Living Together, In Games And In Life

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Like a lot of other people on planet Earth, I've spent the last two months attempting to escape the predicaments of the real world by living out an alternative existence in the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It's nice to have somewhere I can go for an hour or so each day and forget about the stresses of 2020 thus far. I can hang out with other residents without having to worry about social distancing. I can go out of my front door and explore the length and breadth of the island at my leisure. And, best of all, I get to share it with the most important person in my life - my girlfriend, Alice.

Alice is definitely a bigger Animal Crossing fan than I am. She tells me that she played the heck out of Wild World on the DS back in the day. When we got together, I bought her a 3DS so that she could play New Leaf. Now that New Horizons is here, she's been bitten by the Animal Crossing bug once again, and this time she's brought me along for the ride. It's been almost two months to the day since we both moved to the island of Beauville as part of Nook Inc.'s Deserted Island Getaway Package, and in that time our little island community has come a long way. And yes, I say "our" island community, because we're both playing the game on the same Switch.

Nintendo came under a lot of flack for their decision to limit players of New Horizons to one island per Switch, and part of me understands why. A lot of the appeal of Animal Crossing comes from crafting a new life in an idyllic fictional town, and New Horizons leans into that harder than any previous game in the series with its crafting mechanics and terraforming elements. For the first time in the series' history, it's possible to alter almost every aspect of the environment, from the topography of one's island to the locations of homes and amenities, right down to the other residents who call your Switch home. The imposition of a one-island-per-Switch limit means that for a lot of people, whose wants and needs won't necessarily align with others in their household, that level of customisation and control won't be an option.

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But sharing an island with Alice is one of the things I've appreciated most about New Horizons. To give you some wider context, just over six months ago, having been together for the best part of four years, Alice and I bought a flat and moved in together. That was a huge step, and one that required a great deal of cooperation and compromise from both of us. We've had to adjust to each other's quirks and habits, listen to each other's opinions, share out responsibilities, and work together to keep the place looking nice and feeling homely. It's been a challenge at times, but also incredibly rewarding.

That cohabiting experience has translated pretty seamlessly into sharing an island in New Horizons. Since unlocking the terraforming feature a few weeks ago, we've been working collaboratively to redesign Beauville in a way that suits both of us. And, much like moving in together, it has been an exercise in cooperation and compromise. We sat down together, came up with a plan for how we want the island to look and where to move things, and we're slowly working towards making that plan a reality by doing a little something each day. Unfortunately we're still slightly limited by the fact that Alice doesn't have access to the construction counter (I was the first to play the game, so apparently that responsibility lies solely with me as the island's first inhabitant), but we're still able to pool our funds and work together to transform our island into a paradise.

Even if there were more downsides to sharing an island, I think today would have made up for any potential negatives. Today, it has paid off in the best way possible. That's because today is Alice's birthday. A little over a week ago, when K.K. Slider was visiting, he told me he was going to be putting on a surprise birthday concert for her, and gave me the opportunity to write her a special birthday message. Today, she got that message as part of K.K.'s special birthday concert. When I got home from work this evening, she threw her arms around me and thanked me for my thoughtful words. Now, while I can't say for certain, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to do that if we both had our own individual islands.

In the run-up to New Horizons' release, I remember suggesting to Alice that she should consider getting her own Switch so we didn't have to share. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I'm really glad we didn't go down that route. At a time when the world seems to be tearing itself apart, Animal Crossing has provided Alice and me with an opportunity to work together and become closer than ever before. That's pretty special, and in my opinion, worth sacrificing an extra save slot for.



Currently playing - Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)