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Some of you might know Animal Crossing by now since the hype around the newest release of the game left nobody unfamiliar with the franchise.
Yet many players who actually play Animal Crossing might not know what the original purpose and idea behind this cute time-killing game is.
Despite many people who played that game ever since the first game came out and stayed loyal until now, there are a lot more new players who never experienced the series before its switch-release.
A game that seems only for fun and spending time on a village or island to drift off your mind, but there is even more to it.
Do you want to know what Animal Crossing is actually doing to the players who devote themselves to playing?
Let me tell you in this blogpost how the actual purpose is to improve your mental state by playing Animal Crossing.
First of all, the game we all know to be a soothing drift-off was created by someone who felt lonely as he went abroad and was homesick, developing a game that would kind of remind him of home as he plays it and feels connected through it.
Not only loneliness, but today a lot of people suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues which don’t need to be as severe as to see a therapist yet make the lives of many harder everyday.
Especially in times of COVID where our lifestyles are turned upside down and routines which were a normal part of our lives are not as stable as they used to be, we need our daily amount of tasks and routine to get through.
Why are routines and tasks important?
They keep us busy and away from negative thoughts, which mean people tend to fill their heads with when they have nothing to do or simply think they have no real structure in their day.
Nissa already explained in her blogpost why you can’t get out of bed, that a routine is an important aspect in our lives which can improve the quality of productivity.
Now what does Animal Crossing have to do with it?
Since New Horizons is the latest released version of the game I am mostly going to take it as a reference, yet the game always had similar mechanisms and principles.
One of them is the routine and task system.
As the player starts at the beginning, he/she arrives at the island which is completely deserted with only two other people next to Tom Nook and the Nooklings.
Already at the very start the player is given certain tasks to learn about how the game works and learns how to use materials, place things, find certain ingredients and gets to talk to the other villagers.
It’s most of the game’s mechanics which are needed for the first days.
Especially, New Horizons’ tutorial and overall gameplay is very slow-paced compared to the predecessors of the series, which is not a bad thing at all since it gives the player a reason to continuously play the game and reach certain goals.
Continuously, as in building up a routine and having to do certain tasks everyday to reach the awaited goals, may it be building a new store, paying off your debt or doing an assignment for Tom Nook by finishing furniture for more villagers that you find on mystery islands.
The player has always work to do, and Tom Nook even tells the player at times that he/she has to wait for the next day to do the next big assignment for the island.
Next to that the Villagers will also ask the player from time to time, may it be to catch a bug, fish, get a certain piece of furniture or outfit, even running errands by giving someone a letter or present.
Someone who plays the game seriously and by heart, maybe even over years and not only since New Horizons knows that if you don’t come online for a certain time weeds will turn your island into ruins and also the villagers will start to worry.
Before New Horizons came out, Villagers even used to suddenly move out if you didn’t play for a while, risking to lose your most favourite neighbour.
In New Horizons the system is a bit different since villagers will now ask your explicit before leaving, but neglecting your villagers will leave a bad aftertaste when you speak to them as they think you ignored them or even hate them.
The earlier releases were a bit less forgiving than New Horizons, yet the latter one gives the player more reasons and tasks to do over a long period of time.
With the constant updates, the player doesn’t want to miss out on certain new furniture which are seasonal (and even not attainable through time-travel since they are update-only) and new game contents that come with the bigger updates like diving.
Mable and Sable’s Store also update their clothes everyday so for the shopaholics among the players a sole reason to do tasks everyday, gain bells and buy their most favourite dress there is the need to log in everyday.
A Routine per se talking to your villagers, removing weeds, talking to Tom Nook to check for new bigger tasks and even more making the player feel needed for those tasks.
Since the game gives you the feeling that nothing would work if it’s not the player playing it, giving the player a feeling of accomplishment when doing the tasks and being rewarded, at the same time the other villager will compliment the player for doing these tasks and making their island life so valuable.
What is more fun than encountering familiar faces from the previous games?
Even more additional villagers to encounter via random generated campsite or mystery islands!
While in the previous games it was much easier to get to know the villagers, get requests or become their bestest buddies, in New Horizons there is a new system.
The game internally accumulates so-called friendship points that are sorted into levels.
For example, friendship level five to six can make a villager give you their photo which is only attainable if you interact with them or give them presents over a long period of time.
A greeting or change of catchphrase which was early available in the older series takes now a bit of time before a Villager comes running up to you and asks you to think of something new.
The Villagers will always ask for your opinion as they value your choice and think you are the one they trust to choose for them, it gives the player a sense of being special and creative, as they think of catchphrases or similar requests from the villagers.
Trading or selling items in your inventory isn’t possible from the get-go as well which means you have to constantly play to reach the certain friendship points, the smart part is that the player doesn’t know how many he/she accumulated due to them being counted internally in the game’s system, but rather has to figure out by the available interactions with the villagers how far they have come in their friendship.
What does that have to do with being a smart system?
Simply said, the player needs to think on his/her own accord how much time they want to invest in that friendship, choosing their villagers carefully instead of wasting time which they could have instead used to search for materials or do other tasks.
The player chooses in the New Horizons game who will live on the island, of course not the initial 2 starter neighbours but everyone else. Even the starters if they wait long enough will at some point ask to leave the island which the player can either accept and let them go, making one spot free for another villager or decline if they want to keep them.
This new crucial mechanic in the system of the latest release is important due to two reasons, firstly the so-called safe-space and secondly not fearing that a villager might stay for too long or suddenly leaves.
To the first point, as some people tend to search for special circles where they can be at ease and not think a lot about how they act, Animal Crossing is not much different.
With the many personalities and especially the new added depth to the many characters, despite them having some repetitive mannerism, they still differ as the letters and extra actions they do on the island beside walking have increased.
Having only your favourite villagers, maybe even some that remind you of your closest friends or family on your island gives some sort of safety feeling.
Because knowing that there could be someone you dislike or not be fond of subconsciously makes you want to either avoid that person or worse if that someone reminds you of a person in real-life that you might dislike brings up bad memories.
To the second point, especially when being attached to a certain villager when they suddenly leave out of nowhere it just feels empty without them around or worse if some random villager takes their place it can be more damaging to people who are sensitive to abrupt change.
The new system of being able to decide whether you want a villager or not gives the player more room to decide who they want in their life or not which is something that can be reprojected into real-life, since it gives you the control to say who comes in and who goes out.
Since many games do not give players options to individually create a character, house let alone a whole island, New Horizons basically overloads them with the freedom to do whatever they please.
It’s your character.
It’s your home.
It’s your island.
The many possibilities as seen in the online community of animal crossing doesn’t leave out a spot to show the personality and creativity of each person playing the game.
Isn’t it too much?
No, rather the players can define themselves, nobody is the same as every and each person differs from each other and Animal crossing is telling us to use that certain special trait residing in you.
With many DIY recipes, crafts and collectable furniture designed for each and every type of person no home will look the same.
Are you into cute and fluffy rooms or do you want a little zen garden in your living-room?
No problem at all, you can go crazy to your heart’s content.
With the DIY given to you by Celeste, including those which need starsplitters of certain star-signs there is no way anyone would miss out the timing to get as many as possible to build their favourite celestial furniture.
The best thing is that there are endless ways and even more with the regular updates that gives all players new furniture which they can collect and enjoy.
But not only DIYs, Furniture or seasonal crafts are something many players enjoy collecting as they fill that empty void inside of them.
Fishes and insects, the big list of achievements keeps many busy for the whole year as they are eager to catch every and each one of them, no matter if it’s for Blathers or their own encyclopedia.
Let’s not forget about Flick and Lomeus who visit the island on occasion for tournaments or spicy deals for your insects and fish.
It gives the feeling of anticipation, waiting for the right seasons to come (if not time traveling) and getting all the things in that certain season or event, moreover it makes one feel accomplished in the end when the list is neatly filled and the museum is as lively as ever!
Last but not least the most simple of all traits, the force of nature in the game.
I personally think it has one of the most calming effects.
As some of the players live in the big cities or somewhere where nature is not always seen like in pictures or movies, Animal Crossing let’s them dive into that raw nature may it be Wild World with a village in the woods or New Horizons that brings you to a deserted island.
Nature is one of the main aspects, even the Villagers are cute animals you want to talk and feel connected to.
The representation of each season gives the game a realistic vibe that makes you appreciate each and every single one, in cases people who cannot experience winter can do that in the game too.
Rain, wind, snow all the sounds of nature are amplified in the game and soothes the mind as it’s scientifically proven that sounds of rain or crackling fire for example do help to calm people with anxiety and sleep problems.
Our visionary and auditory senses are subconsciously focussed on the nature part to calm our mind while enjoying the other games features.
The aspect of no real language used by villagers and the player is probably due to the fact to keep people as far from their reality as possible while including a cute element by the language called Animalese.
In the end Animal Crossing has many features that subconsciously improve our mental state while playing may it be through interactions with our most favourite villager, feeling accomplished through certain tasks and the aspect of nature.
Yet there is one thing someone can do when it still feels like there is nothing to do anymore or your island needs a hint of fresh air: Restart the game.
Because once in a while everyone needs a fresh start may it be in Animal Crossing or our real life.
Still trying to build the perfect snowman ten times in a row,