Unlike most millennials, I haven't purchased a new video game system in at least a decade. I do have a video game library, though it consists entirely of Nintendo and Sega Genesis cartridges. I tend to be vexed by any game that requires more than three buttons.
But even I went hunting for a Nintendo Switch the moment it became clear COVID-related quarantining would last longer than a couple weeks. The Switch has moved 55 million units since hitting the market in 2017, but its numbers really went through the roof in March, which is when seemingly every retailer was sold out of them.
That boom coincided with the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which everyone, including your favorite Twitter celebrities, seemed to be playing. If you aren't familiar, the Animal Crossing series is part "life simulation," part task-oriented RPG, and this fifth entry begins with your avatar moving to a deserted island with some charming anthropomorphic animals. You wander around at your leisure, completing such objectives as planting trees, catching fish, and gathering branches to craft into tools. It's refreshingly conflict-free.
In March, New Horizons sold more digital copies in a month than any game before it. The boost was no doubt a byproduct of global self-isolation, as well as a universal desire to vicariously inhabit a place where everyone's always smiling and a broken butterfly net is your greatest inconvenience. Surely, though, there's an irony in millions of people escaping the nuisances of the adult world via a game that involves performing menial chores, paying off debts and engaging in small talk — you know, all the nuisances of the adult world.
I've managed to log about 50 hours of Animal Crossing in the last month, which is nothing compared to the hundreds of hours some friends have played. It sounds ridiculous, but I'm really enjoying disappearing into a game in which I've spent untold minutes pulling weeds. There's also something quaint about a 2020 game that lets you purchase an insane variety of in-game items but makes you wait for the next day's mail to receive it.
As I wander around my personal island of Amity (named for the town in Jaws, though the sharks here are friendly) with its jaunty theme tune floating along on the salty virtual breeze, I feel relaxed. Even for someone as video game-illiterate as me, I understand that's the appeal.
Games that harness kinetic energy and require a gunslinger's hand-eye coordination — not my jam. But one that lets me go fishing all day at my own speed? I'm on island time now. ♦