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Animal Crossing: Quarantine Island

Animal Crossing: Quarantine Island

I don’t think anyone was truly prepared for March of 2020. I was in the midst of gearing up for con season and all the crazy ramp up of spring leading into summer. Then Coronavirus/Covid-19 hit and the whole world shut down like I've never seen in my lifetime. In the last 5 years, my region of NC has had two “500 Year” floods. We are used to chaos here. But that chaos usually results with some sheetrock repair, slower travel, and a few weeks without power. Also, the world usually just keeps moving on while we recover. I have never seen something like this though.

The whole world stopped in many ways. Cons I had spent thousands of dollars in fees, travel, and merchandise were suddenly not happening. My kids were out of school, and I’m trying to parent and educate with no warning. My wife, who is a respiratory therapist, was suddenly gone like 14 hours a day on the front lines of healthcare. Comic books stopped shipping, small businesses were closing, and life slowly started getting smaller and smaller. We went from no gatherings of 100, to no gatherings of 50, to no gatherings of 10, to everyone just stay home. I’m a physical touch person. Hugs are my love language, and now as I sit and write this, I can’t tell you the last time I had a hug that didn’t come from inside my house.

It’s like my whole world has become an island. In the midst of my shrinking world, something happened. Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropped. I had never played Animal Crossing, and honestly only knew the characters from punching them repetitively in the face on Smash Bros, but with the news that I was going to be stuck in my home for weeks or months with my kids, I thought it would be a wise investment. I had no idea how much a blessing that game would be at that exact time of life, or how much it would help me keep a solid perspective on the world around me.

As I began my journey into Animal Crossing, it was very much the beginning of what would be a long journey of isolation for myself and many people around the world. I had been home with my kids for 3 days when it dropped, and I was grateful and ready for something fun to do for both me and them as well. As I started my island life and roamed around the desolate land mass that only contained myself, 3 raccoons, a kangaroo, and a rhino, I just chuckled. I was leaving my real world of being stranded with my family of 5 to a virtual world that was incredibly similar. In fact, it was almost a little discouraging. I almost just handed it to my kids and went back to work on this book, but I kept going.

Maybe because I was in a particularly emo mood, or just maybe it’s my tendency to associate everything with song lyrics, I named my Island “Violent” after the Twenty One Pilots song “Migraine.” As the lyrics state,

“Behind my eyelids are islands of violence. My mind ship-wrecked, this is the only land my mind could find. I did not know it was such a violent island. Full of tidal waves, suicidal crazed lions. They're trying to eat me, blood running down their chin, and I know that I can fight, or I can let the lion win. I begin to assemble what weapons I can find, 'cause sometimes to stay alive you gotta kill your mind.”

As Tom Nook officially welcomed me to Violent Island, I was grateful for this joyful distraction. I began meandering around, looking for my next activity and quest. Within 30 minutes, I was already lost in it. I was having a blast, enjoying the peaceful surroundings and lack of conflict and turmoil that transpired on the Switch screen in front of me. Within one day, I had already logged in a decent amount of time and was a bit jealous to let the switch go so that my kids could actually play the game as well.

My tiny island wasn’t something that interested me at first, not any more than being stationary in my home for who knows how long. I was used to such big, massive open world games like Breath of the Wild, Destiny 2, Skyrim, DBZ Kakarot, or even Pokémon Go. I liked the freedom to roam endless landscapes not only digitally, but physically. With my con schedule, camp speaking, DJ-ing, and other adventurous exploits, I am on the road almost every other weekend. I was often traveling half the year for at least a couple days a week. It was hard not to see this isolation time (while I'm totally aware of the value and validity of it) as a prison sentence. Social distancing and shelter in place felt like freedom was being taken away when it wasn’t.

My perception was selfish and brought an unnecessary negative bias to the situation. I was getting to spend a crazy amount of time at home with my kids. As it stands, I’ve spent at least 5 hours a day for 3 weeks sitting at a table with all my kids. That has never happened. I was in my house, surrounded by all my fantastically distracting nerdy comforts. I had time to not only work on this book, but to have daily quiet times with my children. We were able to have dance parties in our garage with full lights and thunderous sound. I was able to have more genuine time with them than I have maybe ever in their lives. We’ve eaten out less, spent less on gas, kept our house cleaner, and binged more tv than we probably should have. These are the times I literally fight for in a normal schedule. How I responded was my choice. I realized that like my tiny island on Animal Crossing,

Prison or Paradise is a matter of Perspective

If you approach even the most discouraging situations with the right attitude, you’ll find there’s a lot more joy and peace to be had than you initially imagined.

In the midst of his edification of the Colossian church, Paul writes this:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” - Colossians 3:15

Paul is a dude that literally faced some of the most painful and uncomfortable situations life ever had to offer, yet he could make that statement. He told us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, and be thankful. While that may sound like some warm, fuzzy Hallmark stuff, they are both practical, willful actions. You have to actually “let” the peace of Christ rule in your heart. That means actually surrendering your anxiety and attempts to solve and control everything in your strength and placing your concerns and contentment completely on who Jesus is and what He can do. It’s not always an easy process, but it does help us to be in a better place emotionally, mentally, and spiritually when we are struggling.

Paul also tacked on “be thankful” at the end of that discourse as well. When you truly are thankful for what you have on every front, it’s hard to look at your situation with contempt, even in the hardest times.

My wife is respiratory therapist and is daily working in extremely high-risk situations in this time. We are in the position where my church has enough money to pay our staff 1 more month. I honestly don’t know if we will have funds to be able to make ends meet, let alone the financial ability to go back to con life after this. There is a lot of serious and scary stuff going on around us, and I know that it’s worse in other places, but I’m not letting these circumstances dictate my faith or response.

(Side note: I know that the struggles and discouragements I'm describing in my life doesn’t sound like it’s crazy perilous or painful. I realize it’s so much more serious for others around the world that are struggling to live or survive. I don’t want to make it sound like we have it worse than everyone else, but only that this time is hard and different from our “regular” schedule. Things are hard here in this time, but I honestly believe these circumstances aren’t going to be the end of the story.)

How we deal with our circumstances can also change how others see their surroundings as well. One of the things you do throughout the game is convince people to visit your island and ultimately move there. Your interactions in the situations make it all possible or impossible. Like real talk, the first guest to stay in my campsite was a weird frog that I totally didn’t want becoming a resident on my island, so I had planned to be short with him and avoid him and constantly build fences around him in public till he gets angry enough to bounce. But I couldn’t do it. Like legit, I felt uneasy about being unkind to a fictional frog.

When Stitches, the patchwork teddy-bear, showed up in my campsite wanting to move to my island, yet my island was full, I desperately wanted to go start smacking Sylvia the Kangaroo in the face with a net to make room for stitches because the option was to trade out Stitches for Tank, and I didn’t want to lose Tank. I didn’t want to be unkind to someone for no good reason to serve my selfishness. TikTok is literally filled with people posting about how ugly their villagers are and how they want to force them to leave, and I totally get it. I just lowkey decided in my heart I want to be a good neighbor. We can’t be negative or toxic to others just because our situation isn’t ideal.

Peggy the pig, on the other hand, is my girl, and I absolutely adore her. I talk to her constantly, write letters, and give gifts to her because I want her to never leave. I very well may burn my whole Island to the ground before I let her leave. But considering I couldn’t be mean to the Toby Flenderson of villagers, I’d probably just give her a gift and card when she leaves.

When we have the right attitude, we translate that to those around us. With my kids, their whole world has basically stopped. Dance competitions, theatre, youth group, field trips, battle of the books, even school in general. On top of their activities being canceled, they have to suddenly become homeschoolers and do all their classwork over the internet. If my attitude about our situation is bad, it will translate to how they handle their situation, which is why I have to make sure my heart is in the right place on a daily basis in order to be able to encourage them. Paul also told the Philippian church some wise words for a solid heart condition:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” - Philippians 2:14-15

Paul told them that in a world full of noise, when we do things without negative attitude and speech, we shine brightly. In this season of waiting and uncertainty, there are so many people being negative about their circumstances and we have the opportunity to counteract that. One of my favorite reactions in Animal Crossing is the encouragement reaction. You literally rare back and start blaring encouraging emotes until you hit the button to stop. When our hearts are in the right place and we express ourselves in a way that mirrors that, we improve our situation and surroundings.

One of the other things that I found so surprising is how differently people approach the gameplay. Some are casual that only pick it up on rare occasions. Some people probably have slept 3 hours since the game has been released. Some people are building bustling little cities, where I am going for more of a botanical geeky adventure vibe. Some people pick it up daily, and have made it part of their routine, while others are seemingly years behind the progress of others. My friend (and our book editor) Timmy hosts gameshows on his island, and I have pseudo famous cosplay friend that does Twitch tours of other people’s islands.

It’s a blank canvas. While comparisons may happen, the reality of it is that every person is responsible for their own progress, and only accountable to themselves with it.

We have 2 Switches in our house and 4 of us that play. My two younger daughters share an island on the Switch Lite, and my oldest daughter and I share an island on the full-size Switch. Even in my own home, I see 4 completely different gameplay styles. My youngest just likes running around throwing campfires everywhere. My second child wants all the cutest things possible. She wants the cutest outfits, the cutest villagers, the cutest hairstyles, but she’s also productive in doing the things that help her island grow. My oldest, however, is the least active. Since we share an island, I see how much she does a lot more clearly. For me, whenever I make time to play, my daily routine is getting the 4 fossils, finding the glowing spot in the ground, and planting a money tree. Then, I find out what the hot item of the day is, then go around and harvest half the fruit. I also like to leave my island open at least 2 hours a day so others can come over, share resources, or take selfies with Godzilla. I do all my stuff, but I make sure to save half the fruit and resources for my daughter.

Almost every day, when she goes to bed, I hop on before the day is out and the island is untouched. We are all on quarantine Stay-at-Home order, and she only has 4 hours of homeschool a day, so she legit isn’t struggling for time on this one. She had spent all of her video game free time playing Fortnite, and then in the time since the first draft of this book, she has restarted Breathe of the Wild. She handles her island time differently, but honestly, that’s her prerogative. I’m not going to force her to grind on a fictional island in her free time. But where it comes full circle is when she wants something or wants the ability to do what myself and her little sister are doing, but can’t because she hasn’t put the work in. No one in life is going to force you to give your best effort in anything, but Paul makes this statement to the Ephesian church,

“Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. “- Ephesians 5:16.

Paul straight up reminds us that we need to make the most of every opportunity. He says the days are evil. Right now, I can tell you the days are long, they are frustrating, they are discouraging, they are isolating, and using our time wisely can make the best use of difficult times. Games like Animal Crossing have daily occurrences that if you don’t make the most of your opportunities, you miss them. You miss fossils, you miss money trees, you miss turnips, you miss Celeste, you miss Flick, or you miss character interactions. While these things are a little more evident on the tiny screen in front of our faces, the same thing is going on in front of us in our own lives. Every day we choose where we are going to invest our time.

After about 10 days of playing the game, I was already starting to formulate this chapter in my mind. I had made a waterfall garden with like 200 flowers on top, gotten my house to a really cool place and was really happy with all the things I had accomplished so far, but then when I took a break to let my switch charge, it hit me like “Oh, drumsticks.” As I took a minute and walked through my house, and realized I could probably make a more productive use of my time actually doing some home repairs and improvements while I was actually stuck at home. Sure, customizing my home in game was way easier, and could be comfortably done from my recliner, but it wasn’t my best use of time.

So, that day we decided as a family we were going to start working on home improvements more. We went hardcore on our yard, mowing, trimming trees, pulling weeds, and other chores. We even buried a tire halfway in the ground because my youngest loved sitting on one in the game. Then, we began to slowly repaint our house room by room, because we hadn’t painted a drop in this place in a decade. The game’s virtual productivity actually challenged and inspired us to be more productive in our surroundings. The concept is the same. Make the most of the time you have, in game or out. I just wish I got nook miles for mowing my yard.

This productive attitude not only helps you manage time, but increases the quality of life. It’s the old adage: “You reap what you sow.” This concept is found repetitively throughout scripture.

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” - 2 Corinthians 9:6.

People look at this and call it karma, but it’s honestly just the reality of life and a biblical principal. You will get the reward of the work you put in. You dig a thousand bells out of the ground and pocket it, you get that thousand bells. You plant that thousand bells, and you’ll get three thousand bells. You instead plant 99,000 bells, and you’ll get 297,00 bells (hopefully).

In real life, my neighbor's house is way nicer on the outside than mine. My neighbor works on the exterior of his home like Tom Nook is waiting in his kitchen. In our quarantine time, I’ve done the projects I previously listed. My neighbor, on the other hand, has planted 2 gardens, built a fire pit, screened in a porch, hung a family sized swing, built a frame and hung an individual swing for his teenage daughter, power washed his house, and held three cookouts in his back yard. He’s sowed more, so he’s reaped more. I definitely have more to show on my island than my yard. You will have to choose what is the best use of your time, and how much of yourself you are going to invest. Your focus and actions will determine what you receive in this capacity.

Well... unless...

I've always strove to make Faith & Fandom as positive and encouraging as possible and not condemning or attacking any people or group, so please understand, the same attitude and heart is present in this next little section. I love you. I promise. This is just me hashing through my own struggles and issues.

Animal Crossing is built to be a long quest. It was meant to be an actual life experience. The concept of a game that functions and responds to real time is made to be experienced in real time. It doesn’t help that Animal Crossing has one of the easiest cheat systems known to gaming. Simply turn off your Date & Time online sync, change the date in your settings, and viola, time travel. But as the 11th Doctor stated in Doctor Who–

“Cheap and nasty time travel. Very bad for you..I’m trying to give it up."

The game is designed to be a journey and a true experience for you to actual feel the pride and accomplishment as you effectively change an entire world around you through sheer hard work and determination. However, many people “time travel” and go from being in a tent to having unlimited bells and a fully developed civilization in 3 days. I’m not condemning anyone for doing it. I get it; it’s easy. It’s also your game, and you paid for the right to play it however you want.

But it’s like watching a movie on fast forward. Sure, you may get the general idea of what went down, but you are missing the experience it was created to be. I’m not going to poop in anyone’s cornflakes about their gaming experience, but I see a lot of people that jump ahead finding themselves bored and frustrated. One cosplayer friend posted a ton of weeping emojis as she leveled her island to the ground for the 4th time stating, “I LIKE TIME TRAVEL BECAUSE I LIKE INSTANT GRATIFICATION.” She wanted to make it to the end, but then was kind of miserable that she had already bypassed the entire experience. People that manipulate the game can end up with unlimited bells, but then have nothing to strive for and look at the game like, “...now what....” Earning money, terraforming, designing, interactions is a long-term grind. Years' worth of “growth” in days will always seem overwhelming and hollow, that goes for in game and in life.

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. - Proverbs 21:5

I don’t think anyone is going to come to actual financial ruin by cheating in Animal Crossing. It’s not like the days of Napster or pirating movies early on where people actually faced prosecution over things like that. It’s not even like Pokémon Go, where you can get your account banned for cheating. It’s your game, you literally can do what you want with it, but the poverty you end up with is missing out on the richness of the of the full experience. When you take shortcuts, you do just that. You cut something out. If you want instant gratification in your island-dwelling free time, that’s totally legal and your right. It’s when that attitude transfers over to the real world...

Well, that’s not okay.

We have a society built on taking shortcuts. People invest their income in gambling and lottery tickets, hoping for a shortcut to hard work and sound financial decisions. People look for shortcuts in relationships with dating apps, social media outlets, and dishonest representations of themselves. They want the instant gratification of getting the full effect and intimacy of a long-term relationship commitment, but don’t mind taking shortcuts regardless of the damage it does to other people’s hearts and lives. People take shortcuts in the educational experience, doing whatever it takes to get the necessary grade, but not actually being concerned with if they have actually gained knowledge, skill, and understanding in the process.

My wife teaches respiratory therapy. She literally trains people to keep you breathing when you can’t breathe on your own. What’s crazy is that over the years of her teaching this program and skill, she’s seen many students cheat. If your being trained to keep people alive and you take a shortcut and cheat, people will die.

You might be reading this like, “you’re taking this too seriously,” and I fully understand that. Comparing real life ethics to Tom Nook finances are vastly distant concepts, but at the heart of it, there’s a connection to our identities and integrity. I’ve hit this verse a million times in these books, sermons, and in my life in general. I hit it so often because honestly, I need to be reminded of it myself on a regular basis. Our little actions show the weight of our character and integrity. Jesus states in Luke 16:10:

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.

How you handle the small or inconsequential things in your life shows you how you will handle the big things of vast importance. Let me tell you straight up; integrity and faithfulness are not easy for me. My father was an alcoholic, but alcoholism has never been a struggle for me. Faithfulness and integrity is my struggle.

In my own life, unchecked, I can easily be a liar. I’m a people pleaser. In that, I want to tell people things they want to hear. I would rather be slightly dishonest, exaggerating or downplaying elements of a conversation if I can placate or appease someone. By nature, I would do what takes to make someone walk away from an interaction with me happy and without confrontation. It’s the shortcuts. It’s the little things, and it’s a hole in my integrity. It’s something I have to walk in the Spirit in on a daily basis to overcome. It’s the same thing with faithfulness.

Faithfulness is giving all that you have promised and are required of in any situation, whether it be with work, marriage, friendship, parenting, or any other area. I would often catch myself gravitating towards whatever could give me more instant gratification or a momentary boost of my self-worth rather than fully giving myself in the ways I've committed. This isn’t fun to write, but I have been unfaithful in almost every relationship I was ever in. I would never leave someone because I was loyal (or maybe I was afraid of the confrontation), but I wouldn’t give them all that I had promised because I was unfaithful. I’ve been fighting the balance of integrity and faithfulness intentionally since 2006.

That year, the distinction and the need hit me like a ton of bricks and I constantly battle it. Just like an alcoholic shouldn’t tempt themselves with a situation that would promote behavior that would lead them to drink, a dishonest person shouldn’t tempt themselves with shortcuts. All my life, I’ve wanted to be the hero. I’ve always wanted to be the good guy. But in reality, for me to come anywhere close to that, I have to seriously guard my own personal integrity, and for me that translates even to how I play video games. Holding my integrity, even in a video game, is something that can show me where I'm at in terms of the big things. It’s the small steps towards the full journey of growth, and you can’t take shortcuts in that journey and arrive where you want to be. Growth happens in its own slow process. I’m grateful things do grow in Animal Crossing faster than in real life, but in or out of game, I have to be patient to make sure my growth is healthy.

With healthy growth in mind, the last Animal Crossing thought I want to leave you with is this: you have to be intentional with creating an environment you can grow in. When you pick your island, you are given a set limited amount of space. You can do a lot of things to change the environments and surroundings of your space, but you can only work within the parameters given. But not only do you work with the space you are given, but you have to do things wisely in that space.

Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting? Does he not finally plant his seeds—black cumin, cumin, wheat, barley, and emmer wheat— each in its proper way, and each in its proper place? The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding. - Isaiah 28:24-26

I made some pretty stupid errors when I originally started my island journey. I wanted to have a ton of fruit growing so that I could generate a steady income selling it off. I also wanted people to be able to roll onto my island at any time and get all the fruit they needed. So, I cleared off two giant elevated sections of land, and planted trees of every fruit variety, as many as I could fit! I went to Nook Miles Islands for hours just straight harvesting their trees and bringing them back, planting every piece of fruit that I could. So finally, when I was done, both these giant fields were covered every square inch with seedlings and nursery trees. I knew that within a couple days, I was going to have 6-digit incomes off of my fruit horde. Then days went by, and my seedlings were still seedlings. Other trees on the island had grown, but not those I had planted together.

It hit me. I was being a complete idiot. Just because there was enough room to plant, didn’t mean there was enough room to grow. Just because the game allowed me to put my shovel and seed down, there was no guarantee that it was going to be a healthy place for growth.

Many of us do that with the growth in our lives. We see opportunities that seem to fit for the moment or a season, but we aren’t looking to how it all fits together in the big picture. We aren’t looking if we will have the capability or capacity to grow along with the groundwork we started. We commit to activities and responsibilities before we know if we have the mental or temporal bandwidth to continue you with them. This is why so many of our actions and efforts end up being shallow and short-lived. The things that are worth growing in our lives have to be given room to grow. They have to be allowed to grow, not only on the surface, but with deep roots.

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” - Colossians 2:7.

Some of us have never grown deep in our relationship with Christ because we haven’t allowed ourselves enough room in our hearts, minds, and calendars to actually grow and develop roots. We make our lives like my failed orchards– crammed, overflowing, and absolutely shallow. Growth requires room for growth.

So back on my island, I began the slow long process of digging up and spacing out the bajillion trees I had clumped together. This took way longer than the first time, but I began to see results quickly. Sometimes it took frequent re-arranging and spacing out. I thought I had given myself enough space, but turns out I was completely wrong. Even now I still have like 8 seedlings I have to move. These seedlings have been seedlings for 2 full weeks. They should have grown, but they haven't. These trees have been babies since the day I picked up a shovel in this game, and they should honestly be full blooming and producing fruit. There’s nothing left for me to do but keep working to make sure they are in the place they need to grow the way they should. The author of Hebrews describes immature Christians in the same capacity.

“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” - Hebrews 5:12-14

If you truly want to grow, you are going to have to make sure you are planted in a healthy place yourself. No random villager is going to show up and scoop you out of your own immaturity. So many young believers are immature because they have spent their entire walk with God allowing their parents to do that. They continually place them in different environments hoping they will grow, and then when they become adults, they just stop because they are used to having someone else seek their growth on their behalf. At any point in time, you can pull up your islands map and see where things are, and where you want them to be. If you want to actually grow in God you need to be able to look at the outline of your life and see where the areas of growth, relocation, and some serious terraforming need to be!

Closing this chapter, I hope your time playing this game was good for you. If it was a quick experience or if you are still grinding away by the time you read this, I hope you loved your time on AC:NH. This game came at a time when we were all separated and further isolated, but I hope that when all this clears, we will be able to not only grow as individuals, but that we will all be able to grow together. Maybe the things I learned playing the game will help you, or you will be able to use what you learned to help others. But I’ll leave you with what K.K stated at the beginning of the game:

“So, looks like you’ve decided to make your own way in the world... Get out there, explore new frontiers. Yeah, but take it from a cat who’s been on the road... Being by your lonesome can grind on the soul. You’ve gotta make friends along the way. Rambling this crazy world is squaresville without some pals. Yeah man... Friends are where it’s at.”


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