Video games have been an integral part of my childhood. Since I moved around a lot as a kid and spent a lot of time in the backseat of a car, I had to stay entertained somehow, so I was given a DS Lite before I moved to Florida when I was 7, which sparked my love for video games as a whole. I found it fascinating how I could get sucked into the storyline of my favourite game at the time and pretend that I was there instead of living in the swamp known as Florida. Which, now looking back on that as a maladaptive daydreamer, is pretty telling of what was about to come with me and video game escapism.
Video games had always been a sort of escapism for me; when things got rough, I’d turn on my DS and play Pokémon Black, envisioning myself in the world with my team. But then, when I was 12, I was reintroduced to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which changed video game escapism for me. Instead of picturing myself as the predetermined Pokémon trainer, I was able to project myself onto my character, which caused me to connect more with the game as a whole. I had control of how my town looked, which villagers lived there, where plants and public works projects were placed (and houses too following the Welcome Amiibo update), and how my virtual life in an animal village was. In a lot of ways, New Leaf allowed me to idealize myself and cope with my reality as a kid who moved a lot and didn’t have many friends, and it became a huge part of my preteen self-expression and life.
But, with all good things, they come to an end. By the time I started high school, I found more escapism in music than New Leaf, and I dropped the game (I had also done pretty much everything in that game and had nothing left to do anyways). And this kept up for a while — instead of finding an escape from life’s hardcomings in the fields of my isolated mountainous-coastal town, I found it buried in the lyrics of songs by artists in various genres. As high school went on, life got a bit weird and blurry, and by December 2020, I found myself turning to Animal Crossing again for escapism.
New Horizons, coupled with my music escapism, became another tool for escapism. Now with the ability to terraform my island and make it look exactly how I wanted, twelve-year-old me’s self-expression gained from New Leaf almost tripled. When I unlocked terraforming and was able to finally get my island to look how I wanted it to, AB6IX had their first comeback of 2021, and I absolutely fell in love with the set and wanted to live there. However, the music video was filmed in an amusement park, so there was no way I’d ever be able to live in a place that pretty — until I remember my New Horizons island. Since my senior year was slowing down at this point and I was getting bored of the same old routine of do online school from 9 AM to 4 PM every day, I got to work replicating the vibe and aesthetic the amusement park had. I spent countless hours in my bed with my Switch Lite building cliffs and waterfalls, blocking the world around me while I just built the wintery wonderland I’d only see in my dreams and from my TV which had the STAY YOUNG music video on constant repeat. However, I never got to finish that island because of graduation, but now that 2.0 is out, I’ve found myself wanting to recreate the island again.
Of course, there’s been other games that have offered me an outlet for escapism, the main one being Stardew Valley, but none have come close impact that Animal Crossing offered me. Throughout my (almost) seven years playing the game and talking to multiple Animal Crossing players, I’ve come to realize that like me, countless of other people view Animal Crossing as their escapist hobby of choice for various things, which has helped them through what they used Animal Crossing to escape from. And I find it fitting how a game about living a quiet life in a new setting has given so many people solace and comfort during times of hardship.