I’ve put a staggering 230 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons since its release on March 20. I’ve literally played every single day for 46 days in a row with an estimated 5 hours of game time per day. What have I put so much time into Animal Crossing? Because of how it helps ease my anxiety.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons helps ease my anxiety
I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life, the kind of anxiety that keeps me up late at night worrying about all the things I didn’t get done. Anxiety that causes me to feel like I can’t breathe, my chest tight, crushed and compressed by an invisible weight. In these moments, I find myself reaching for the Nintendo Switch because I know that Animal Crossing can help.
In the moments where I’m fishing, picking up shells along the beach, or clearing my island of stray weeds and branches, I feel better. I’m no longer thinking of everything that could go wrong at any given moment, all I’m thinking about is what else I need to do in the game and the best ways to get everything done.
It surprises me to think that I can do things in Animal Crossing that I’d never be able to do comfortably in real life. I can talk to Timmy and Tommy and find out what the day’s turnip prices are, and I can walk into the Able Sisters shop and ask to use the dressing room with zero hesitation. In real life, it’s nearly impossible for me to talk to people this way.
If I can’t access a dressing room at a store my go-to response is to give up, put my things back, and go home rather than risk speaking to someone and asking for help. My anxiety constantly makes me feel like a nuisance, or like I’m some awkward creature that makes other people feel uncomfortable.
In Animal Crossing, I can visit other people’s islands and chat and feel welcome. I can network on social media and make new friends over turnip prices. I’m much more social in Animal Crossing, and the game’s world is genuinely one I wish I could live in forever. It gives me a level of confidence I wish I was able to manifest as naturally in real life.
It’s not just the things that it helps me do, it’s the sheer repetition of it that acts as a form of alternative meditation.
“Meditate,” people always tell me. “It’ll help with your anxiety if you meditate.” I know it helps others with anxiety, and I really wish I could, but I’ve never been able to clear my mind enough to be able to meditate successfully. The first minute or so I can focus on the guided meditation, but after a while, the anxiety starts creeping back in.
It’s not just anxiety either, it’s innocuous snippets of a song heard earlier in the day or something I said that I overthink and wonder if I could’ve said differently. Typically, I use things like ASMR to meditate but I have to do it while playing a game as well. ASMR alone isn’t enough to help me, but if I pair it with a game heavy with repetition like Animal Crossing, I immediately feel the tension ease from my muscles.
My jaw unclenches, and I can breathe again. I feel calm.
It helps that Animal Crossing is a game where I always know what to expect, what I need to do, and I can do it all without thinking. Sure, there are moments of tension in Animal Crossing when I encounter a wasp’s nest or a scorpion, or even just when I’m fishing and I pull back too soon, but it’s brief.
In the end, I’m doing the same thing every day on the same schedule in Animal Crossing and I love it.
I get up in the morning, sell the items I farmed on a mystery island the night before, buy items at Nook’s Cranny, check turnip prices, buy items at the Able Sister’s shop, collect my daily Nook Miles, farm for resources, wait for nightfall to farm another mystery island, and repeat it all again the following day.
As much as I gravitate toward fast-paced games like Tetris 99, I genuinely enjoy the slower, more methodical pacing of Animal Crossing because of how I can draw the day’s content out as much as possible so it’s always there should I need it. If I’m feeling abnormally anxious at work, I can pick up my Switch and spend 5-10 minutes catching butterflies in my garden, then set it aside and get right back to what I was doing.
When I’m free and have more time, I can get into the meat of things and complete tasks and chores. Knowing that I always have stuff to do in Animal Crossing is a comforting feeling.
I can spend a good hour fishing in the hopes that I catch something rare or valuable and my anxiety has no part in that. It’s set off to the side, quiet, while I focus on looking for fish shadows and assess the unique controller vibrations of each one.
I know instantly if I’ve hooked an Oarfish, and it’s so incredibly satisfying to see it pop up out of the water for my character to hold, proud and happy. Animal Crossing is the perfect blend of a positive game that’s simple enough to immerse yourself in but meaty enough so that you never feel like you have nothing to do.
It also offers a nice sense of structure with its daily schedule and predictable repetition that’s perfect for people with anxiety. Diversion tactics can be great because you redirect that anxious energy into something positive and simple.
It doesn’t have to be Animal Crossing, I can say with experience that games like Tetris Effect can be therapeutic as well, but Animal Crossing is undoubtedly a great place to start if you’re looking for an anxiety intervention. Especially if you want one that lets you get some human interaction as you can fly to a friend's island even if they live a whole country away and spend time with them.
With the world being the way it is right now, Animal Crossing couldn’t have released at a better time thanks to everything that it offers. Whether anxiety is a lifelong affliction for you as it's been for me, or something new that’s sprung up in response to current events, Animal Crossing is a great way to find some much-needed relief.