Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch is finally here. Weeks after its release, my friend list still burns lively with people playing at almost any hour of the day, with everyone farming the land and figuring out what’s new and what easter eggs have returned. My Twitter feed is flooded with fan art, screenshots, and videos of people being attacked by tarantulas.
It’s been a really beautiful time.
My first Animal Crossing game was the Gamecube version, except I didn’t own one myself. I still remember strongly going to a friend’s house after school while we waited for my mom to get out of work to pick me up. We’d walk down the street, around the corner, and shuffle into my friend’s room with a box of those pre-cut ready-to-bake character sugar cookies fresh from the freezer.
One of those days, she turned to me and asked, “Have you ever played Animal Crossing?”
I had never even heard of it before – the only games my brother and I played were on the PlayStation. But ever since then, I’d play in my friend’s village and draw faces on Blanca and precariously plant flowers.
Sad to say, it never went further than that for more for years to come. It wasn’t until much, much later when a friend let me borrow his DS, and then another friend let me borrow her copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World, that I was sitting in my community college classroom playing in my friend’s pre-established town. This was on the brink of New Leaf’s release, as a friend was trying to get me into the games (since I didn’t have the then-popular 3DS for myself). I made friends in class who I traded villagers with, and ran errands in each other’s towns.. Until my birthday after New Leaf came out, and my friends had pitched in to give me my own 3DS (well, it was a hand-me-down since the New 3DS had just come out and my friend upgraded–wow, the generations of gaming this franchise has gone through is really hitting me) and a copy of New Leaf.
And yet, it still hadn’t quite set in with me how great this game was. Even as I unlocked new features, changed my villager’s hair, I never got as attached as I thought I might. Heck, this past summer I was so strapped for cash that I actually sold that very copy of New Leaf.
Looking back now, I realize it’s because I still hadn’t found myself back then. You know how they say that growing up with mental health issues like depression can set you back a few years behind everyone else? I didn’t want to believe it before, but recently.. Yeah, I think I fall into that set of people. The years I spent playing Animal Crossing before, I didn’t grow an attachment because I never knew what I wanted. A lot of things in my life were very different back then; I was way more dependent than I am now. I never got to really build a town up on my own, I was very much just playing to appease other people and what they thought was how the game should be played.
When, in reality, it’s a farming simulator! Who cares, right?!
When I got to Pocket Camp, that was where I really got hooked. Playing with my friends, exploring and crafting clothes and campsite features that suited me. I became addicted then. Which brings us all the way back around to New Horizons.
Even still, I was on the fence about buying the game until just a month before release. I barely watched the Directs, only saw or heard the news through my friends who were psyched up beyond belief. But I was scared. What if it turned into another New Leaf for me, where I keep resetting my town over and over again because I can’t figure out what satisfies me? This kept ringing in my head until finally I told myself to just take the leap. I came into some good money, all of my friends were going to be playing it, I didn’t really have an excuse. Why not try?
And boy, I’m so glad that I did. In the 1-2 weeks I have owned the game, I built a whole park in the front of my island, created a beach bonfire site, converted my villager’s bedroom into an indoor beach, and fallen in love with (nearly) all of my villagers with my first campsite villager on his way in. I love the customization, the crafting, the fishing. Island/beach life is already close to home for me, and this game lets me release and explore in so many ways, especially with all that’s going on in the real world.
When it came time to write something for this game, I knew that I wanted to share a story of my journey to get here, because I feel like what I usually hear is most of the same (which isn’t bad!). Many of my friends grew up playing these games, falling in love time and time again, hunting for their favorite villagers and their portraits. And I love hearing those stories. But a part of me always felt a little out of place for not having fallen in love at first contact.
So now I’m here to say, it’s okay if it’s not your thing at first. Maybe it’s not the right time or the right place, or maybe it’ll never be your thing. But I’ve watched so many people come into the franchise through Pocket Camp especially, and they’re absolutely smitten. It’s really heart-warming to see people getting together and talking about this game now – kind of like when Pokemon Go released and everyone was out on the streets.
Forget about “fake fans” and “elitists”, and pick up a Switch and enjoy a great game about farming, relationships, and adventure. Because who knows, you might just learn something new about yourself along the way.