'Animal Crossing' a great way to pass time during quarantine

What are turnip prices on your island?

An interesting thing happened Sunday afternoon. I realized that I hadn’t purchased my turnips for the week on “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” Daisy Mae was visiting my island for her weekly stop, and I hadn’t purchased any turnips to flip later in the week on the Stalk Market. Yes, that is the actual name.

When I signed onto my Nintendo Switch, I realized I was broke. The previous day, I had just dumped 98,000 bells — the entirety of my bank account — into paying off my loan to Tom Nook, the innocent looking anthropomorphic raccoon that convinced me to come to a desert island and start a new life. The man — or animal — demands his mortgage. I turned off the Switch, disappointed that I’ll have to wait another week to purchase turnips. Yes, turnips.

Meanwhile, I get to spend the next week seeing all of my friends bragging on social media about the turnip prices on their islands and encouraging each other to hop on the Dodo Airport to come sell. This is a new disappointment I haven’t felt before. It’s almost as if playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is sort of its own ecosystem — a place where we can live lives and interact with friends, show off our homes, throw parties and do the things we would normally do right now, were it not for COVID-19.

I have never played an “Animal Crossing” before. I barely knew the logistics of the series, beyond the idea of Tom Nook and that it’s supposedly extremely relaxing to play. The series started on the Gamecube and has appeared on every Nintendo system since — aside from the Wii U, which received some weird spinoff entry. So with quarantine in full effect, and a lack of intriguing titles to play, I fell for the social media hype and made a rare blind purchase. I wasn’t prepared for the responsibility.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is its own unique style of game that borrows elements from “The Sims” and MMOs. You design a character, give him or her a few interests and then drop them on a desert island, where a talking raccoon sells them on an idea of living a completely new life. You eventually help the island get set up, find a place to pitch your tent that will be your home and help a few other characters who decided to join in the adventure. But, Tim Nook demands his money. So you spend much of your time performing tasks to raise bells in order to pay him back.

The player starts with chopping wood from trees, mining rocks for stone and picking up literal sticks in order to sell to purchase more goods that you then use to make more money in order to purchase more goods. It sounds menial, and it can admittedly be for someone who might not be interested in such a game. But there is truly something relaxing about it.

Within my first two weeks on my island, I’ve helped erect a museum, established a new trade store, welcomed new members to the island and continued to expand my home. I’m still in debt. At this point, I owe close to 200,000 bells to Tom Nook, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay it. Art imitates life.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is not a game for everyone — as hollow as that statement may be. The game asks as little or as much as the player is willing to invest. Much like how people have used “Minecraft” to create amazing works of art, some people have developed such in-depth islands that look like “Dragon Ball Z” characters or Disneyland rides. My island, and especially my house, looks like something Tom Hanks cobbled together alongside Wilson. An artistic touch, I do not have. That’s fine with me, though. I just enjoy hopping on for an hour or so each day, checking my pitifully empty bank account in order to gain some extra miles — another form of currency — and run a few errands.

If you want to get the most out of the game, it requires a lot of time and dedication. Everything happens in real time, and most major events take at least a full day in order to complete. If you’re upgrading your home, building a new shop or welcoming new members to the island, you have to wait until the next day — which starts at 5 a.m. each morning — in order to continue forward. Much like the Nano Pets of the ‘90s, this is a game that requires a lot of babysitting and commitment. That doesn’t mean it can’t be relaxing and fun — especially for someone who enjoys essentially playing “House” as an adult — but again, it’s not for everyone.

I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, thus far, and haven’t felt that creep of responsibility yet. Admittedly, I’m still on quarantine and haven’t many better things to do. When I get the chance to visit the islands of my friends and hang out with them, it could be something special. Until then, I’ll continue trying to raise enough money to please that raccoon. Hopefully this time, I won’t miss out on my turnips.

Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.

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