Animal Crossing: Self-Care Through Gaming

Animal Crossing is a series of Nintendo games across multiple platforms, in which the player lives in a village full of talking two-leg walking animal neighbours with questionable fashion and interior design tastes, a variety of personality types, and enough funny dialogue to keep you calm for hours.  

Originally released in Japan in 2001, Animal Crossing has followed a consistent pattern of human character showing up in strange village and earning success and friendship to ultimately change the village into a lively town”.  

The game was only released in Europe in 2004/2005, becoming wildly popular from its Nintendo DS version “Animal Crossing: Wild World”, which satisfied players for years before the next instalment in 2013, “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” for Nintendo 3DS. 

Animal Crossing is a memorable and comforting escape in a world that is so complicated and fast paced. You can change how your character looks through a series of beauty salon visits, and choose the layout of your town while you’re on the train heading in for the first time.  

Animal Crossing is not gender specific, and does not enforce gender roles on the player. The rules of the world in Animal Crossing are vague, based on kindness, loyalty, and respect in tiny, understandable ways.  

Gaming is often blamed for violent and tense behaviour in those who play them, due to the high-intensity experience and graphic violence they provide. Animal Crossing is the total opposite side of that idea - a game with a constant soothing soundtrack that never grates on your nerves, friends, flowers, home decorating, and joy at every corner. 

It’s difficult to explain the experience of playing a game that you’ve never played before. Animal Crossing has been described at best as “game therapy”. The game has no “goal” per se, but is an endless open-world of possibilities to complete infinite errands. The game follows the real-world time, has its own weather, season changes, and seasonal events with opportunities to earn rare items.  

There is no pressure to do anything or “win” any of this. A few times a month there will be bug or fish catching competitions, and various visitors with various ways to reward or entertain the player. Animal Crossing constantly updates, too, with the next instalment in the series (essentially one giant renewal of the game, rather than most other games which would often have a continuation of a storyline in a new instalment).  

The game also, characteristically, has a “communication simulator” where the player receives letters, and has unique conversations with the characters in the game. The letter feature in particular is said to aid depressed players who may be prone to isolating themselves from communication with other people.  

As well as this, in the “New Leaf” instalment of the game, if the player has not booted up the game in a while the town secretary and player-guide for the game greets you on the load screen and tells you that the “townspeople have been wondering about you” and that she’s “glad you’re doing ok”. It’s a kind of loving concern that is not entirely expected but feels very welcome, with townspeople in the game also telling you how much they missed having you around.  

If you’d simply forgotten to pick up the game for a while, you’d feel quite guilty. But don’t worry, the townspeople don’t push this dialogue on you for too long and suddenly you’ll be right back in the game.  

Speaking of the townspeople, the relationships you make with them develop over time. They’ll start sending you gifts and letters, inviting you to birthdays, and telling you about their individual backstories.  

Animal Crossing also helps players develop a routine, even if it’s on a small scale. People struggling with their mental health may get lost in their heads, forgetting to take care of themselves and unable to be productive in the ways society values. Animal Crossing is a safe, slow way to find a natural rhythm and task manage on a small unimportant scale. 

The internet is filled with people sharing their experiences of Animal Crossing and how it has helped their mental health. While the game cannot be suggested as an alternative to real-life help, it is certainly a game beloved all over with many benefits and opportunities to bring joy to the life of any player.