When my dad first brought home a Nintendo Switch for the family to share at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, I couldn’t wait to finally start playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons like all of my friends had been for weeks. I mainly looked forward to collecting all of the custom designs I’d seen people posting on Twitter, visiting my friend’s islands, and finally being 'in' on the hype that had consumed basically everyone I knew and every social media platform I use.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was what would come out of sharing an island with my 55-year-old father.
Such a small gesture (on a fake island, in a video game) brought me so much happiness after a hard week of goodbyes to the friends and town I’d lived in for four years
I’m lucky that my family has always been close – now emotionally and physically thanks to a pandemic that forced me to move back in with my parents and all of us to stay home. Over the years my dad and I have enjoyed similar interests in music and TV shows – but sharing a brand new gaming console when there isn’t much else in the world to do seemed like it would be a challenge at first.
My dad lucked out as the first person to download and play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, therefore getting to set up the entire island and name it, plus enact any major, plot-advancing events for the rest of the game. I was a bored, newly-moved-back-in college student, slogging through online classes and remote course work, foregoing seeing any friends – I basically had nothing but time to run around on our new island. So I was a bit bummed that he got to be the primary player at first, like many others who inadvertently entered the same situation. I thought it’d be annoying to have to wait around for him to do things on the island, when all he wanted to do at first was pick weeds and sell bugs.
But this dilemma barely lasted. Because soon enough, my dad was constantly doing things to make the game more fun for me. When I had to travel back to my college town to move out for good, I came back to him relentlessly pestering me: “Log onto the game! I want you to see something I did!” I finally opened the game to see he had built a brand new bridge and incline right next to my house. Such a small gesture (on a fake island, in a video game) brought me so much happiness after a hard week of goodbyes to the friends and town I’d lived in for four years; I knew my dad had been thinking of me.
We’ve had plenty of disagreements about our island, don’t get me wrong. For example, my dad used to never give his first find to Blathers – I was carrying the cultural integrity of the island on my back for a while! But, thankfully, he’s seen the light now and donates every first find to the museum. He even passed up the extra bells to give Blathers his first great white shark last week.
And for a while, we had to come up with a system for who would get to pick what fruit, on which days, from which parts of the island. My mom could tell you how many times she’s heard us bickering: “Did you pick the fruit today? I told you to wait! I’m building an orchard and need to know which one is which!” At one point, he frequently admonished me for planting flowers along the river, because then he couldn’t “run around and fish” like he wanted to.
Through all of these silly disagreements over flowers and flags, I’ve come to appreciate sharing this common interest with my father
But our biggest power struggle of all was the flag outside city hall, because apparently my dad doesn’t like the custom design of my favourite member of K-pop band BTS to represent our island. Don’t get me started about when I asked him to water my flower hybrid grids for a week while I was away, and he told me he thought setting the watering can down right next to the flowers was “watering them.” But I think the tens of thousands of bells he left for me when when I came back just about made up for it.
Through all of these silly disagreements over flowers and flags, I’ve come to appreciate sharing this common interest with my father. We talk about Animal Crossing with each other all the time, it slips into everyday conversation so frequently to the point that sometimes I don’t realize we aren’t talking about the real world anymore. We frequently call out to each other from different sides of the house when we caught something new (I think he’s still jealous he has yet to catch a scorpion, like me.) We’re even a bit geeky about it now – I laugh every time I think about when we saw a real-life dragonfly in our backyard and both mimed getting out our nets and catching it, sound effects included.
The game is obviously a source of escapism for both of us, which is especially needed for my dad while he takes on the stress of managing an essential workplace during COVID-19. He doesn’t spend too much time making sure his furniture matches or that the island looks nice (although, he is getting much better) because that isn’t really the point of Animal Crossing for him. He doesn’t spend days agonizing over which villager to invite next, instead deciding that whoever he comes across first is a great fit. But he sure loves running around and catching fish as soon as he comes home from a long day of work; proof that Animal Crossing really does offer something for every kind of gamer.