How Animal Crossing: New Horizons is helping people through social distancing

Breaking down the Nintendo Switch game’s popularity during the pandemic

New Horizons offers players a reprieve from life stuck at home

For those of us who have been stuck at home for the past two months, the most recent addition to Nintendo’s classic Animal Crossing video game series couldn’t have launched at a better time. 

The global pandemic has found many students confined to their homes with lots of extra time on their hands. If you’re like me, struggling to stave off boredom and nagging anxieties, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has come as a welcome solution.

The concept of New Horizons is simple: players start with a deserted island and, by decorating, constructing buildings, and changing the landscape, slowly develop their island into a beautiful paradise. Along the way, you can expect to meet a cast of animal villagers who will become your friends and fellow island-dwellers. And, of course, you’ll have to work to pay back the perpetually greedy island developer, Tom Nook.

New Horizons has become something of a phenomenon: released on March 20, it sold 11.77 million copies in just 12 days

The game’s popularity can be attributed to more than people’s desire to design their own private island—for many, it’s become a source of relaxation and distraction during this challenging time. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of escapism?

The style and gameplay of New Horizons provides players with interim substitutes for many of the experiences they’re missing right now. 

Perhaps most notably, the game is incredibly relaxing—I find that whenever I turn it on, I forget about the coronavirus-related anxieties I’d been harbouring, even if briefly. 

The game gives you complete freedom to progress at the pace you want. If I’m in the mood to, I don't have to do anything at all—I can simply stare at the beautiful graphics and feel a little more at peace.

New Horizons features a museum which you fill with fish, bugs, fossils, and art you collect throughout the game. The museum functions as a sort of pause on all other aspects of island life—if you want to, you can just sit and watch the fish swim by. It features calming music and darkened rooms, instantly putting me at ease.

New Horizons also offers a unique way to socialize while in isolation. You can interact with your fellow island residents, all of whom have different designs and personalities, and—for those willing to pay $5 per month for Nintendo Switch Online—you can even visit your friends’ islands and invite them to yours.

Some people have become creative with this feature of the game by using their islands to host birthday parties, commencements, and other social events that have been cancelled in light of the coronavirus. Players will get dressed up, head to their island’s airport and, through the magic of the internet, celebrate these milestones with their friends safely, in the virtual world of New Horizons. 

New Horizons has also satisfied my need to find a sense of accomplishment—something that has proven increasingly difficult while spending my days cooped up at home. Whenever I beautify a spot on my island, grow a new hybrid flower, or befriend a particularly cute villager, I feel as though I’ve actually done something with my day. This, to me, is the real magic of New Horizons: it keeps me feeling productive.

The longer social distancing continues, the more difficult it feels to spend time away from friends, family, and a normal routine. When I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or bored, I find myself turning to New Horizons to clear my mind and pass the time.

So, I’m grateful to New Horizons for giving this difficult situation a silver lining—it may be hard right now, but at least my island is going to look beautiful when it’s over. 


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