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Animal Crossing is a franchise which has seemingly avoided me my entire life, and the new release comes at a pivotal moment in time and in my life. I didn’t know what to expect when I began to play New Horizons, except for the light mechanics which I saw when I played the multiplayer demo at PAX East. When I began to sit down and have a solo experience, it was radically different for me, and it helped de-stress in ways I didn’t foresee.
I’ve always enjoyed working outside. I like having the sun beat down on me, I love breaking a sweat. The biggest thing for me is that I can see the physical side of the work I have put in. If I spent four hours clearing out and weeding a plot of land, and then have someone come in and plant some seeds, that brings me lots of pure joy. I like doing the nitty-gritty work, because it makes me feel good and it’s incredibly rewarding.
There’s something special about that work, which has always made me love it. Between growing crops for people who don’t have access to the resource or simply just teaching the basics when it comes to agriculture in some regards. Even teaching people how to use tools properly, anything I can do to help grants me the feeling that I am giving back in a very special and intimate way. However, due to certain circumstances going on in the world, the current effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, I am currently unable to do this. Specifically help out at my community garden.
However, when I began to play New Horizons, it had seemingly begun to fill that part of my life. There is that special kind of magic that happens when I am digging holes to plant flowers or trees. It doesn’t really fill that void but it is a nice temporary replacement for now. For me, tending the land in Animal Crossing is arguably my favorite part. That’s not because of the fact that I am making the island look how I want it to look, in fact it’s the complete opposite. I am planting fruit trees near the villager’s houses and flowers near their homes because it grants me that feeling of helping and giving to the people who need it.
It helps me build that sense of community which is so crucial to me when I volunteer. While I’m not teaching the villagers how to directly do the things I am actively doing, I am giving them the literal fruits of my labor. It’s fulfilling something inside me that I didn’t think I needed right now, and by helping more animals come to my island, building up that community feels good. There has always been something special to me about helping out returning community members and newcomers.
While I am not able to help out and leave my house, loading up to this fictional island where I am able to do similar tasks out in the world makes me happy. I would usually volunteer after working my nine hour work day, and I would do another four to five hours of volunteer work. While certainly a lot of labor, I find it extremely cathartic and mediative. If I am having a bad day, or had a bad day, then I would drive to the garden and work to get those demons out. Going onto my island is doing just that, not to the extent which I would like, but it’s helping in those regards.
These familiar feelings weren’t expected when I began to play Animal Crossing, but over time I began to see the simple correlations between the work I would do in the real world and in the game. Part of me wants to blame the realistic day-night cycle, but it serves a greater purpose for me. Nothing magically grows out of nowhere, it takes time. Lots of time actually, and while it speeds up the growth cycle of nature – I’m looking at you trees, you guys don’t magically grow in three to four days – it helps to give me hope in this dark time.
If I am not able to serve the community in any meaningful way, then I will find some way to replace that part of my life in any way I can.
If you are enjoying helping out your little community in Animal Crossing like me, then I implore you to find some way to give back to your community. Whether it be volunteering at a garden, helping organize fundraisers, or even helping out at your place of worship. There is something so incredibly fulfilling about doing this work, and it makes you feel closer to your community. When this all passes, there will be people who need your help to get back on their feet. You can make a difference. It all starts somewhere.