Popular game offers digital getaway under lockdown

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Millions of people are skirting global coronavirus lockdowns to stroll through public spaces, fly overseas and watch idyllic sunsets… in the virtual world of smash-hit video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”

The leisurely land of Nintendo’s latest release has struck a chord with gamers around the world, many of them yearning for a virtual escape from the onerous restrictions on movement and social activity imposed to contain the infection.

The game sees players guide their digital personas around an uninhabited island, slowly transforming the landscape with a house, garden and eventually a thriving community of adorable cartoon animal neighbours.

“Right now, watching news on TV can really be scary, but in this game, it’s just as if nothing is happening, it’s all quiet and peaceful,” said 28-year-old Kanae Miya, a Tokyo-based illustrator.

Australian high school teacher Dante Gabriele said he bought the game the day after its March release and had played it for more than 30 hours each week since, with social distancing rules keeping him housebound.

“You can just play for an hour, or nine in a row, and that’s why it fits so well with the lockdown — you can fit it between meetings or play all day,” he told AFP.

Chopping wood, harvesting turnips and fishing in the ocean give players the resources they need to build their own fantasy paradise.

Real-life friends can drop in to admire the day’s labours by booking an online plane ticket for their own characters, a welcome chance for social interaction at a time when regular human contact is often prohibited.

Experts say the game has become something of a poster-child for a period when people feel the need to connect more than ever.

“There is a synthesis between this game and this time in history that will leave the two forever connected in the world of video games,” wrote Mat Piscatella of market research firm NPD.

“A game designed around developing communities and forging connections was certainly the right game at the right time.”

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