Mundane Life Masked by an Island Utopia


Screenshot by Madison La Crosse

All members of the island are shown here celebrating the opening of the new and improved store.

Madison La Crosse

For many people in quarantine, games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH), Stardew Valley, Minecraft, and The Sims have all been an escape from reality. With these games, players can live vicariously through an animated character and do normal, everyday things. Throughout social distancing due to the coronavirus, this has been a huge form of escapism for many because it’s like regular life but more enjoyable and light, which is just what everyone’s looking for right now.

Since it’s initial release on March 20, 2020, fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons have been playing non-stop, some even playing upwards of 100 hours of the game in the past month. 

In the game, you are sent to a deserted island and have the task of individually building a society from the ground up. You complete activities to please the proprietor of the island, Tom Nook, and recruit new animal villagers to come live on your island. These tasks include things like selling fruit, fish, and bugs to earn bells, the game’s fictional currency. Players have the opportunity to buy cute clothes and items to decorate their house. There are also seasonal events like an Easter egg hunt and a fishing tournament where you reach certain goals to earn special items. All in all, as a player, you complete seemingly mundane tasks daily to ultimately pay off your home loans to expand your house and create the island of your dreams. You can also invest in the turnip “stock market,” where, before the turnips go bad, you get a chance once a week to buy as many turnips as you’d like and then try to turn a profit throughout that week with the ever-changing prices. 



Animal Crossing is a game that I enjoy very much. However, as time has gone on, I have realized that it is comparable to life in quarantine in many ways.

For one, I remember at midnight on the day it came out, I was extremely excited for the game. I couldn’t wait to start playing, and everything was brand new and exciting. This is somewhat parallel to the beginning of quarantine in the sense that I was very hopeful and couldn’t wait to use the unexpected time off to my advantage. 

I did stay this way for a few weeks and genuinely didn’t mind quarantine, but now I feel utterly unmotivated and trapped. For many, myself included, the transition to online school has been fairly difficult and has hindered the ability for some students to retain information and feel like they’re actually learning. This, combined with the fact we are unable to socialize with friends and family, has had a significant toll on the mental health of many. After a while, I saw the same started to happen in Animal Crossing

Once you finish building all the shops and houses in the game, you’re not left with very much to do. The game goes by slowly, as it uses real-world time for the cycle of day and night. Unless you’re time traveling in the game (changing the date on your console manually to skip days in the game), the days go by slowly and feel like real life after a while. There’s only so much fishing and bug catching one can do before the game begins to feel dull and tedious. The same goes for quarantine, except we can’t time travel in real life, so we’re stuck living out day to day with time passing exceedingly slowly. In both mediums, I have come to feel trapped.

At least with Animal Crossing, there is a way to escape your island if you begin to feel cornered, which is by visiting a friend’s island, but once you’ve explored everything there, it’s back to your island, and you’re once again constricted. 

How is it that something meant to be a sweet release from the harsh realities of life also replicates those same realities? If something that is supposed to be used to escape doesn’t actually garner those results, what do we do then? Where do we escape to then? I couldn’t declare an answer for any of these questions, but what I can say is that even though the game consists of bitter actualities masked by charming characters and settings, Tom Nook is definitely better than quarantine in my book. The game presents a utopia of the real world, with real and stressful elements, but it also has so many fantasy elements that it makes the island world enjoyable and a happy place to evade reality. 

On a positive note, there are things to look forward to in both worlds. There will soon be a new update in Animal Crossing that will give players a whole plethora of new things to do, so those feeling tired with the game can now escape once again with new tasks to fulfill. Some of these things include an expansion to the museum, the ability to buy art pieces, new pop-up shops that will sell things such as shrubs and flowers, and even a wedding planning event. In the real world, there’s so much uncertainty; amongst the uncertainty, we need to stay optimistic in the fact that eventually, and maybe even not soon, things will go back to normal. We will have learned so much about ourselves and the world and will hopefully become stronger and wiser because of it.