Let me start by saying: I see you. You’re struggling, and life is difficult. Maybe you’re struggling financially, physically, or mentally. Maybe you’re struggling with all three of those simultaneously. You’re not necessarily interested in buying a video game, but the thing is this: Animal Crossing gives us all a way to manage our stress no matter where we are on the anxiety continuum at the moment.
Disclaimer: Nintendo provided me with a free download code, but all opinions in here are my own.
Disclaimer 2: I am not a doctor, nor do I play on one television. If you are in a state of crisis either call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741.
What Do We Mean By “Stress During Quarantine”?
Right now, times are uncertain. Businesses are closed. People are worried about their jobs. The number of unemployment filings increased at an exponential rate over the last month.
The CDC notes:
Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include
- Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Worsening of chronic health problems
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
We keep referring to now as “these unprecedented times.” The unknown—whether it’s health-related or job-related or even just life-related—can be overwhelming.
Speaking for myself, the unknown is stressful because I can’t control it. I don’t know what I should be doing, and even if I knew what I should be doing, I don’t know if it will work. I already have generalized anxiety disorder, which basically causes me to “Hulk out.” Adding in all of the stress that the rest of my family is feeling basically means I’m losing my business on the regular lately or spending a lot of energy not losing it.
How Does It Help Manage Quarantine Stress?
Again, as I’m not a doctor, I look to some of the respectable resources. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD outlines several things that can help reduce stress.
Improve Your Sense of Control and Ability to Endure
- Accept circumstances that cannot be changed and focus on what you can alter.
- Modify your definition of a “good day” to meet the current reality of the situation.
- Problem-solve and set achievable goals within the new circumstances in your life.
- Evaluate the absolute risk of contracting the virus and recognize the benefits of accepting a certain level of risk in order to maintain as much of your normal routine as possible.
Managing stress during quarantine, however, is fairly difficult. For a lot of people, things like exercise or time alone may be impossible. So, what’s a quarantined person to do?
The Australian Government Department of Health suggests engaging in purposeful hobbies. Their website links to research indicating that creative hobbies can lead to feelings of well-being and creativity that last into the next day. Other research on website notes that people who engaged in hobbies were moderately to highly effective in managing stress.
In short, people taking up knitting, crochet, music, writing, or art are engaging in stress management activities. But where does that leave a video game like Animal Crossing?
How Animal Crossing Helps Reduce Stress
Animal Crossing is an interesting mix of creative hobby and video game, one that incorporates a lot of elements that can help people reduce or manage their current stress levels. In fact, I named my island “HappyPlace” because it’s one of the few areas of my life bringing me a bit of respite from external stressors.
An Element of Control
Animal Crossing is one of the few games where you have nearly complete control over what happens in a given world. Normally, I am 100% the “kill them ALL” type of gamer. I love Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed because they let me get my frustrations out with a good dose of, as we call it in my house, shooty-shooty-bang-bang. Unfortunately, because I am a terrible first-person shooter, I often find myself stumped by these games when I get to a big boss level. I haven’t even finished Pokemon Shield because I need to defeat the final gym, and it freaks me out.
Animal Crossing, though, is the most relaxed game. I don’t have to compete against boss levels. I just make my house, pay my fake mortgage, chop some wood, pick some apples, and build some stuff.
The game is a whole world that I have control over. Don’t like that tree? Chop it down. Want to beautify some land? Plant some flowers. Feeling a bit capitalist? Sell some goods or do whatever it is with turnips that I’m supposed to do.
I may not be able to stop the spread of COVID-19, but I sure as heck can create a nifty, idyllic island for myself, one that I can control.
Define a Good Day
Over the last 5 weeks that my family has been sheltered-in-place, my definition of a good day has changed. Look, a good day in quarantine is very different than a normal good day. Work deliverables are more difficult to meet. I haven’t left my house, except for two grocery shopping trips and a blood test, in five weeks.
In the video games I normally play, the game’s XP and progress define what I consider a “good day.” The games will tell me how well I’m doing based on my level. They’ll push me towards the next challenge. Sometimes, I walk away from video games feeling more stressed out than I was before I started playing (see above re: I am not a good gamer).
With Animal Crossing, I can define a good day anyway I want to. Today I might define it by making a fake mortgage payment. Tomorrow, I might define it by building the “hot item” of the day to make serious bank. The day after that, I might define it by donating fossils and creatures to my island’s museum.
In other words, I have an element of control over what happens on HappyPlace and can define my own idea of a “good day” in that world. That’s a pretty powerful feeling.
Problem-Solve and Set Achievable Goals
A large part of defining a “good day” in Animal Crossing is based on my ability to problem-solve and set achievable goals. I’ve made a nifty little routine for myself where I first check out the “hot item” of the day. Then I get to decide, “Do I want to scavenge the resources necessary for making this, or do I want to do something else today?”
If I want to scavenge, I have to figure out what resources are available on my island currently or whether I need to go traveling to other islands, either by visiting friends or using my Nook Miles Ticket which takes me to a game-generated deserted island.
Maybe, for this one day, my goals are to beautify HappyPlace. I can make items and put them around the island. I can clean up some weeds. I can plant some trees or flowers.
Maybe, for this one day, I want to complete one of the challenges like building new homes for new island residents.
Maybe, for this one day, I want to spend my time crafting new designs that I can wear or use to decorate my house.
By setting achievable goals in this game, I not only gain control over something, but I am clearly defining a “good day” for myself and giving myself a way to measure whether it was a good day.
I can hear you, you know. “C’mon, Karen, this is just a video game, there’s no creativity.” But yes, yes there is. One of the really cool things about Animal Crossing is the way it builds creativity into gameplay.
First, you can totally design your own clothing and wall coverings. My first geeky step into Animal Crossing was making a Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired design. I later made a Six: The Musical design. Creating pixelated designs that you can then display in a variety of ways is a creative outlet.
Second, all of the different DIY projects, or things you can “build” with your collected resources, let you decorate your island and your house. I’m very specific about the way I’m building my house. My “bedroom” is covered with wall-to-wall Buffy print. My living room has a couch and three chairs surrounding a small table with a puzzle and Switch. I have rugs and wall hangings. Sometimes, I build items just to put them in my house, like the wooden bed I have.
So, yes, Animal Crossing affords me a level of passive creativity that helps keep some of the anxiety brain bunnies away.
Animal Crossing Is the Game We Needed Right Now
I’ve spent more time playing Animal Crossing than I have on probably any game other than Bioshock Infinite. At times, I’ve been so engrossed in the game that I lose track of time, and, y’all, I never lose track of time. Or, well, apparently “mostly never.”
So, yes, Animal Crossing is “just” a video game. But, if we’re taking context into account, then this game is a creative hobby providing a sense of control that allows me to set achievable goals for defining a “good day” in quarantine. And y’know what? Right now, that’s pretty powerful.