If you asked me in April who Tom Nook was and why he needed bells from me, I would’ve suspected that you were having a stroke. If you were to ask me the same question now, I would tell you that Tom Nook is a raccoon to whom I owe money.
I’ve been really annoying this summer about Animal Crossing. You know, the game where you move to a remote island and build it from the ground up for you and your island neighbors — who just so happen to all be animals — while paying back an enormous debt to raccoon landlord Tom Nook. The game has basically been around forever, but the newest version, New Horizons, dropped in March.
Anytime someone has asked me on a Zoom call what my quarantine has looked like for the past four months or so, my answer has been Animal Crossing — with a little bit of embroidery sprinkled in.
It’s easy to exaggerate in times like these, but when I say it’s all that my quarantine has consisted of, I mean it. For a long time, my brain didn’t have the capacity it takes to read a book. Every time I tried to watch a show, I’d just zone out and before I knew it, I was 20 minutes into Grey’s Anatomy and didn’t know why Meredith and Derek were fighting. And going on social media just made me sad.
But, in Animal Crossing, there was no such thing as coronavirus or wildfires or death. All I had to do was catch bugs and fish, dig for fossils, terraform the island into something resembling functional infrastructure, and do construction on my house.
And that was so much more manageable than simply living my life.
To be frank, there was a time in quarantine when Animal Crossing was the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning. After watching my life in the big city dissolve into nothing over the course of my spring break, losing my college graduation and all job prospects, and moving back into my parents’ house across the hall where I used to sleep in diapers, my life felt empty.
Gone was my routine, my friends, my future — and with them, my self-esteem, higher brain function, and reason to get out of bed in the morning. I felt hopelessly lost.
But, when I splurged on a Nintendo Switch Lite and a digital version of Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a graduation present to myself, my virtual island (named Port Odell) became my one and only escape. While I once spent early mornings wondering if I could pull off sleeping through the day because getting out of bed seemed too hard, Animal Crossing gave me something to get up for. Instead of thinking about how today would be just like yesterday and tomorrow would be just like today, I would think about the star fragments that had probably washed up on my beach overnight or what the hot items might be at Nook’s Cranny. Instead of stressing myself out over job prospects that seemingly weren’t out there, I’d think about all the work I had left on my zen garden or my mini-diner, or my tulip garden. So, I’d reluctantly put on my glasses, pour myself a cup of iced coffee, and get to work on my island.
And for those hours I spent hunched over my teal Switch, things felt okay. I could forget about my ever-so-distant dream of having an apartment of my own — with a cilantro plant in the kitchen windowsill and all the coffee appliances my little heart desired — in lieu of decorating my Animal Crossing house with things I could never afford in real life — like a brand new couch.
I could forget about my hopelessness if only for a little while and enter a world where my only worries were getting stung by a wasp and what to do with all my flowers.
I’ve never been a video game person — aside from being terrible at Super Smash Brothers on GameCube at friends’ houses. But, I can honestly say that Animal Crossing: New Horizons saved me this summer. No thanks to Tom Nook.