Animal Crossing & My ADHD Mind: How it Calms My Anxiety in Lock Down
“Animal Islanders are my best friends right now. We trade fish for pansies, visit each others’ pretty pink houses, and celebrate birthdays with parties and presents. All of this happens inside Animal Crossing, the video game that is injecting some normalcy, calm, and connectedness into my lonely quarantine life with ADHD.”
When the stay-at-home orders hit, and people all over the country began hunkering down to wait out the worst of the crisis, I found myself alone in a way I had never expected. My roommate unexpectedly moved out in February, and for the first time in my life, I was living completely alone. Since I’m a homebody by nature, you’d think I’d relish having an apartment to myself. That might be the case under normal circumstances, but I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness of living alone during a pandemic — possibly exacerbated by my symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) and rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD).
It’s a lonelier lonely, I think.
I found myself craving a social life and, thanks to a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) software service known as Discord, I was able to interact socially online. Originally created to give the gaming community an easy way to chat and text, Discord makes it possible to connect in real-time with people you invite to your channel. (It’s similar to the way Slack works at the workplace.)
During the first week of lock down, while everyone else was binging Tiger King (sorry, but I just don’t get the appeal), I watched YouTube videos. When that got old, I started texting friends, but no one was responding. What was going on? It turns out everyone — but me — was playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a 2020 Nintendo Switch game.
Though this latest version of the game, initially released in 2001, was one of the most highly anticipated releases this year, it sounded dull to me so I never planned to buy it. Then the pandemic struck and I needed a distraction from the health crisis and all my related anxiety. Besides, my friends were all playing it and I missed them. Luckily, I’ve owned a Nintendo Switch for about two years; now they are about as hard to find as toilet paper!
Conquering Loneliness With A Little Help from My (Virtual) “Friends”
What’s so special about Animal Crossing? Video games have long been an effective anxiety reducer for my busy ADHD brain since they help me relax by distracting both my hands and my mind. (When I’m anxious, it’s more difficult to curb the anxiety if my hands aren’t occupied.) I find this particular game so engaging it prevents me from hyper-focusing on all the bad news happening in the world right now.
But perhaps most surprising is that the game offers a unique social experience that I didn’t know I needed. Another condition I live with is RSD which makes me extremely sensitive to criticism and rejection. Animal Crossing isn’t competitive so there is no need to worry that I’m dragging the team down. By sharing in-game resources with my friends, I can help them achieve what they want. It’s an online way for me to be generous.
The game involves buying real estate from a cute tanuki, a Japanese raccoon dog avatar (remember Nintendo is a Japanese company), named Tom Nook. (Note the bad pun — the game’s full of them, but to me that’s part of its charm!) Don’t worry; here you can easily get interest-free loans! With that real estate, you build your own fantasy island, where you get to live a simple, stress-free life surrounded by animals you invite to join you.
It’s fun to build and create houses through exchanges of commerce like fish and wood. Want to live in a pink house filled with flowers top to bottom like I do? Go for it! (I sold a rare species of fish I caught along the beaches of my island so I could buy dozens of pretty pansies. That’s virtual me fishing on the beach, below.)
In your fictional community, you can do normal things that feel like treats right now like buying clothing from the beloved Able Sisters shop. Bug catching is another popular and, for me, therapeutic activity. One of my favorite past times, though, is digging for fossils to display in the museum on my island. A scholarly, bug-averse owl named Blathers is the curator and always happy to tell you about the fossils you dig up.
The soothing background music and artistic graphics are other calming features. The meteor showers (see screenshot, top of post, with my conscientious friends donning their face masks on a recent visit to my island) are perhaps the most impressive. Look out for shooting stars because when you see one you get to make a wish!
A Calming Way to Socialize
Initially, I thought I’d play the game solo, but my friends and I play nearly every night after work or school. We visit each other’s island communities and help each other decorate our homes. There’s even a way to give them in-game gifts — handy when birthdays take place in real life.
Since there are no losers in the game, Animal Crossing is more relaxing than competitive options like Fortnite or Overwatch where one team wins and another one loses. In Animal Crossing, you’re never punished for doing things at your own pace, and mistakes are very easy to correct.
The game has a reward system, but there are no levels to achieve; no enemies to conquer. This type of game is known as a sandbox, meaning you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want. You just play at your own pace. All the villagers are your friends —bullies are simply not an option — which makes for a very happy dwelling place.
Not Your Typical Way to Tie the Knot
Social distancing is triggering cancellations — and heartbreak — across the nation. But some couples refuse to let the pandemic ruin their plans. Animal Crossing has become the digital destination venue for several weddings. Birthday celebrations are happening there as well. And now that the end of the school year is approaching, graduation celebrations are being scheduled, too. It’s not as romantic or celebratory, I suppose, but I think it may be a good way to give some importance to the event or at least create an unusual memory.
It’s a game that has something for everyone. And did I mention that wishes made in Animal Crossing come true? My wish is for normalcy to return to our lives soon, but in the meantime, I wish you the joy and social connection you likely need right now. We can all use a little help from our friends — even if they are funny animal islanders!
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Updated on March 24, 2021