I’ve felt lost since graduating from college last year.
I don’t know where my life is headed and I don’t know where I want it to head. I’ve entertained the thought of moving up at my current job; I’ve considered the idea of attending graduate school; I’ve tried to find jobs both related to my education and for the sake of just finding something more to do. The more time passes, the more I feel a sinister feeling snaking its way into my mind: you are wasting your life.
It’s an overreaction, for sure: I mean, I’m 23 – I have so much time to figure this out, it’s nothing to be panicking over. But I hate that feeling, so, in recent months, I’ve been forcing myself to dedicate more and more of my time to finding some way forward – job searches, studying, whatever. And as I’ve dedicated more of my time to building a future, I’ve had to change the way I approach every day. I’ve always had a terrible time focusing, and, as I try to fix that problem, I’ve had to toss a lot to the wayside – including the time I would normally spend gaming. Of course, I do understand that I can’t push myself to ignore every means I have of relaxing and de-stressing, as depression and severe anxiety always seem to be lurking right around the corner.
And, so, I’ve re-discovered Animal Crossing: New Leaf.
Animal Crossing is a great game to relax with for plenty of reasons, whether it that be due to its laid-back atmosphere, its charming visuals, its soothing soundtrack, or its simple and fun characters; however, I find that, above these qualities and above many other games and series, Animal Crossing’s greatest blessing is its real-time gameplay system. With no other game have I ever been able to say “I’m going to do X, Y, and Z, and that’s it,” and that makes Animal Crossing a perfect way to break from a busy, work-filled schedule, while still feeling as though one has accomplished something.
This may just be a personal problem, but I find it difficult to go into any other game with the intention of only playing it for so long. Certainly, there are plenty of games I could jump into for, say, an hour-and-a-half, and come out feeling I’ve made some progress – The Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, Yakuza 0, Fire Emblem Echoes, The Binding of Isaac, and dozens of others. All of these games could benefit from an hour or two of work, and all of them would end up completed much faster with a little bit of everyday dedication.
You know what, though? I just can never limit myself to that amount of time, or to only completing a certain task. When I play, I want to play. I want to immerse myself, I want to drown in the world and the characters and the stories and the gameplay – knowing that I only have so long to play sucks some of the enjoyment out of it, and I find myself always going “okay, just one more quest/run/shrine/whatever.” When it comes to getting something important done, these games simply don’t cut it for me. But Animal Crossing, with its basis on day-by-day progression, offers a hard limit and a means of breaking away that the others don’t.
OH CHRIST THERE'S SO MUCH TO DO
When starting up New Leaf for a day, I usually know what I’m going to do: I’ll check the mail; I’ll water the flowers and pluck the weeds; I’ll talk to my neighbors; I’ll dig up fossils, hunt some bugs, do some fishing; I’ll sell what I don’t need, check out the shops, and the drop some bells into my mortgage. Once the daily tasks are done, I’ll maybe spend a bit of time working on flower layouts and pathing ideas, but that’s never something I feel compelled to devote hours too, unless I’m totally free of important, real-life duties. The point is, however, that there’s only so much to do every day, and those chores will need to completed the next day and the next day and the next day, just waiting for me to decide I need a break.
And you know what? It feels genuinely productive. So, when I’m beating my head against an endless number of dead-end job applications, at least I know I can retreat to the village of Naglfar for an hour, get some shit done, and relax. It’s monotonous, but it’s a break from the things that drive me up the wall; it has no real bearing on my life, but it leaves me with the feeling that I’ve at least successfully accomplished something. When you’re desperately trying to find something to dedicate your life to, something to give you even just a hint of direction, the smallest feeling of accomplishment – the smallest feeling of contentment – offers a release that is oh so precious. It's a feeling akin to cleaning your room, or getting the dishes, or doing your laundry, or sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning.
This is hardly a new revelation – if you’ve played any Animal Crossing game then you’re likely familiar with how xxx. It just feels more relevant than ever, a more powerful means for relieving stress than I’ve come across since I found myself thrown into the world. Beaten down, tired, and defeated as I may feel at times, at least I know I can look forward to spending some quality virtual time with the good animals of Naglfar and I can say to myself "it wasn't much, but I got something done."