopping except for essentials like groceries and medicines – and you should do it as little as possible. “

In the apartment, we tried to make the most of the situation while effectively taking a break in our lives. The evenings were replaced by marathon sessions from Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne. We were watching movies while holding a laptop open and making a Zoom call with friends we hadn’t seen in months. We bought elastic resistance bands and hung gymnastic rings over an old pull-up bar for group workouts on the weekends. And every evening I started up Deer crossing to see what to expect on Honkland.

The early hours of the game were just what I needed.
Image: Nintendo

Deer crossing is a game that is best played in short bursts because the series has a unique approach to the passage of time. In most games, time revolves around the player. It starts to pass when the game starts and ends. Almost everything happens on your terms. But Deer crossing takes place in real time. So if it’s March 23rd in the middle of the night in the real world, then March 23rd is in the middle of the game. (It is possible to change your console’s built-in clock to “time travel”, but for me, it ruins the fun.)

The approach makes it difficult to play indefinitely every day. After all, the rocks on your island will stop spewing out materials when you try to mine them and you will run out of fruit to pluck from your trees. You can still do things like hunting bugs and fish, but you will inevitably come across a task that needs to be done tomorrow. It’s a bold design that often makes you wait, while other games often trick you into just playing an extra hour. Normally I would have found the mechanic a little frustrating, but in a lockdown situation where time stood still for weeks, it was exactly what I needed. I couldn’t lose sight of time as I played it for hours. Instead, I had to keep track of the day of the week.

I have to work on my island. I cut the weeds, pulled in more villagers and started collecting living things to populate my island’s museum. I sold fruit, made bells (read: money) and spent them building bridges and ramps to help navigate the rough terrain of my island. It became a little hobby, something you could check in to once a day, a little project that built up bit by bit over time.

I have thought myself incredibly lucky for the past 12 months. Luckily, I was able to continue working from home and log into a computer at the end of my bed every day to chat with colleagues on Slack and conduct interviews on Zoom. Doing my little bit to help this year meant little more than staying home as much as possible. Deer crossing made that a bit more bearable.

Multiplayer helped me feel connected.
Image: Nintendo

It was Deer crossingThe multiplayer elements I needed the most during the first few months of the lockdown. It felt like the whole world was playing the game together as Twitter and Reddit filled with screenshots of the islands of the people as well as collaboration requests. At work we set up a special slack channel to share our island’s beet prices. Usually you can make a small profit by buying and selling beets on your own island, but you can make millions working as a team with other players and converging on another player’s island when there is a particularly good price for beets on a certain island offers day.

It’s strange how, in a year where so much history happened non-stop, time felt like it had stood still for weeks. Work five days in my bedroom, two days relax in my living room. Rinse, repeat. People joke about the weird time on the internet when events that feel like years ago only happened last week. This year, that strange feeling of internet time invaded the real world. Without leaving my apartment for more than a quick purchase, it was difficult to feel present at global events, no matter how important and life changing they were to so many.

As the months went by and the internet’s interest in the game waned, a steady stream of new features and events in the game gave me a reason to keep visiting Honkland. Nintendo added hedges and diving, and new characters like Redd, a Huckster who occasionally visits your island with “works of art” to sell. Celebrations like Halloween were marked with in-game events where the game was played on the correct day to see their content. Between big events and new functions, new bugs and fish were added every month, a gentle trickle of collectibles that could be found before they left.

It was important to have something to do, but this year in particular it was important for me to have the feeling that time is actually passing. Like many other people, I didn’t go on summer vacation or Halloween parties this year. I didn’t have a morning bike path to enjoy the country’s summer or watch its trees gradually turn an autumnal orange. Instead, the monthly check-in in Honkland reminded me that the seasons were still changing.