Escaping to new horizons: how “Animal Crossing” has helped my mental health

Maya+Crawford+is+greeted+by+Isabelle%2C+a+character+that+relays+the+news+of+the+island+in+game.

Photo by Maya Crawford

Maya Crawford is greeted by Isabelle, a character that relays the news of the island in game.

Maya Crawford, Graphics Editor

This pandemic has been incredibly difficult to bear, not only physically, but mentally. As an extroverted individual, being cut off from my emotional support in the form of friends is devastating to have to endure. Many times I considered disregarding the Stay at Home order — and by extension my own safety– just to see my friends again. Of course I came to my senses pretty quickly, as this pandemic may end sooner if we keep our distance now, but the thought remains. 

Mental health is a serious issue in our society, regardless of current events. Ten to twenty percent of youth from ages 10 to 19 years experience mental health issues, according to the World Health Organization. Since the start of the pandemic, that number has increased to 25 percent as a direct result of COVID negatively affecting the daily lives of youth, according to the CDC

Being kept at home has severely degraded my mental health. My grades have suffered immensely, and since this is my senior year, grades are more important than ever. There have been days when I could barely encourage myself to get out of bed to go to class, since seeing my friends’ faces from the computer screen just amplified the fact that they aren’t with me in real life. 

Despite the void of sadness I had found myself in, one thing managed to pull me out of it. Just before the pandemic, my parents had gotten me a birthday gift of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for my Nintendo Switch. I couldn’t put it down when I first got it. The simplistic little game of making a deserted island into a thriving community of my design was addicting to someone looking for a creative escape from the real world

Then the pandemic hit, and I stopped playing for a good few months. School had gone remote, and I had to put all of my energy and time into completing junior year from my bedroom. Even during the summer months, I was busy with other things, and my Switch stayed cold and unused in its case. Then my senior year started up, and I was again swamped with late work that I didn’t have the energy to complete. 

Then I visited my cousins in Detroit, and I brought my Switch with me since one of my cousins also had “Animal Crossing” and wanted to play with me. 

That night of playing “Animal Crossing” with my cousin was the most fun I had since the start of the COVID crisis. I nearly cried when I saw my villagers again, since they had noticed I’d been gone for so long and asked where I’d been and if I was okay. These were computer-generated responses, but it still meant the world to me. 

In “Animal Crossing,” I could forget COVID. I could forget school. I could forget my loneliness. All that mattered to me in that moment was scouring the beaches of my island for seashells and shaking fruit from the trees. 

“Animal Crossing” provided an escape for me away from the current world on fire, and it has helped my mental stability astronomically. Our society has a stigma around people finding ways to escape the grim reality of these tough times, but honestly, with how much the world has changed, I couldn’t care less about what other people think of my coping methods. 

“Animal Crossing” is what motivates me to get through the day because despite how awful and lonely the world may be right now, I know I have sandy beaches and palm trees waiting for me just through the screen of my Switch.