I’ve been what I’d consider a casual gamer for as long as I can remember. I have a few favorite series, like the Legend of Zelda, but otherwise, I’m not overly enthused about a new title or console. But some games hold a special place in my heart and memories.

Growing up, my sister and I’s first game console of our own was a GameCube. As the eldest daughter, I recall my parents asking me if we wanted an Xbox or a GameCube for Christmas. I only picked the GameCube because I thought it sounded cool.

We booted up our first game, Animal Crossing, and we had no clue what the game was about. I named our little village, creatively, New York. I called myself Fido – yes, with an inadvertent space in front of it – because I thought I’d be an animal.

It was called Animal Crossing, after all.

I love Animal Crossing. I’ve sunk likely thousands of hours into the series as a whole. It’s a simple life simulation game without many achievements or goals, and I adore that freedom and flexibility.

Maybe you’ve heard some recent chatter about Animal Crossing. The newest game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, released March 20, just as social distancing measures were ramping up here in the United States. Since then, the game has exploded in popularity. It’s challenging to find a Nintendo Switch to play the game on, and sales have smashed launch records of Nintendo games you’ve likely heard of, like Pokémon, Mario and Super Smash Bros.

Many have attributed that success to the pandemic, and I would tend to agree. We’re cooped up at home, looking for something to distract us from the terrible reality we’re facing. The game is whimsical and simple: your character is dropped on a deserted island, and it’s up to you to help develop it. Your simple plot of land quickly morphs into a quaint community of shops, neighbors and decor, all at your hand. Your character has complete control: you choose exactly where your villagers live on the island. You pave roads, dig out rivers, literally move mountains if you wish. It gives you a sense of control that many of us aren’t feeling in our everyday lives.

But more importantly, the game is collaborative and social. You can visit your friend’s islands and hang out. I’ve spent hours visiting my best high school friend’s island; We water each other’s flowers and send each other notes and gifts. She lives in Missouri now, but we can spend time together virtually through this game, something I look forward to and cherish.

Despite the physical distance, Animal Crossing has helped me feel a little less alone. I can spend time with my sister, with friends I haven’t talked to in ages, all because of this cute little video game, where the worst that can happen to you is you get stung by a bug. It’s the perfect pandemic companion.

Many of our stories in this edition focus on that theme – connecting us despite physical separation. How is a rural school like West Greene educating kids? C.R. Nelson talked with staff and students and included some excerpts of letters students wrote to a friend about the pandemic in her fascinating story. It’s refreshing to see this through the eyes of a high school sophomore.

I hope that, however you’re surviving these remarkable times, you find time for joy and for connection to those you love, even if it’s through the screen of your smartphone. Take care, stay safe and see you in the next edition.

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