They say moving house is one of the most stressful life events that the modern human can experience. Try moving house during the onset of a global pandemic.
We should have seen this coming from the day our first offer was accepted, of course. Every part of the first time buy process had been ridiculously smooth up till the emergence of COVID-19, to the point where it would have been worrying not to have experienced some sort of hiccup. We'd found 'the one' on our second viewing, made an offer, closed the chain, and signed mountains of paperwork all within the space of a few months. We were just weeks away from making the exchange when national lockdown measures hit the UK.
The first of many phone calls from our solicitors explaining the situation the next day felt inevitable, but that didn't make it any less painful to hear. There are far more pressing ripple effects from both the spread of the coronavirus and efforts to contain it, of course, but this last minute standstill on months of work felt like hitting gridlocked traffic just before the slip road to your own neighbourhood.
We'd jumped all the hurdles, set our sights on the finish line, only to be tripped up by a once-in-a-blue-moon apocalyptic event two inches away from the victory ribbon. The result has left us in limbo, simply waiting to see what happens next; wondering whether things might improve, and assessing just how drastically the economic aftermath will disrupt the rhythms of the housing market.
Our decision to buy Animal Crossing: New Horizons thus somewhat ironically stemmed from the fact that we suddenly had a lot more disposable income and free time on our hands, looking for a new indoor hobby we could enjoy together while obeying government mandated curfew. Little did we know that Nintendo's heady cocktail of kitschy lifemin and satisfying Feng Shui would prove the perfect substitute for the champagne we had hoped to be popping after making our first step onto the property ladder.
Making a house a home
Full disclosure: My wife, Beka, has little to no interest in video games, and – with the odd exception – probably never will. But I had an inkling, given her affinities and talents for organisation and home decor, that Nintendo's latest iteration of its beloved life sim series would prove to be one of those exceptions.
With that in mind, we decided to share a single character, and take turns watching each other play, rather than deal with Nintendo's awkward local co-op mode, which limits Player 2's capacity to glorified voyeur status while the other is free to carry about their business.
The first few hours were frivolous enough, marked mainly by Beka's obsession with pocketing every single weed on the island, finding a strange sort of therapy in the simple act of manual lawn labour. It wasn't until we paid off our first loan, and were given the opportunity to upgrade from a modest tent to a fully detached house, however, that New Horizons' true qualities became clear.
For all the ridicule aimed at Nintendo's implementation of a mortgage system in a game that, let's be honest, was originally targeted towards children, there's something indescribably satisfying about paying your way out of Tom Nook's debt. Funnily enough, this rings especially true when the opportunity to invest in a real life mortgage is suddenly ripped from your hands, as I can attest.
Not only that, but working together to design the look of our new home – making collective (and sometimes heated) decisions about wallpaper, flooring, and the arrangement of each and every decorative accoutrement – acted as both a substitute for, and a helpful distraction from, the fact we weren't currently doing the very same thing with our first home.
Life beyond the shore
Despite it all, 2020 is proving to be a watershed moment for video games. Right now, millions of people around the world are discovering their value not just as a distraction from the groundswell of bad news, but as a hub for social connection, an accessible indoor exercise and educational tool, and a form of therapy in a time when so many are feeling isolated, anxious, and existential.
As someone who's been playing them for as long as I can remember, I've long recognised these virtues in video games. What I didn't anticipate from this year, however, is finding an outlet for our collective stress over a major life event (or, rather, the lack of said event) via the sweetly packaged cronyism of Tom Nook.
Who knows when, or even if, we'll get to move into our new home? It's a known unknown that we're still trying to exercise a balanced degree of patience over. And while New Horizons is no lasting replacement for the real deal, these unique circumstances have unquestionably elevated its value in our lives. For now, then, at least while the novelty lasts, I'm just glad that we can channel our excitement for a future home into our shared life on Animal Crossing, whose digital shores are starting to feel like an expression of our hopes and dreams for life beyond these turbulent times.
If you're just about to arrive on your very little island, here are all the Animal Crossing: New Horizons tips you need to get started.