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Almost 100 Animal Crossing players visited my island and I’m feeling a lot less lonely

Oh, and I also made 7 million bells in tips

Selling to a cute piglet named Daisy Mae Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

I’ve heard the horror stories of opening your Animal Crossing: New Horizons gates up to the masses. I’ve seen turnip bouncers, long lines, and trampled flowers. I hadn’t considered posting a Dodo Code publicly before, but my turnip prices have always been shit since the game’s launch. But on Wednesday, everything changed. My turnip tracker predicted a potential spike on Wednesday afternoon, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it: Timmy and Tommy were buying turnips at 539 a pop.

I had to share the wealth. (But I must admit, I was allured by the promise of turnip tips.) I opened my gates to my Vox Media colleagues and to strangers.

As it turns out, it was not a nightmare, despite the constant ping of “Looks like someone’s on their way here!” Partly because I made 7 million bells in tips, but what I really received was friendship and connection. Don’t laugh! I’m serious.

I kept my gates open from noon until 9 p.m. The majority of that time, I had Animal Crossing: New Horizons idling on the television screen while I worked. I parked my character, wearing a brand-new Gucci dress, at the bridge that visitors must pass over to reach Nook’s Cranny. Occasionally, I would cheer as folks passed by on their way in and out, but I didn’t do much of anything else. I listened to the slapping of feet across the bridge, where some would stop and emote at me before rushing through the door to Nook’s Cranny. Sometimes, I could hear the sound of someone dropping bell bags or gifts before they flew home.

Like many of you, I’m stuck indoors right now. I’ve only left my house for essential trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office. But the truth is, life isn’t too different for me. About a month before COVID-19 started to spread in North America, I had surgery to remove a tumor from my thyroid. Recovering from surgery meant a lot of time at home already, but before that, I didn’t really feel like going out, either. I was either sick or stressed and I spent a lot of time in my home, right where I am now.

Staying home isn’t a “new normal” for me; it’s just normal. But it doesn’t make it any less hard. I’m not alone — I have my husband and our two pets — but I do miss the outside world. I miss chatting with dog lovers at the park during my lunch break. I miss joking with the owner of the hot pot restaurant we are regulars at. Of course, I still talk to my friends and family often, but I miss the idle sorts of interaction I used to have. It’s not something I’ve experienced for quite a while.

I was surprised, then, when I had that fuzzy feeling of easy interaction just by listening to the sounds of people milling about my island. It was even more surprising, given how frustrating Nintendo’s online play is — everything comes to a halt each time someone arrives or leaves. If I was actively trying to play, I would have had a very different experience.

Instead, even while the game idling, it felt social, even with the limited interaction of New Horizons. It reminded me of the feeling I got when I first played with other humans in Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Wild Area. While Sword and Shield’s online play is limited in how players can interact, it still feels almost alive. New Horizons’ interactions are in real time, allowing for instantaneous interaction and chat. But as I learned on Wednesday, even that’s not necessarily in creating a living world.

I loved that each time I looked up at the screen, there were always people arriving, some returning to my island having changed their outfits for a second visit. Another time, I looked up and I noticed a turnip-seller watering all of my flowers. Every single patch was shimmering by the end of the day, none of which I watered myself. Later, I found a coworkers’ daughter re-planting weeds on the bank of a river. (I love New Horizons’ weeds.)

At some point during the day, one visitor gifted me a space suit. A few hours later, someone else left me the astronaut helmet — a delightful surprise. Of course, New Horizons will never be a replacement for the real world, as much as I’ve retreated into it over the past few weeks. But until the stay-at-home orders lift, it’s where you’ll find me. With 7 million bells in my bank account.

The next level of puzzles.

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