It’s 5am, I can’t get back to sleep, so out of habit I reach for the Switch on the bedside table to check in on my island. For the past three weeks this has been how every day’s started. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a part of my life. Last night, just before bed, I wrote a letter to Billy, a jock and a goat, designed to make him want to leave. He’d become a nuisance as I was going about my daily chores, chasing me down and making me apologise and make amends to the other animals he’d just hot-headedly disagreed with. This morning, I’m wondering if I’ve been too rash.
Do the animals really have feelings? Could Billy understand the hastily written postcard I’d sent him? I don’t know for sure, but such is the strange spell Animal Crossing casts, offering up a fantastical vivarium patrolled by anthropomorphic creatures that soon feels utterly, utterly real. It’s a magical sleight of hand, an illusion conjured up by countless little tricks – how the hours pass in-game as they do in the real world, and as the seasons do too. I’ve seen winter’s snow thaw and spring slowly bloom over the course of several long days, and seen the sun rise and set above the beach on the island’s northern edge.
It’s how the animals respond to your actions, and go about their own island life in your absence. On Sunday morning I walked over to the town square to find Carrie, a warm-hearted kangaroo, and Tabby, a hyperactive kitten, doing yoga exercises together. Later that night, while out on another stroll, I spot Plucky the Chicken solemnly pacing the cliffs at the top of the island and wondering whether it was time for her to move on. I do all I can to talk her out of it.
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