Animal Crossing: New Horizons holds the weird title of being the game of the COVID-19 pandemic. With charming characters, incredibly low stakes and no baseline of gaming skill required, New Horizons is a perfect way for nearly everyone to pass the time during the seemingly endless confinement of social distancing. More than its captivating score or its beautiful vistas drawn in their adorable graphic style, the sense that this game is perfect for this moment—that it allows for social ties in a time of isolation, that it allows for a sense of community in a time of disorder, that it resonates so strongly as the perfect palliative for everything going on in the world right now that it is the rare game that truly rises into the zeitgeist—is the touchstone for nearly every critical discussion about New Horizons.
I love New Horizons for the exact opposite reasons.
As previously discussed, my wife and I are both very fortunate to still have our jobs and to be able to work them from home. But two adults working full time while also supervising a toddler that requires constant looking after, well, it’s not a recipe for short days or long stretches of what any sane person would call relaxation. In this time of social quietude, our house is filled with chaos, stress and a strong desire for escapism.
Sure, I love the vibe of New Horizons—its gently lilting soundtrack is perfectly sedated, its simple and bright visuals are endearing and its ability to present a zero-risk version of capitalism is idyllic—but I also love that it can be a truly single player game. As in, not only do I play the game alone but my on-screen avatar, Ernest Hemingway, rarely interacts with anyone himself. When I play New Horizons it’s just me and Ernest, exploring along the sea or in the trees, a fishing pole or an axe in hand. I love my wife and I love my son and at the same time I need the few moments to myself that New Horizons has provided. When I fire it up, when I get to embody Ernest, the stakes are low and my stress levels, after a bit of time, are even lower.