I wasn’t going to buy the new Animal Crossing. I enjoyed Animal Crossing: New Leaf in high school, but ultimately stopped playing at some point during my freshman year of college. I vividly remember curling up in an armchair in Willard Straight back in 2016, headphones on, watching Nintendo announce all of the new features in New Leaf’s “Welcome amiibo” expansion, wishing I’d brought my 3DS to class to sneak some bug-catching in between classes. When Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp came to mobile devices in 2017, I sat in Trillium for hours eating ramen and crafting furniture. I stopped playing both of these games, though, as my free time dwindled and I moved onto other hobbies. So while I was excited to hear that the series was coming to Switch with the island themed Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I ultimately decided that I didn’t need it. If I wanted more Animal Crossing, I could just return to my New Leaf town, and if I wanted to play games on the Switch, I have plenty to choose from.
That’s why I already wrote about Animal Crossing a few weeks back — I expected this week, I’d focus on one of the other games on my ever-growing list of article ideas. More recently, two weeks ago, I wrote about Afterparty, a game about two friends who die right after their college graduation. “Afterparty presents a worst-case scenario,” I wrote, “[but it] reminds me that life doesn’t stop after college.” I was preoccupied with thoughts of getting a job, finding a place to live and leaving college behind. I didn’t know then that my own graduation would soon be postponed until some unknown date, or that the article would be the last I’d write on the Ithaca campus. When Cornell announced that classes would be online-only after Spring break, I thought that I’d at least have one more article — this article — before I’d have to move back in with my parents. As it turned out, the school changed their minds a few days later as the virus appeared in Tompkins County and my parents urged me to return two weeks early. So I’ll never be printed in another paper copy of The Sun — not that I’m in Ithaca anymore to read it, anyway.
While the world adjusted to self-quarantine and working from home, a lot of people looked to Animal Crossing to replace their social life and find some semblance of routine in a new world. New Horizons released on March 20th, just a week after Cornell and many other schools “paused” classes, just when cabin fever was beginning to set in. I told myself I didn’t need another game to get me through my exile: When I saw everyone online having fun on their new islands and hanging out with the raccoon entrepreneur Tom Nook, I could just boot up my copy of New Leaf and it would be essentially the same. I couldn’t replace my town’s grove of peach trees, could I?
But as I dusted off my old 3DS and began to play, I felt like I was living someone else’s life. My character sported pink hair and a crop top/skirt combination I had no memory of designing. I explored my house, two levels of items that must have had some importance to my teenage self but just felt like clutter to me now. My villagers gave me a hard time for abandoning them for a whopping three years, and my town was overrun with flowers arranged in haphazard patterns that only annoyed me. Animal Crossing is a super-customizable franchise, one that lets you create your own ideal life, but this wasn’t my ideal life anymore. It was the life of an Olivia Bono who’d never voted in an election, who’d never gone to Slope Day, who’d never worked a single shift at the Cinema. I quickly found that my muscle memory returned, allowing me to navigate between nets and shovels and even manage to catch a few fish, but I realized just as quickly that the life in this 3-inch screen wasn’t for me. I needed to start fresh, experience new things — New Horizons, if you will. I purchased a download code for the new game within an hour and haven’t looked back.
So while I wish I were picnicking on the slope or slurping down some Trillium ramen right now, here I am, reheating leftover cheeseburger pie in my pajamas as my dad takes a conference call in the next room. I think returning to Ithaca when it’s once again safe to do so, as an alum of the school, will feel the same as loading that old New Leaf save file — like I’m living a life that’s no longer mine. It meant a lot to me at the time, and it feels comforting to slip back into old patterns, but I won’t be able to stay there forever. Although there’s still two months of classes left, I’ve already begun to get used to a life that’s not defined by my relationship to my school. While I’m beyond grateful that my graduation hasn’t been cancelled, giving me an excuse to experience everything (good and bad) about Cornell one more time, I think I’ll need to move on with my life before then. As for my future plans, I still have no clue where life is going to take me, but for now, I know moving on involves exploring my new island with its grove of orange trees.
Olivia Bono is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Level runs alternating Tuesdays this semester.