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'Animal Crossing' and coping with pandemic stress

<p>Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is a life simulation game where players build homes and design their own islands.</p>

Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is a life simulation game where players build homes and design their own islands.

Our bodies have a unique physiological response to a threat. Animals will react through their sympathetic nervous system with an outpouring of cortisol, increasing blood pressure, circulation and a number of other hormones. In essence, our bodies are preparing to deal with a potential threat by either fleeing or fighting. But what does it mean for the body to be undergoing an acute stress response 24/7 for months on end? Excessive stress can lead to cardiovascular diseases, Cushing syndrome, heart attacks and strokes. 

However, every news source pushes the message that now, because we have so much free time, we should be making the most of it. Viral workout challenges on TikTok (such as Chloe Ting’s two-week ab challenge), organizational goals, perfecting daily routines and everything in between encourage a state of constant productivity. Is this the best way to live given the circumstances?

From a global pandemic with massive economic repercussions to overwhelming civil unrest to combat police brutality and racial injustice, we are all going through a form of collective grief. All the while, our bodies are pumping out high levels of hormones and seeking some form of preservation and survival. 

This is not to discredit the critical efforts that many have undertaken to educate themselves on racial injustice and actively protest against violence and discrimination towards BIPOC (be sure you have registered to vote). Without such efforts, we would not have seen the dismantling of the Minneapolis police department and the removal of greater numbers of Confederate statues around the country. Yet, given the state of the world and our own bodies, sometimes we need a bit of escapism, a respite from a rather daunting reality. 

Recently, I picked up a game that made up a large portion of my childhood: "Animal Crossing." Since I was a little kid, I have played every iteration of the game, from "Animal Crossing: Wild World" on the Nintendo DS Lite to the most recent "Animal Crossing: New Leaf" on the 3DS. 

Released March 2020, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is a life simulation game where players act as the Resident Representative, build homes and design their own islands. Why "Animal Crossing" became the game of this pandemic is through the ability to enjoy the outdoors while staying indoors. Activities like fishing, swimming and shopping become accessible and safe. Users can play online with friends or continue establishing their own island with anthropomorphic villagers. Players even have the opportunity to celebrate villager birthdays with small parties and gift-giving. 

As odd as it is for me to say, "Animal Crossing" provides a sense of stability in an otherwise uncertain world. Users can truly do what they wish, with established goals and missions throughout the game. The repetitive peace of the game is a break from the pressures, anxiety and violence in our world. 

However it may look, this kind of break is necessary. Whether it is a favorite album or a new hobby, we each need to discover a way to escape the world for just a moment. Our bodies are not meant to survive under constant upheaval. We each are grappling with unique stressors and battles. Do not take this as an excuse to completely disassociate from the world (continue signing petitions, registering to vote and protesting with your dollar), but instead a moment to reflect and revive yourself. Take a breath. Find a moment of peace. These unique circumstances do not require each of us to be superhuman but instead to allow ourselves to grow and survive. 

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