The blockbuster Nintendo Switch game is being lauded as a much-needed refuge from real-world chaos.
The childhood our kids are experiencing is playing out against a backdrop of unprecedented conflict. And yes, that word “unprecedented” is suddenly everywhere - and not only to describe the worst pandemic in a century.
The death toll alone is the stuff of nightmare. Couple that with extended quarantine restrictions, violent social unrest, severe economic fallout and the looming shadow of climate change - and is it any wonder that young people long for escape to a simpler, safer world?
Enter Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a gentle video game set in a fantasy village where friendly animal neighbours help make modest dreams come true.
Like moths to a digital flame
“Gen Z’s childhood is rooted in issues that would have been unrecognisable only a decade prior,” writes 15-year-old Ananya Udaygiri, a finalist in the New York Times Student Editorial Contest. And this, she argues, is what has drawn young people “like moths to a flame, or perhaps more appropriately, like children to their first love,” to Animal Crossing.
“The basic premise of Animal Crossing is small-town living,” Ananya explains. “Your character, a human villager, performs basic, everyday functions. You fish. You catch bugs. You grow a tree. Common themes are relaxation and simplicity.”
The soundtrack amplifies the calming atmosphere - a soft lullaby “which harks back to simpler times today’s teens have only dreamed of. It’s a stark contrast to the chaos of our lives.”
“The basic premise of Animal Crossing is small-town living. Your character, a human villager, performs basic, everyday functions. You fish. You catch bugs. You grow a tree. Common themes are relaxation and simplicity.”
Caroline Thompson, who admits to clocking nearly 400 hours on the game, echoes that theme. Writing in The Huffington Post, she adds that the social connections the game offers - and the opportunity for “travel” to the virtual islands of friends - has thrown her a digital lifeline.
Therapy - or escape? (and is there a difference?)
In fact, she notes, “It’s not uncommon to view Animal Crossing as therapy.” Another user, who suffers from depression and anxiety, explains that the game helps her “calm down or get my emotions out in ways I never could before.
“Just booting up is soothing to me — and once the game is on, I can mindlessly fish or catch bugs while focusing on the sounds in the game, like the ocean waves or the different sound your feet make when running over different kinds of pavement.”
Escapism? No question. But there are times when a healthy dose of a parallel universe is exactly what the doctor ordered.
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