Since the circuit breaker was introduced and now extended, all my plans to meet with friends have been scrapped and I find myself spending almost all day back in a place all too familiar to me. Apart from work and exercising in my room, there hasn’t really been anything much to do except to binge on historical documentaries and reacquaint myself with a former past-time.

I used to be a console gamer, but work commitments in past years have turned me to mobile gaming instead.

“Which working adult has so many free hours a day?” I thought to myself then.
Well, I do now. Thanks to Covid-19 in general and the circuit breaker in particular, most of us do, from all the hours saved from travelling and having appointments.

To get through the hours, I turned to Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, an “old” game that recently launched a new expansion to rave reviews and record-breaking sales. I wasn’t keen at first but after some persuasion from my siblings, I found myself the proud owner of a tent on my self-named Coconuty island.

Animal Crossing character
My character, Faithee in Animal Crossing.

After spending some major time on the game the past two weeks, I’ve realised that while the aim may be to build a community with NPCs (non-player characters) in-game, a real-life community has also sprung up around it. There are many lessons of kindness that I’ve learnt from the game that could help us during tough times.

Screen capture from Animal Crossing Facebook
Screen capture from Animal Crossing Singapore, Facebook page

Here’s what I learnt.

1. It’s okay to ask for help and vice versa

Its okay to ask for help in Animal Crossing
Screen capture from Animal Crossing Singapore, Facebook page

The game consists of virtual animal villagers who share the island with me. In the game, I have two choices: Slog it out solo or enlist the help of a real-life community to speed up my progress. While mostly a single-player game, Animal Crossing’s multiplayer aspect allows you to visit other gamers’ islands and vice versa. This allows you to see how they set up their islands and, invaluably for a new gamer like me, lets them share resources such as flowers or fruits that I cannot get on my own.

Making friends in Animal Crossing
My character with some new friends from the game

What I found to be a pleasant surprise is that there is a large local community (shoutout to AnimalCrossingSG on Facebook and my friends on Discord!) where people offer what they have by inviting others to their island. Sometimes, it’s to trade for something they lack, but most times, it is out of genuine kindness to help other budding builders. This is a leap of faith, since anyone you invite to your island can interact or even vandalise what you’ve worked hard to achieve.

The amount of help being offered to me by newfound friends is heart-warming and I have learnt to be “thick-skinned” and ask others online for help. I’m still new to the game so I have nothing much to offer, but I try my best to be of some help to them!

2. Focusing on public works instead of myself

Focusing on public works in Animal Crossing
My character, at the local museum with fossils to be donated.

In this edition, the “mayor”, a raccoon named Tom Nook can start public work projects, including creating a museum, a convenience mart and upgrading residential services. The list goes on as the game progresses. These additions serve to create communal spaces for villagers on the island. As part of the game, the task of building these spaces falls onto my shoulders. I’ve found that I would rather spend time developing these public works projects than do daily tasks to upgrade my home.

While I won’t be digging up fossils or mining iron for my local museum and convenience store in real life, this got me thinking about how I could volunteer for community projects in my neighbourhood.

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3. Kindness is needed

Kindness is needed in Animal Crossing
Fellow villager Rocket showing his appreciation when given a gift

The premise of the game is to build a community. Even though I mostly interact with NPCs, I have to confess that I have been charmed. Right from the start, my fellow villagers (a gorilla named Rocket and a bunny called Genji) asked if I was willing to pick out a spot for their tents. I’m not going to lie, it felt like they were too lazy to pick out their own spots, but I obliged. Both Rocket and Genji seemed ecstatic that I had helped them, even though it was a small task. Talking (and giving gifts) to fellow villagers builds relationships and that gets you rewards. Sounds like a pretty quid pro quo kind of relationship right? Then how would you explain that a few days ago, I caught myself visiting Rocket’s home just to see if he had displayed the skeleton that I had gifted him previously?

Skeleton displayed in Animal Crossing
Skeleton displayed in Rocket’s home

It is clear that the game rewards kindness, even though I may have my own motives. The theme is to make others happy, be it helping a fellow villager find an orange or increasing the island’s satisfaction rating by building communal spaces. Yet, I found myself experiencing a simple joy from helping a fellow villager, NPC though he may be.

So the question here is, is this game an escape from the real world, or is it reflective of the real world? Well, why can’t it be both? The popularity of this game can be attributed to its calming gameplay during a time when more people are getting stressed out, but I would also say that it is because its generous nature appeals to our giving side.

I am also in a smaller community on Discord where I have experienced kindness aplenty. Just a few days ago, I had people giving me bells (a form of currency used in-game) when they realised that I didn’t have enough to pay off my housing debt. Even on the Animal Crossing SG Facebook group where I am a silent lurker, I have seen many acts of kindness between complete strangers whose only connection is through the game.

When the circuit breaker is over, chances are, this game will take a backseat as I reacquaint myself with friends in real life. Nevertheless, there are many parallels in the game that can be drawn to life, especially in my neighbourhood.

Being excited about having a new neighbour in Animal Crossing
My character being excited about having a new neighbour

As all of us are staying home, there is a higher possibility that we chance on a neighbour while doing a grocery run, or even taking the trash out. While we are discouraged from physical interaction, a simple nod or smile (even from behind a mask!), a friendly “hello” or “goodbye” would do wonders. It may be difficult to get to know our neighbours more during this period, but it is still an opportunity to keep an eye out for the vulnerable by offering to tapao food or buy groceries for them.

Maybe after this, we can find common bonds with our neighbours. As the saying goes, neighbours by chance, friends by choice.

Stay home, stay safe. Keep calm and game on. We can all #playaparttogether.

Behind the scenes shot with fellow villagers in Animal Crossing
A behind the scenes shot with fellow villagers at a photoshoot.

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