Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides a welcome escape

Graham Shapley

In these uncertain times, daily routines have been disrupted. For most, that means not going out, not seeing friends, little work and online classes.

This lack of a routine is part of why Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect game to weather the COVID-19 crisis. 


Released for Nintendo Switch on March 20, the newest entry in the 19-year-old series once again brings players to its delightful, cute world, building a new town from the ground up on a tropical island.

My day always begins with watering the flowers. From there, I search my island for fossils, hit all of the rocks until I find one that showers me with bells — the in-game currency, which is used to purchase just about everything — and shake all of my trees until I find a fresh piece of furniture. Don’t ask why there’s furniture in trees; there just is.

Visiting Antonio every day brings me a great amount of joy, even if the only thing he talks about is his muscles. (Graham Shapley | The Collegian)

I visit my neighbors along the way. There’s Antonio, an anteater who’s obsessed with working out, and Beau, the laziest antelope I’ve ever met. I catch some bugs and fish; hand off anything new to Blathers, the owl who runs the local museum; sell everything else; and then find a nice spot to sit down and rest. 

Then the next day, I do the same thing.

To some, this may seem boring. You do roughly the same things every day for not much in the way of a reward. The only reward that you’ll get is more money or new pieces of furniture or clothing to dress yourself and improve your island. 

The repetition and routine allow for major moments of discovery about things that would be trivial in other games. You get to revel in each new item and decide exactly where it will look best. 

A visitor to my island asks why I placed a toilet on a cliff. I reply that it's for 'the view'.
This toilet offers the most scenic vistas on the island. It’s also the only toilet on the island. (Graham Shapley | The Collegian)

When one of my villagers handed me a toilet, I excitedly ran to the highest point of my island and set it out overlooking the ocean. Why? Because it makes me giggle when I show it off. It brings a tiny bit of joy every time I invite a friend to the island and they discover it, usually with a “Why would you do this?”

My island is chock-full of weird little zones. I found a creepy anatomical model early on, placed it at the airport to greet visitors and haven’t looked back since. 

The delight of Animal Crossing is that there’s no wrong way to play it. You can take it at your own pace. You can design your island to the smallest degree. That could mean making it a beautiful place to live or, as in the case of my island, making it into the work of a madman. 

An Animal Crossing Character looks shocked at two creepy dolls
I found a second anatomical model. I tell visitors that they’re multiplying. (Graham Shapley | The Collegian)

All of this takes time. Patience is at the heart of Animal Crossing. It takes actual days for new buildings to be constructed once you’ve set aside a plot of land.


You start off with two neighbors and gradually attract more to your island. You start with a tent, upgrade into a house and pay off loans to expand your home further. You won’t even get to explore your entire island until a decent way into the first week, gradually unlocking tools that let you cross rivers and climb cliffs.

If you’re impatient, you can set the clock forward on your system, but this isn’t really in the spirit of the game. You’re meant to wait it out. Animal Crossing isn’t a binge game. It’s one that worms its way into your routine every day. You set aside 30 minutes and visit your island before bed or while you eat breakfast or anytime you just want to sit and relax.

Should you play this game? Yes.

Routine is something that’s missing in a lot of people’s lives right now. Animal Crossing gives a degree of it back. If you own a Nintendo Switch and can afford it, it’s well worth your time. If you have friends who also own the game and have a subscription to Nintendo’s online service, you can travel to see one another, as well as send mail and gifts. Visiting friends feels nice when we can’t in real life.

Be warned — this is a game meant to be played over weeks, even months. It’s a nice lazy way to spend an hour apart from the world’s problems and the stress of life. It’s telling that Nintendo set New Horizons on a tropical island, the archetypal get-away-from-it-all locale. 

This style of game may not be for everyone, but there’s joy to be found for those willing to settle in for the long haul.

Graham Shapley can be reached at and on Twitter @shapleygraham