'Animal Crossing': Why do so many players love this idyllic video game set on a deserted island?

The popular Nintendo game, which unveiled its latest chapter last week, might just offer a perfect solution for those staying indoors

'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' is available on the Nintendo Switch
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The world can be a stressful place. As well as the ongoing coronavirus crisis, sometimes people just need an escape from their day-to-day lives. Here's where Animal Crossing: New Horizon might come in.

The video game, which released on March 20, was one of the most highly anticipated launches of the year. It's the fifth release in the Animal Crossing series, which first premiered in 2001. The fourth iteration, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, debuted in 2012, meaning fans have had an eight-year wait for the latest addition.

The popular game, which has a 9.1 rating on Metacritic, can be played on the Nintendo Switch and is a real-time life simulation that allows players to live a relaxed life in the outdoors, and meet up with friends online in the game, at a time when we're urged to practise social distancing.

How do you play 'Animal Crossing'?

It’s a simplistic premise. Players start out by creating a customisable character (yes, so your character can look exactly like you) to control in the game. The character is then sent off to a deserted island after buying a survival package from Tom Nook, a character who is a staple of the series. Players are then able to create their own versions of paradise as the island is solely inhabited by animals. Once they’ve named their island and established a small village within, they’re free to do whatever they want.

However, this game isn’t limited to just one player. Up to four people can play the game at one time via the Party Play mode, where one character acts as the leader and chooses activities for the group. Or, if you have a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, up to eight players can play together via wireless play (a good alternative when it comes to social distancing). Once players have built an airport, they can also invite others to visit their island via a private code.

Why is it so popular?

Animal Crossing has always been considered a charming and peaceful game. It doesn't feature combat battles or time limits or increasing levels of difficulty – breaking away from anything that could even slightly be considered stressful. The calm nature of the video game as well as its relaxing music and little tasks that can be completed – such as redecorating your home or helping your neighbours – all add to the sense of calm the game elicits.

Many players have reported feeling better mentally through playing:

While one person even gifted the game to a friend who tested positive for Covid-19:

Since the game is also played in real-time, the timings match up with the real world, meaning at night, there are different things to do and see than in the day so there’s a lot left to discover. There’s also no specific end goal so a player can continue playing, creating and discovering as much as they want. The escapism element is perhaps one of the strongest reasons why people love it. It’s a distraction from the real world to your own little one, and now might just be the best time to play it.