Animal Crossing is a long-running series of games that began in 2001. It is developed and published by Nintendo EPD under the direction of Katsuya Eguchi. At the time of this writing, it consists of 4 main games and 3 spin-offs. AC has won fan acceptance around the world, inevitably migrating to virtually every new Nintendo console (with the exception of the Wii U). On September 13, 2018, a new part of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was announced, the release date of which will be March 20, 2020. It, like the rest of the series, will be exclusive to the modern console of the company — Nintendo Switch.
Many players report a positive effect on their mental health after playing Animal Crossing. Youtube user Boldly Wired has created a video telling his own story of fighting depression and has noted the importance of Animal Crossing to him personally. Many YT users share similar stories in the comment section:
Stories from the AC subreddit seem to be no less sincere and surprising. When asked by one of the users about how Animal Crossing affected their mental health and whether it is worth advising her friend suffering from depression, most of the users answered positively:
In my opinion, Animal Crossing can indeed have a certain positive effect on the player’s everyday mental state, and there are several reasons for this.
Simplicity and openness
It’s worth starting with the fact that the game has incredibly simple basic mechanics. They border with casual farm simulators in their simplicity — fishing, caring for flowers, hunting with a net for insects, collecting resources, crafting items, communicating with other residents, and improving the city. This simplicity of mechanics leads to an equally simple core loop that repeats itself day in and day out as the game is real-time dependent. If you have 3:00, then the in-game time is also 3:00, and most of your inhabitants are asleep, and the shops are closed. This most likely tends to implement the idea of a healthy sleep schedule to the player. There is no point in continuing the game when a number of functions have been removed — it is better to devote this time to sleep. AC in a sense supports the player’s daily regime.
Animal Crossing is a game about the simple joys of life. Its creator, Katsui Eguchi, in an interview with the British magazine Edge, talked about the three main principles of AC:
Animal Crossing features three themes: family, friendship and community. But the reason I wanted to investigate them was a result of being so lonely when I arrived in Kyoto! Chiba is east of Tokyo and quite a distance from Kyoto, and when I moved there I left my family and friends behind. In doing so, I realised that being close to them — being able to spend time with them, talk to them, play with them — was such a great, important thing. I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind the original Animal Crossing.
— Katsuya Eguchi, Edge, 2008
This approach to the main pillars of the AC idea resulted in a complete absence of any violence, from the player’s side or vice versa. One of the main ideas was to imitate communication with real people, which was presented through daily conversations with other residents of the city. The difference from other games was that they were simple small-talk, answers to the most basic questions that people exchange daily. Another resident could talk about how they spent his morning or ask the player for advice on what to read next. Or ask player’s opinion on their own catch-phrase, is it good enough? Maybe they should change it? Moreover, relations with residents are in constant development — you become closer to each other or estranged, new faces appear, someone, on the contrary, leaves, you give each other gifts, invite each other, come to their birthdays. This realism and dynamic of relationships, multiplied by the game in real time, gives the player a certain skill of daily communication, allowing him to gradually get used to communication as such. Over time, it may become easier for the player to talk with real people, to get in touch with them, which is difficult in a depressive episode.
Animal Crossing does not require the player to be constantly present. Progress in the game occurs due to the passage of time and the change of days, that is, in order to get new content, the player will have to wait for a new day. Thus, the game does not force the player to spend countless amounts of time in it every day and does not try to keep it as many mobile projects do. AC offers a very simple and realistic set of actions — something that the player can do in real life if desired — for example, catch a fish or talk to a neighbor. Such unhurried gameplay may have a calming effect on a person. Complex game situations can put the player into a state of stress, or, for instance, their low game skills can frustrate the player. Situations like this are unlikely to happen to a player in AC, i.e. no additional stress from the video game.
At the same time, Animal Crossing characters often say incredibly motivating, enjoyable things that might support the player in difficult times.
One of the main symptoms of depression is the inability to perform daily routine tasks. It becomes difficult to get out of bed in time, get to work, cook. This loss of control especially affects freelancers who self-regulate their workflow. Serious frustration can ensue when a person fails to restore their daily routine. At the same time, work, educational tasks still need to be completed, but depressed people may find it difficult to focus on them because of the too abrupt transition between an unproductive state and a productive one. My personal experience has shown that, in some cases, setting at least one simple routine task per day can help you cope with a certain level of procrastination and potentially increase the number of daily tasks performed. And playing Animal Crossing every day for 30–40 minutes has similar potential:
- The game has an unobtrusive pace;
- Many simple, routine tasks that can simulate similar tasks in a person’s daily life, such as watering flowers.
Of course, you should never replace therapy with a video game. However, there are various situations in which people cannot afford therapy, or are not mentally prepared for it. Some people need special mechanisms to help them cope with depression on a daily basis, and Animal Crossing may be so in some cases. This is a relaxing, simple game that does not have tense situations, stress, obvious difficulties and, in a sense, helps the player to face the daily routine and control their actions.