A wise yet appallingly racially stereotyped anthropomorphic crab once said “The human world, it’s a mess”. No other cartoon creature has ever been more on the money than that. On December 28th 2015 the thought-to-be-immortal Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister died and reality started unravelling. Slowly and innocuously at first, but then getting progressively more ludicrous and alarming as time went on.

There’s a sack of sentient orange Angel Delight in the White House and a scarecrow in an ill fitting suit ‘leading’ the UK. The inmates are running the asylum and so we are stuck between feeling the need to consume all the awfulness thrown into our eyeballs on social media and sticking our head in the sand when it all becomes too much to bear.

Then Coronavirus hit and not only were people being typically… people about it all, we had much, much more time to consume the awfulness because none of us were going to work. Or the pub. Or ANYWHERE to escape it. Personally I was desperate for respite. I needed something to take the gnawing sensation of mild panic and dread away, if only for a minute.

And then lo, on the horizon was a beacon. A shining light of hope. A place to dance your cares away on an island in the sun; where you could take time to celebrate one day out of life. It could be, it could be so nice. With timing they couldn’t have planned with a fully functional crystal ball, time machine or an international black ops biological warfare research division Nintendo bequeathed Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the world. And yea, millions rejoiced. Because Animal Crossing was exactly what we needed right now.

If you’re reading this blog then the chances are you’ll know precisely what Animal Crossing is. And you’ll know where you stand on it. Because, to be perfectly honest, Animal Crossing can barely be called a game. Animal Crossing is more like a job. A glorious, sunny, thankless, zero wage job where animals talk and get snotty with each other, wear the awful cast off tat you don’t want any more with giddy abandon and call you nonsense things like “cheepers”.

This isn’t my first Animal Crossing, but my memory is so awful it may as well be. The only thing I remember from previous iterations is Isabelle being a wonderfully dizzy nightmare and Tom Nook being some incredibly jovial but undeniably shady kingpin of your town.

After 160+ hours with New Horizons though, one thing I am certain of is that Tom Nook gets a bad reputation through no fault of his own. People think he’s some kind of mafioso tanuki but that’s not true. At first thought he was just a money launderer, but now I see Nook as more like Jeff Bezos after he’s been visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future. A billionaire with ultimately altruistic sensibilities that wants his money back as and when. You know, when you’ve got it. No rush at all, yes, yes?

I mean, we’ll leave the question of how much he actually pays his nephews Timmy and Tommy to stand there without any kind of break for 14 hours a day because child slavery is a bit too much to swallow, especially for a Nintendo game.

The first thing I’ve done every morning of this lockdown is grab my cup of tea, sit in front of the telly and boot up Animal Crossing, all aglow with the prospect of what I’ll find after the 5am reset of the island. Will there be new flower colours? Will some flowers have spread? What needless garbage will the Nook twins be peddling? Will Mable and Sable Able have those cowboy boots and strappy high heels I need? It’s all very thrilling. But first, beach clean up. There’s a message in a bottle to find that contains a DIY plan I no doubt already have  and shells to harvest for the various shell-themed furniture I’m making.

Then it’s off to the Nook Stop terminal in the residence building to see what the daily rotating offers are. After that the bell rings 8am we shuffle over to Nook’s Cranny (which isn’t as dirty as it sounds) to see if our avaricious anticipation will be rewarded with glorious trinkets and furniture, or if we drink from the well of bitterness with duplicates and another fucking set of incense sticks. SUSPENSE!

Once I’ve been inevitably let down by the Nook twins I kill time watering plants (unless it’s raining, whereby I probably go and make another cuppa) until the 9am toll and then amble over to Able Sisters to satiate my inner fashion victim. Again, the anticipation is palpable as I go rummaging through the virtual racks and buy clothes and outfits I’m never going use, just looking for that perfect pair of white slacks to go with my pompadour, white waistcoat and white winkle pickers to complete the pesudo-Yakuza cosplay.

And then the day is mine! I hunt around for a neighbour who is in the midst of creating something at their DIY station to expand my inventory of nick-nacks and whatnots to make, maybe start a new bridge building. Shake down some trees for fruit, belt some rocks to get iron nuggets (and occasionally there be gold in them thar hills! Well, boulders). Maybe pop some balloons that mysteriously float over the island and drop new recipes, or items or clothes.

I’ll potter around the island, moving flowers that have sprouted to a more aesthetically pleasing position. Maybe shift a few trees. Catch some fish looking for that elusive golden trout. Clean up the encroaching weeds from the graveyard.

Occasionally I’ll have to wrench myself back into the real world to do actual things like eat, talk to my other half, feed the dog, pretend to work etc and while I do this I check various social channels but not for news on how many people have killed with the governments shoddy response to the current crisis or which celebrity has misguidedly sung Kum Ba Yah or whatever else the great and the good of Hollywood have found to do from their ivory towers surround by opulence, with their gardens the size of football stadiums and pantries filled with food and drink to last them a nuclear winter or three.

Where was I? Oh, real life. No, while I’m partaking in this miserable, pitiful excuse of a reality I browse for friends who have opened the gates to their islands, because the need to plunder other peoples Cranny’s is strong. I guess looking around their islands and houses to be inspired/rob ideas from is also good, but I must quench my thirst for more garbage to take up inventory space, like the consumerist bastard I am.

Although the true quarry of my hunt is the neighbour that’s making something. THEY are the white whale. Because I need some fucking utility cupboards for my kitchen as I’m sick of using tables.

Occasionally on these sojourns through forums and social media we will come across someone who has the holy grail, the ark of the covenant, the golden unicorn of Animal Crossing; a turnip price of 500+ bells.

Every Sunday, between 5am and 12pm, a snot-nose pig (she could be a boar, I guess) called Daisy-Mae turns up on your island to sell you turnips. The price is random from a range of 90-110-ish bells, and you can buy as many as you can fit in your pockets/on the floor of your house. Then, throughout the week, the Nook bastards will offer you insulting amounts for your bells twice a day. There is no option to tell the thieving little shits to piss off so you just grin, thank them, and keep checking first thing and after 12pm when the price changes. More often than not your prices will top out in the hundreds somewhere. I’ve had 370 or so as a max price, but someone, somewhere, will have that elusive 500+.

And that, my friends, is when we descend into the special circle of hell that is the Nintendo online connection experience.

It’s not easy to overstate how unbearably shit the way this game handles visiting other islands is. It’s fucking abominable. Abysmal. Atrocious. Every time someone enters the island, a ticker stream appears (completely incapacitating you) telling us someone is on their way. Then a screen that looks like a flight information board pops up telling us who is on the way, where they’re from and what amusing title they’ve given themselves from cobbling together the phrases the game unlocks as you complete your Nook Mile stamp cards. To be honest, the first couple of times you see this it’s very cute and adorable and nice but when you’ve been interrupted for the 7th time from trying to get your turnips sold or simply trying to leave the island it’s starts to grate somewhat.

Nintendo don’t have a great reputation when it comes to the online side of their games and platforms and Animal Crossing isn’t doing them any favours. I only hope that one day they figure out a way of streamlining it, because currently it’s like having your teeth extracted through your nose. It’s not unique in Animal Crossings litany of quirks. Like manila clams you use to make fishing bait don’t stack, so your inventory is full of them. And there’s no option to craft more than one of something either. There are lots of little things like this that set your teeth a little on edge, but then are smoothed over by the myriad of amazing details the game has.

Back to the the Stalk Market (Nintendo are good at puns), some think it’s a bit of a cheat, a way of gaming the system in Animal Crossing and I get why. But I don’t see how else you’re supposed to be able to afford the frankly ludicrous (yet interest free) loans Tom Nook is so benevolently bestowing on you, yes, yes? The upstairs room for you house is 1.2 million bells alone. You ain’t making that selling fish to CJ, or insects to Flick. Besides they only turn up once in a blue moon and give you 50% over what the Nooks will give you, and 50% over fuck all is just a bit more than fuck all.

Once that particular exercise in masochism is done with it’s probably the afternoon, so it’s best if I log out for a bit to cook tea, interact socially, entertain the dog, look at the sunshine and pretend to absorb some vitamin D. And then back into the evening to catch some of the fish and insects that aren’t around at daytime hours and maybe do a bit of star gazing and see if there are any shooting stars we can wish upon and then claim the star bits from the beach in the morning.

Night time is also when I fancy going looking for rare Nook Mile Ticket islands. So I redeem the Nook Miles, clap at Orville to increase the chance of getting that rare island (shut up, it works) and venture forth, carrying only what we need to hack, chop, smash and dig the loot up in the mad search for those elusive hybrid flowers.

And that’s a day in Animal Crossing. We save and exit with the happy glow that’s earned from a life of indenture to an stupendously wealthy yet eccentric raccoon dog, an island of appreciative animal neighbours, and the never ending need to scratch that capitalist itch that lurks deep within us all. It’s lovely.

If I’m honest I’ve played what would normally be termed an unhealthy amount of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in a very short space of time. Not as much as some, it has to be said, but quite a bit.

But these are strange times. The tending of a fictional island, bedecked all in primary colours and populated by quirky, idiosyncratic animals whose names are usually a pun based on their species is a much more delightful prospect than spending the time cooped up in the house and perpetually on the obsidian slab of misery that is my phone, desperately avoiding the next idiotic racially motivated rhetoric from a toupee’d sociopath.

The clothes designer alone must have eaten a good 25 hours up. It’s incredibly basic, but it’s the only creative outlet I’ve found in recent times that I haven’t felt hideously worthless at. There’s an enormous sense of satisfaction from recreating various images and costumes to be shared to other players. And seeing your island neighbours togged up in a Fallout Vault-suit hoody is a delight I didn’t know I would have.

It’s absolute escapism at its purest and I, for one, am unfathomably grateful for it.

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