To the creators of some of my favorite games: thank you.
Disclaimer: The rest of this “letter” to Nintendo will be more of an explanation of my gratitude on behalf of my readers. I think the two words I’ve offered are more than enough for the creators of Animal Crossing and so many more games to understand how much of an impact they’ve had on my life.
Due to some personal choices, mental health issues and unfortunate circumstances, I didn’t have much of a childhood between the ages of six and 12. Here’s the short version.
In first grade, I had my first run-in with anxiety, and my parents took me out of my private Christian elementary school. My mom began homeschooling me and would continue to do so until I made the decision to go to public school in seventh grade. As you can imagine, making friends as a child isn’t easy when you’re homeschooled. Although my mom took me to events and clubs for homeschooled kids and even helped me get involved in Girl Scouts, I still struggled to make friends because of my anxiety, shyness and social anxiety. Honestly, during that time, I really only had one friend.
During my homeschooling years, my grandmother on my mom’s side was diagnosed with brain, breast and lung cancer. Of course, it was up to my mom and her two sisters to take care of her, and, being too young to stay home alone while my dad worked, I usually had to go to all of my Nana’s appointments and treatments. Whenever we weren’t taking her to check in with her doctors or to have chemotherapy and radiation treatments, we were usually staying at her house so my mom could take care of her and help her with anything she needed. Since my two aunts had jobs to do, my mom was often with her more than anyone, and that meant I was, too.
Okay, so, all this is to say that I didn’t have much of a childhood during these six years. I don’t fault anyone for it, and I’m really not upset about it. I kept myself entertained—typically with video games or books—because I knew what my mom was doing was important.
Anyone who knows me knows that both books and video games are important to me, but most people probably don’t know exactly why. They both provided things that I never had as a kid: friendship and adventure. Reading books let me go on adventures that I never imagined possible. I experienced Hogwarts with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and I went on so many adventures with so many other characters in so many other worlds. I even received a special book from my grandmother that will always be special to me: “A Little Princess.”
Alright, that’s all fine and good and lovely and emotionally charged, but what does any of this have to do with Nintendo? When I was around seven, I got a GameCube for Christmas. Later that year, I got a copy of Animal Crossing: Population Growing—the first game in a series I fell in love with and still play to this day. When I was around nine years old, around a year before my grandmother got diagnosed with brain cancer, I received a Nintendo DS and a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World, the second game in the same series. Having owned a GameBoy Advance, portable video games weren’t exactly mind-blowing to me, but being able to take my Animal Crossing town and villagers with me was absolutely amazing.
If you aren’t familiar with the Animal Crossing series, it’s basically a game in which your character lives in a small town full of anthropomorphic animal villagers (it's not as scary as it sounds) with whom you become friends. It’s essentially a life simulation game complete with a town museum to which you can donate bugs and fish you catch and fossils and artwork you find all over town. You interact with the animals, do favors for them and get rewarded, send and receive letters and basically develop friendships with them over time. You can dress any way you like, have any color hair you like and express yourself any way you like. You even have a home to decorate (and a mortgage to pay off as your home expands)!
Now, this may sound like a childish, boring game to those who have never played (or just aren’t into casual games), but to me, it was my childhood. It let me have friendships deeper than any I had ever known, and it let me experience things I had never experienced. It gave me an escape when things weren’t going well, and it let me share my happiness when things were going exceptionally well. It let me express myself without any fear of judgment! This game was something that I could take with me to my Nana’s house, to her appointments and really anywhere! Not only did it keep me from being bored while we were out, it gave me friends to talk to and things to do while I was going through these difficult times in my life. On top of that, once I started school and made real (read as: human) friends, I could play this game with them. Even now, this series is still very prominent in my life and allows me to escape from daily life (and the upcoming election), and it gives me a way to bond with friends I may not be able to see on a regular basis. The Animal Crossing series sparked my love of video games and helped me find a hobby that has become such an important part of my life, and I can’t thank Nintendo enough for what their creations have done for me.