Animal Crossing

How Animal Crossing: New Horizons Saved Me From Myself

The Story

It would be difficult to go through life and say that you’ve never met someone that has been impacted by mental health. This could be friends, family, workmates or even yourself. Everyone has their own battles and their own way of dealing with them. It has taken me most of my life so far to find a healthy way to deal with them. Most psychologists and/or counsellors will suggest that you find healthy ways to calm down or something suitable depending on the situation. The typical things you may hear are “mindfulness”, “art”, “reading”, “baking”, that sort of thing but few suggest things like Animal Crossing.

The last psychologist that I had been working with for just over a year noticed that the typical ways to calm down weren’t working for me. I have difficulties when it comes to regulating moods/emotions as well as OCD (and a few other things). So it was important that I found something that would help should an inevitable issue arise. There was a long process of trial and error as I narrowed down games that had a calming effect on me, goodbye Tetris. It was probably the most fun but equally frustrating time I’d had playing games.

But come March 20th of this year, the game had arrived but I was yet to get it. After a few more months of working on games and wading through university work, my saving grace arrived in the post. I still wasn’t aware of the impact that this game would have on my mental well-being but it would definitely be a ripple effect. I think it was a fortnight after the Nintendo Switch arrived before I downloaded Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You could say I was late to the party with this one.

Before this game, I had never really played any console Animal Crossing game. I briefly played New Leaf but I just wasn’t vibing with it. Then there is the Pocket Camp game which I played religiously until my attention wandered from it. They both are good games, don’t get me wrong, but they definitely weren’t the one.

It Begins

When I first loaded this baby up after a two day download (I live rurally so my wifi is awful) my first thought was on how smooth everything looked. It was just so beautiful and inviting. I must admit, the first week of playing it was a bore but it was worth putting the work in.

My first villagers were Rex, Hamlet and Bunnie, all of whom were incredibly cute. Hamlet and his jock energy wasn’t as obnoxious as jock villagers in the previous game. He was kind while still maintaining his many abs. None of the villagers roasted me in Animal Crossing, none called me ugly, none told me my clothing choice was bad. It was refreshing. Some people have complained about the lack of interesting flavour-text but I think it’s perfect.

I hadn’t yet become consciously aware of the calming effect this game had on me. This was no fault of the game but my lack of self-awareness. There were noticeable emotions I felt, mainly happiness and excitement, each time I loaded it up and saw my villagers doing zoomies around the place. I can’t even begin to describe the stupid grin I’d get on my face each time I played. Just try thinking back to the first-ever video-game you played and the joy you felt. That is what I feel every-time I start this game up.

There have been moments that I found myself getting frustrated but they are few and far between. Never have I felt worse after playing New Horizons. It definitely hasn’t had me wanting to launch my controller across the room like Darksouls. This aspect is key to how it has helped me.

There have been moments that I found myself getting frustrated, but they are few and far between. I can go into the game feeling good and I will never finish for the day feeling worse. It’s not like with Darksouls where all I want to do is throw my controller across the room. Animal Crossing has the ability to keep me feeling consistently good every single day.

Animal Crossing
Yes, Aurora is wearing a rainbow cap with the word “gay” on it. It’s because I’m gay and wanted a nice cap.

This Is The Time

When my country, New Zealand, went into level 4 lock-down due to the current pandemic, it further entrenched in my mind that I was trapped. Consequently made my mental health worse than it already was. I was no longer allowed to leave the house and surrounding property (a few acres) unless it was for groceries and even then only one person from each household was allowed to leave. This also meant that I couldn’t attend my regular psychology appointments or go to university. It was a tough time, to say the least. Thankfully I was lucky enough to be able to continue with these from the comfort of my bedroom.

My university was quick to move to online courses and my professors did well to adapt to this sudden change. My psychologist also had to adapt to doing sessions through video-chat services. These changes were difficult to adapt to but it worked out well.

It’s hard to work on getting used to being in social situations or situations where there are lots of people around if you have to stay home. It’s also difficult to work on emotional/mood regulation in a home environment. Basically, it’s bloody difficult to do things like this that rely on regular interaction with other human beings. But my psychologist never gave up on me. We worked on what we could and that’s how New Horizons started having a more obvious influence on my life and progress. From the beginning of lock-down, it was clear that I needed a way to be able to calm down quickly when things were getting too unstable.

Before each of my appointments, I’d be sitting in front of my laptop running around my Animal Crossing island, waiting for my call to be accepted. My psychologist commented on how I always appeared so calm, relaxed and even happy before each appointment and was wondering what was the cause of it. I told her it was a “silly game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and that set her brain into motion.

We had tried working on calming down things before lockdown but nothing had really hit the spot. There was a huge sense of trepidation going into the testing stage. I didn’t know if anything could help. I had been struggling with these issues from a young age so I had just started to accept that nothing would help. As bizarre as it may seem, she set me homework for in-between appointments and this time it was to test to see if New Horizons would be the one.

The Test

This sounds like it’s going to be a long-winded psychological experiment but it’s not. Having to be consciously aware of the positive effect that this game may cause, meant that it was a very quick experiment. I think it only took a week or so for me to truly recognise the impact of this game. Anytime I felt myself losing grip in a situation or in general, I would disappear off to my room, plug my headphones into my switch console and load up New Horizons.

As soon as this music flooded my eardrums I immediately felt the calming effects. It wasn’t something that happened instantly. It took between 10 to 30 minutes for it to kick in. This was the first time in quite a long time that I’d felt hope, that something could help me calm down. As an example, I could go from sheer panic where I’m too scared to move from the corner of my room to then be completely fine to move around after playing this game.

Even my parents noticed how much of a positive impact Animal Crossing was having. So now they can’t say that “games rot your brain” so…I win.

The little moments in-game where you see your villagers singing or just messing around never fail to put a smile on my face. I think every time they bless me with moments like these, I genuinely tear up a little bit at how wholesome they are. It’s pretty difficult to stay in emotional/mental distress when two incredibly cute animals are singing a song together and doing a cute little dance. I become quite content when I see and hear them singing because they look so happy to be there.

The Report

When my next appointment came round I was so excited to tell her the good news. It felt like it had been a while since something good like that had happened so it was really important for me. The appointment started a few minutes late because I was so engrossed in the game that I didn’t even notice my call had been accepted. When I did finally notice the call, my psychologist told me that it must be good to have me so engrossed in it. Who knew the positive effect of a game could be that visible? Well, apparently she did and now so do I. So from that point onward we had a pretty solid plan for when I’m in distress:

  • If able, remove myself from the situation.
  • Do a brief breathing exercise.
  • Listen to my calm music playlist
  • Play Animal Crossing: New Horizons

This list may seem simple but it has such a massive impact on me. I’ve found that in general, the New Horizons’ community is extremely friendly and full of a fun bunch of people. So whenever I have wanted a different pattern for my path, there’s been a plethora of options for me to choose from. This game has been a saving grace for me.

You’re Not Alone

It’s quite odd talking about this but it’s so important to talk about mental health knowing that you’re not alone. I feel like gamer’s are often scoffed at when it comes to their mental health because “games = bad”. This isn’t always the case, sometimes games are what save people. For me, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is what saved me from myself. It had been a long struggle to find something as successful as this game.

Everyone has or will have, a game that helps them through tough times. It is so important to remember how much games can help, even if some parts of society sees it as a waste of time. It isn’t a waste of time if it helps you feel better. Nothing is a waste of time if it has a positive impact on your life. When it seems like everything is dark for you, it won’t stay that way forever. You will find something that makes it easier for you. Progress isn’t always linear and that is okay.

Helplines

If you or someone you know is at risk, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with the people below.

Australia

eheadspace provides mental health and wellbeing support, information and services to young people aged 12 to 25 years and their families. Call 1800 650 890, 9am-1am AEST / 7 days a week.

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free 24/7 confidential and private counseling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25. Call 1800 55 1800.

Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14.

QLife provides nationwide telephone and web-based services to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people of all ages. Call 1800 184 527, 3pm-12am (midnight) AEST / 7 days a week.

Suicide Call Back Service provides 24/7 support if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal. Call 1300 659 467.

New Zealand

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Youthline – Free call 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or Web chat from 7pm–10pm

OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone support, available evenings from 6pm–9pm.

Online chat support with Rainbow Youth –  is available for anyone aged 13-27 who is looking for guidance, support, or advice around sexuality, gender identity, and intersex status. 2-4pm Monday – Friday, anonymously & confidentially

Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797 or online chat

Are You OK – 0800 456 450 family violence helpline

There is nothing wrong or embarrassing about asking for help.