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  • Wendy Sand Eckel

Strange Times and New Horizons


When the quarantine was first announced, it struck me that I wouldn’t see either of my daughters or my two grandsons for an indefinite time. They were both scrambling — buying paper towels and toilet paper, diapers and disinfectant wipes, desperate for masks.


I wondered how we would stay connected.


On a group text, they mentioned a new game that had just been released for Nintendo Switch that had a Wi-Fi feature. Animal Crossing. We could play together remotely. I perked up. We were a Nintendo family. When Mario 64 came out, my daughters were in middle school. After they went to bed, I would stay up to find a way to get the penguin down the ice slide so they could move forward to the next level.


One Christmas, we bought a used console and the Mario 64 game for my mom. In her late sixties, she plugged it in and started playing. Along the way she got stuck and emailed a guy from a gaming site. She said she was a grandmother and couldn’t get Mario to jump. She asked if he could help. He responded the same day that her email was the best one he’d ever gotten. Could he share it in his newsletter?


After much searching for a Switch, I finally found three on the Kohls' website. I ordered one for each of us along with the Animal Crossing game. When mine first arrived, I stuck it in a corner of the mud room. The WHO hadn’t determined how long the virus survived on cardboard. This was March, mind you. So the box sat gathering dust. My girls had already fired theirs up and were having a blast.


Mom, you have to get it going.


I took it out of the box. Another week of dust. My younger daughter called, I’ll walk you through it. And she did. My Switch was up and running, as was the game. In Animal Crossing, you (your character) move to an island and begin to help build it up. The first step is to name your island and character. My kids call me Mum, my grandsons Mimi, so I chose Mumsie. I named the island, Nirvana. OK, Boomer.


When I arrived at my island, I had nothing but a tent. So Mumsie went to sleep on a cot after reading a note from her ‘mother’ in her mailbox that said she hoped I enjoyed my stay at Nirvana. Well, that’s when I realized Animal Crossing wasn’t just a fun game to play with your kids. It was an emotional purge. I HATED being away from home as a kid. The two times I gave camp a try, I called my mother every night for the first three nights (maybe four) until I realized she wasn’t going to rescue me. I turned off the game and let myself feel how much I missed the people I loved.


Fighting back those emotions, and wanting to do right by my kids, the next night I caught some fish and earned some ‘bells’ and finally got a real house. Then a ‘neighbor’ approached me. She was a sheep and she was into working out. A lot. I was annoyed. She seemed a bit narcissistic. But after a few ‘conversations,’ I realized I really liked her. (Yes, I know this is a video game.) I caught up to her every time I saw her walking about with her net and demonstrated the happy emotion she had taught me. After that, I, not Mumise, felt happy when I interacted with my friend the sheep. I gave her athletic goggles once and the next time I saw her she was wearing them. The next time I saw her, she gave me a tank top.


On Mother’s Day, over two months into having not seen my children or pretty much anyone else other than my husband, my girls reserved the evening for me to join them on Animal Crossing. After some internet issues, I finally arrived on ‘The Coop.’


Both girls were there waiting for me, waves of happy emotions framing their faces. Or should I say their characters were waiting for me. But it didn’t feel like we were characters. It felt as if we were all together. Tears welled in my eyes.


I know, this is a video game…


We romped and fished and visited the museum and I was amazed at the size of their homes and islands. I had work to do.


Then they told me to follow the animal tracks.


The tracks led me to the top of the island and I, and my character, were in awe. There were gifts and balloons and flowers everywhere. They watched in delight as I opened each one. A lovely pink coat and hat, a toilet, thank you, a wreath for my door, 10,000 bells to pay off my mortgage to get a bigger house, and countless other gifts.


We played together for four hours, chatting over our phones, toasting our glasses.


BEST. MOTHER’S. DAY. EVER.


I logged on to Animal Crossing tonight. I hadn’t been on for four days and ‘Celeste,’ who I’m pretty sure is a chicken, approached me and said if I looked up into the sky tonight, I might see a shooting star. Me, not my character, had a surge of emotion. After my mother passed, every rare time I saw a shooting star, I felt as if she was with me. So I scurried over to the lawn chair I had bought with my bells and tilted my head up.


There they were. One after the other.


I still haven’t been with my girls in real life. But we know we have an odd yet amazing little video game to connect us.


Maybe I’ll write Nintendo a note. Maybe I am close to my mom more often than I realize.


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