Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave me routine in a world without one

The newest Animal Crossing game provides a much-needed sense of routine in these unprecedented, chaotic times.

We are all creatures of habit. For the most part, we wake up, leave our houses for work, eat lunch, and return home at the same time every day. We tune into our favorite weekly show on a certain day, or do our laundry at the same time each week or grocery shop during the same off-peak hours on the weekends.

At least, we used to, before the world turned upside down and threw all of our routines into chaos for the foreseeable future. As someone who loves a good routine, of knowing what I’ll be doing each day before I start, this last week or so has been a liminal space. Like that time between Christmas and New Year’s Day where time has no meaning, except there’s no end date in sight to this period of waiting.

Which is why I picked up a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest Nintendo Switch game that released last Friday to a world in crisis. I had no plans on getting the newest Animal Crossing game on its release — as I have a handful of other video games I plan to purchase in the coming weeks — but given the state of the world, and the ample amount of free time I found myself with, I was drawn in by the promise of a relaxing time outside on a deserted island that you make your own.

More: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, explained

I have, regretfully, never played an Animal Crossing game before. Growing up, the games just weren’t something I was interested in, and when I did eventually become interested in them (thank you, Stardew Valley) I didn’t have the console to play them on.

Now, however, seemed the perfect time to give the series a go. I had no idea what to expect when booting the game up for the first time on Friday — as I had not followed the game’s development at all outside of seeing cute pictures of people’s islands on Twitter — but what I did not anticipate was finding myself adhering to a schedule based entirely around the whims of a video game.

Upon picking my island and jetting off into the great unknown, I was dropped into my new home with a tent and a sense of purpose. Tom Nook, the iconic Japanese raccoon dog mascot of the franchise, immediately put me in debt within five minutes of stepping foot on the island as a nice welcoming present. However, I was motivated to make money in whatever way possible to offset my loan and make my island a warm, hospitable place.

Which meant harvesting resources, catching bugs and fishing in the ocean and nearby rivers. My tools with which to do those tasks would break with an alarming frequency, but I was able to craft more tools and eventually better ones that would survive longer.

In the days since starting New Horizons, I’ve upgraded from a modest tent to a small house alongside my two starting villagers. I’ve helped open a shop on the island, which should kick-start the local economy. I collected enough specimens to draw a curator to the island with the promise of building a museum, which opened on Monday morning bright and early.

In my spare time, I’ve become an interior decorator as I deck out my house with furniture I’ve built myself, or bought from the local store. Creativity is not my strong suit by any means, but the amount of options New Horizons has gives me something to work toward every day as I perfect my in-game living space.

What’s nice about Animal Crossing is the game progresses in real time, with each day that passes in real life a new day passes in the game. Unlike games like Stardew Valley, which has an artificial clock in-game, this means the game progresses at a slower rate but there’s less pressure to get things done on a strict schedule.

As such, over the last few days since I started my island, I’ve developed a routine of sorts in-game. I first take the time to clean out my island of resources each day, dividing the things I can stockpile for future projects and selling the resources I can to boost my funds. Then I spend time talking to my villagers, finding new creatures for my museum and working on designing my house to the best of my abilities.

I also spend a lot of time in the photo mode, mostly because the game is great to look at.

After having my normal daily routine ripped away due to the state of the world, diving into Animal Crossing over these last few days has been a breath of fresh air in providing a schedule I can fall back on. Of course, eventually returning to the schedule I’ve grown so accustomed to over the last few months would be the ideal, but in the meantime Animal Crossing has provided me with a relaxing, stress-free way to find a routine again.

Next: Ranking the top 10 games on Nintendo Switch
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