For the last few years, I keep putting aside some money to (maybe) buy a Nintendo Switch, only to talk myself out of it for ‘grown-up’ reasons. You know the kind: do I really need it? I should use the money on something more productive… and so on.
Knowing I would do the same thing this year, my amazing wife stepped in and bought me the Switch for Xmas. Specifically, the Animal Crossing edition. Her intention, of course, was for me to play it. What she didn’t realise was that Animal Crossing: New Horizons would be the first game that our little family would enjoy together – me, her and our little 1 year old. It’s turned out to be our first family video game.
I knew I was going to love ACNH. There are other games that I want to dive into on the Switch, but I’d mentioned to my wife that Animal Crossing would be a great first game. I was not disappointed. After so many story driven, open-world, high-adrenaline adventures on the PS4, this cheerful, charming little game was a welcome change of pace. Everything about Animal Crossing exudes relaxation and joy. Landscaping gardens for my island friends seems to be where I get the most catharsis.
In the past, I’ve tried to get my wife into video games, but nothing has really clicked. She’s not a fan of anything first-person perspective – Portal made her nauseous ten minutes in – and platforming games annoy her as much as they irritated me when I started gaming. In recent years, she’s found the joy of mobile games – Wizards Unite in particular – and we enjoy various party games online. Nevertheless, it has been a long while since I’ve tried to twist her arm.
Then Animal Crossing showed up. She watched me play for less than an hour before she was set on giving the game a try herself. The simple charm of catching bugs and fishing, furnishing her house, unlocking new items daily, it all appealed to her immediately. I knew that she was hooked when she asked me if it was okay if she could add a room to her house before I’d expanded mine. As if I would be disappointed that she has surpassed me, and not delighted that we had a game we could play together and talk about.
As for my one year old, she obviously doesn’t play Animal Crossing, but it’s the game she’s been allowed to watch the most.
We’re careful about how much screen time our daughter gets. We tend to watch movies with her in two parts. We always check with each other how long the TV has been on when she is around. So I’ve rarely had a video game playing with her in the room (apart from when she was snoozing on me when she was very little). I’ve shown her games occasionally, when I think she would appreciate it. During lockdown I presented the tropical fish in Subnautica, and the cute blobs in Slime Rancher to see what her reaction would be.
Yet Animal Crossing is the first game we’ve allowed her to watch for more than ten minutes at a time. Not that she sits down and intensely watches; because she hasn’t grown up with too much TV she will watch for a bit and then go play, occasionally looking back at what’s showing. But we are both quite happy to play ACNH with her in the room, especially since she finds it so amusing.
From the very first time I shook a tree for loose branches, or pole vaunted across a river, she’s found the game as joyful as we do. She especially enjoys watching us fish, and is a big fan of Blathers, the anthropomorphic owl and museum curator. She will call “ready, steady go!” when she wants us to sprint around the island, and wishes all the residents a good “mornin'” as we do the rounds.
During lockdown, we needed to dig deep for ways to keep her entertained. In between messy play, drawing and music time, we’ve called on the careful use of the internet and the like for inspiration. Instead of visiting the zoo, we’ve switched onto live feeds and virtual tours of zoos. I’ve played plenty of YouTube clips of musicians, and we’ve seen a few online concerts aimed at little ones. Animal Crossing, in its own little way, also has an educational side.
My daughter has learned the words “fishing, goat and beetle” thanks to this game. That last word, for example, hopped into her vocabulary when I showed her the Critterpedia, the little hub that shows images of all the creatures you have captured so far. For some reason, the Dung Beetle looks really fascinating to her. They do look pretty cool. As I close the app, she will say “beetle, again!”.
And so Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a game for all the family. It’s all the more appreciated given the current isolation. Whilst we try to give our little one a variety of things to do, there is something undeniably delightful about an afternoon spent watching my wife travel around our shared island whilst my daughter cheers every time a fish is hooked or butterfly netted.
The next quest is to find an apple tree. We only have peaches and oranges so far, and apples are my daughter’s favourite. I hope the game has some.
Thank You For Reading.
Do you have a similar relationship with ACNH? Do you live on an island with other friends and family? Or is there another game you share with those close to you?
Written by Rufus Scott