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The Year of the Raccoon: Celebrating 12 Months of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The Year of the Raccoon: Celebrating 12 Months of Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Article

by Evan Norris , posted on 20 March 2021 / 1,085 Views

I have yet to adequately put my feelings for Animal Crossing: New Horizons into words. Sure, I gave the game a glowing review last April and, yes, I waxed poetic about it during the site's 2020 Game of the Year honors. But those articles don't fully capture how diverting, rewarding, fulfilling, and utterly reliable the game has been since it launched on March 20, 2020 — nine days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Let's talk a little about the pandemic. The worldwide health emergency — and the anxiety, economic upheaval, and disruptions to normalcy that accompanied it — certainly gave New Horizons greater urgency throughout 2020. In a world plagued by uncertainty and doubt, it represented an escape from reality. Moreover, because the game is a life simulation, it recreated in a safe virtual format all those fun little activities and adventures that were difficult, if not impossible, during a pandemic. Want to hop on a plane and explore a new land? Go for it. Feel like visiting your friends on the weekend? No problem.

That said, the joy of New Horizons, and Animal Crossing in general, transcends COVID-19. It's not like 2020 invented mortgage payments, or breakups, or bad days at the office. Life is full of ups and downs, victories and failures, bright beginnings and painful goodbyes. New Horizons, for the past 365 days, hasn't put an end to the unpredictability or responsibility of life, but it has been a daily source of comfort — like a cup of warm tea on a rainy day.

But why? Well, for me there are three key reasons: pacing, progress, and perpetuity. Let's start with pacing, an essential component to a successful video game. If a game has too many deadlines or time limits, the player might feel rushed and stressed. If it has too few guidelines and benchmarks, conversely, the player might feel rudderless. New Horizons finds a very satisfying middle ground by introducing long-term goals — building up the museum, expanding your house, beautifying the island, etc. — and then empowering its players to approach these goals according to their own schedules and priorities. I had originally complained about this leisurely pacing in my review, but one year later I see the utility. There is value in waiting, in being mindful, and in stopping to smell the roses.

Progress is another major factor. There is always something to do, collect, or build toward in New Horizons. There are major long-term milestones like paying off your house or earning the coveted five-star island rating, intermediate achievements like recruiting a new neighbor or adding an incline to the island, and small short-term feats like catching a rare fish or delivering a present. Moreover, New Horizons consistently finds a way to acknowledge, reward, and celebrate your progress, on things large and small. That might take the form of something big and public, like a town-wide celebration of a new bridge, or something more personal, like a neighbor complimenting you on your outfit. 

Finally, there's perpetuity, or the state of being perpetual. It's very reassuring knowing that every time you boot up New Horizons, you'll be greeted by the same houses, landscape, and friendly faces you saw the last time you visited. Sure, this holds true for any video game with a save file, but there's something special about this particular life sim. Since the game (and series) is linked to the system's internal clock, it feels like your island lives on even when you're not there — and will live on long after you've logged out for the last time.

I won't be logging out for the last time any time soon, though. Even after 12 months and 360+ hours, there is still so much to do and accomplish. I'm still hearing new dialogue, catching new fish, and making new friends. Just last month, Roald, my favorite neighbor from the original Animal Crossing on GameCube, moved in. I had been waiting almost a year for him to appear. Who knows what surprises the next year will bring?


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