A scene from the video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Arts, Culture & Media

Amid pandemic, Animal Crossing gamers create dreamy ‘islands,’ travel and mingle with friendly (and really cute) animal neighbors

As the coronavirus continues to upend the lives of people around the world, many are using the simulation game to live out experiences and routines disrupted by the pandemic — and for a sense of normalcy and connection.

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In the popular video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players create the islands of their dreams — and they have to take care of it.  

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Courtesy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons/Nintendo 

John Shiell and Ashleigh Price-Bell had big plans for their wedding day. The couple, who are both primary school teachers in Melbourne, Australia, were set to say their “I dos” at their destination wedding, scheduled for early April. But like many couples around the world, they had to postpone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were pretty distraught,” Shiell said. “We were holding out … but we ended up having to postpone the wedding within single digits of the actual wedding day.”

Related: Many people aren’t putting love on hold during COVID-19

But the wedding did go on. Not in Australia, but on a virtual island.

Friends and fans of Shiell's — he streams on Twitch and other platforms as @Metalfear4 — organized a virtual wedding ceremony for the couple on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest installment of a beloved video game series by Nintendo.

“It was amazing,” Shiell said.

As the coronavirus continues to upend the lives of people around the world, many are using the simulation game to live out experiences and routines disrupted by the pandemic — and for a sense of normalcy and connection.

“We've become a planet of anxiety sufferers. And I think so many people are finding the game is just a place they can allow themselves to be absorbed by just for a while, where the scariness outside the window doesn't count just for a bit.”

John Walker, video game writer in Bristol, England

“We've become a planet of anxiety sufferers,” said John Walker, a video game writer in Bristol, southwest England. “And I think so many people are finding the game is just a place they can allow themselves to be absorbed by just for a while, where the scariness outside the window doesn't count just for a bit.”

Since its release in March, the game has been wildly popular all over the world including in the US, where it is already one of the best selling of the year.

In the game, the player, represented by a human avatar, lives on an island among friendly (and really adorable) animal neighbors. The objective of the game is to create the island of your dreams. And to take care of it.

Related: Mourning in the midst of a pandemic

The game allows players to visit one another’s islands, which is particularly appealing during these times of travel restrictions and social distancing, Walker said. The game has had another benefit for Walker, who recently wrote about how it’s helped him home-school his 5-year-old son.

A scene from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. 

A player, represented by a human avatar, lives on a make-believe island in the video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.  

Credit:

Courtesy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons/Nintendo 

Some have been turning to the game for escapism, others for activism. And then there are those who are using the game to stay connected with friends and romantic partners who are far away.

Briana Uskali, who lives in Florida with her two children, loves waking up to find gifts in her in-game mailbox from her husband, who’s in the Air Force and stationed in South Korea. 

"I woke up today, and there [were] two things in my mailbox from him and one of them was a skirt. So, I wore it. I still have it on in the game right now.”

Briana Uskali, game player, Florida

“When I get up in the morning and I turn on the game to open up my mailbox, I'll have … different things from him … little like clothing items that are in the game that he knows I’d like,” Uskali said. “I woke up today, and there [were] two things in my mailbox from him and one of them was a skirt. So, I wore it. I still have it on in the game right now.”

Related: In fight against coronavirus, Ghana uses drones to speed up testing

Others are turning to the game to process difficult moments in their lives.

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Gamer Karen Morgan of Glasgow, Scotland, decorated her island with a memorial park for two family members, including her grandfather-in-law who died from the coronavirus. 

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Screenshot of Karen Morgan's island on Animal Crossing.

Karen Morgan of Glasgow, Scotland, recently lost a family member to COVID-19.

“We're not going to be able to have a funeral for my granddad, but … I've been working on a memorial park on my [Animal Crossing] island.”

Karen Morgan of Glasgow, Scotland

“We're not going to be able to have a funeral for my granddad, but … I've been working on a memorial park on my [Animal Crossing] island,” she said.

Animal Crossing

Since its release in March, the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been wildly popular all over the world including in the US, where it is already one of the bestselling of the year.

Credit:

Courtesy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons/Nintendo 

Related: How coronavirus is changing the way Muslims celebrate Ramadan

On a forum where players can exchange items, Morgan went in search of gravestones — that is an in-game item, but not all players have it. She connected with a woman from Florida who had some in her possession. 

Morgan got one for her grandfather and one for her dad, who died in February. She decorated the memorial with flowers, and with in-game items that reminded her of her family members.

She’ll do a real memorial when this is all over she says. But for now, she’s OK mourning in her own little virtual world. 

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