There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a woman in the depths of an Animal Crossing binge.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020) NOTX

If you’re sitting out there in a loving relationship, no major tiffs every other day and the two of you are only slightly dysfunctional, then congratulations, I am genuinely happy for you. Singletons, fear not, because there are a lot more unhappy relationships out there than you might realise. And we’re all growing up now, “adulting” as some particularly childminded people might say, so the causes of strain and conflict are more mature now. It’s a bit more than her asking you whose bra this is, or you asking her why your last whazz nearly set the shower curtain on fire.

No, you can forget about trivial teenage stuff like that, we’re talking about about some particularly heavy affairs. I’ll give you an example – just recently I had to sit my missus down and speak with her very frankly, because she had developed an addiction that was becoming a real issue. Way beyond an elephant in the room, it was now the whole circus, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra backing.

No, it wasn’t an addiction to drugs, unless coffee is considered, which it probably should be. No, it ain’t an addiction to shopping either, though I did wonder what the story was with the endless Amazon and Boots packages coming through the door. Let’s just say, you’re always willing to give your loved ones a bit of a chance, some leeway, even a few instances of looking the other way. But as I peered down into that pit of depravity, that is to say, our wash basket, and saw what must have been 70 pairs of dirty socks in there, I knew the time had come to sit her down.

To be fair, she took it quite well. She laughed and said she’d make it a New Year’s resolution not to buy any more socks that year, and unlike most New Year resolutions she was as good as her word and stuck to it. Whew, that was a close one, proper mopping of the brow stuff.

But that wasn’t her only addiction, it saddens me to say. No, our relationship also had to contend with her most unexpected addiction to the island life of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And I have to shoulder some of the responsibility on this because it was me who bought her the Switch in the first place. But before you put me down as some equivalent of Renton giving Tommy his first hit of heroin in Trainspotting, I didn’t actually buy her AC:NH because I didn’t think she’d like it.

Wow, you think you know someone, right? We’re talking 600 hours later at this stage, and she’s still running her island with a close eye, a fine-tooth comb. If it’s not about getting zillions of Bells to buy royal crowns and other top gear, then it’s curating blue roses, or getting all of the songs, or catching every fish. Or a million other things that you can do in this game that, in true Animal Crossing fashion, sound absolutely shockingly boring, unfun and uncompelling until you actually play the game for yourself.

That’s the selling point then, is it? Catching bugs and fishing?! Well, actually, yes. It’s true that your playable character has been shanghaied to an island this time, no rail access or chance to escape, but the rote tasks are still the exact same. It’s bugs, fish and fossils morning noon and night, in between whatever other money-making ventures you can muster.

Here on your new island though, or rather your new horizon, customisation is the order of the day. The 3DS’s New Leaf had an element of this, allowing you to place the odd bench or fountain here and there at eye-watering, unionised prices. But in this game, every single bit of your island is up for creative grabs. You can now place all of the hundreds of pieces of furniture outside, and let your imagination do the rest.

Fancy an outdoors 1950s diner? What about a Japanese hot spring and spiritual relaxation area? An outdoor gymnasium, a space for a football pitch, you can design whatever you like – this is your game and your island, after all. Once you’ve decked out your island, you can enjoy some pretty nice graphics by the series’ standard too, with more animals to bully around than ever before, some genuinely funny dialogue, and an economy whose back you’ll revel in breaking.

Well, this grabbed my missus like you wouldn’t believe, and if at any stage I gently reminded her that she’d been playing it for six hours straight, she’d grab me by the short and curlies and tell me to shurrup. I had become an Animal Crossing husband. And actually, I had no intention of telling her to stop, because this game almost signified the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, and we all needed a little boost.

God, is that fine timing or what? And yet it was Bill Gates and not Nintendo who got both barrels of the Covid conspiracy theories. But no wonder New Horizons sold like hot cakes, dwarving the sales of any other Animal Crossing game, and those predecessors have been on some pretty top-selling hardware; we’ll just leave aside the Wii U Animal Crossing amiibo card game for now.

And when I had a go for myself, I could definitely see the appeal. It’s easier than ever to visit a friend’s island, and since literally everyone out there had the game, that meant a lot of kindred spirits to visit during those strange 2020 months. It ensured that you always had something to do, someone to see, and in the early stages of an Animal Crossing game, you’re doing all you can every day to get your turf up to speed.

And then just like that, you’re addicted, seeing purple squirrels in your sleep, and apologising out loud to jock rabbits because you hadn’t talked to them for some time. You’re checking in every day, sometimes for hours at a time, and before you know it, the Switch’s most unhelpful game time counter has another hundred hours on top.

It does get mighty repetitive though, as pretty much every daily grind does. I’m aware how ridiculous it sounds to have played a game for 300 hours and be complaining about its longevity, but I must say that the updates New Horizons revealed throughout its lifetime, although mostly free, didn’t exactly set the world alight. I think one could argue with a lot of justification that previous Animal Crossing games, particularly New Leaf, still had more features and goals.

Still, what is there to complain about? This was the Animal Crossing game for when we needed it the most, one of the most perfect companions to the top-notch Switch money can buy. Some addictions are seedy, unsavoury in nature. Your heroins, your crystal meths, your vocations. Some addictions are almost encouraged and smiled upon, like sex, or chewing gum.

And then other things, we don’t even call an addiction at all, because it seems everyone out there is dependent on them, like coffee and Animal Crossing. It mightn’t be your favourite – for me, that’s probably New Leaf or the GameCube original – but it’s definitely the most unique of the series. And sometimes that’s all you need to capture somebody’s attention. By my reckoning, Animal Crossing: New Horizons caught the attention of over 30 million people, my missus being just one of them. But hundreds of hours later, she will never, ever admit it.

28 December 2021

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