Animal Crossing: New Horizons has taken the world by storm. The game has inundated social media (and this very website). It shattered Switch sales records in Japan. Even Brie Larson loves it. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. Given how awful the real world is right now, it’s nice to have a pastel-colored paradise we can all escape to at a moment’s notice.
But New Horizons is also a seriously stressful game. Tom Nook increases your debt about a millionfold in, like, the first 20 minutes. Spiders sprint after you at breakneck speed. And don’t even get me started on how passive-aggressive some of the island’s citizens can be. (They should’ve called this game Crossing Animals, amirite?)
Then there’s the big real-world stressor. I don’t know about you, but every time I play New Horizons, I can’t shake the feeling that I could be doing anything—literally anything—else with my time. And that’s with a quarantine going on. How would I feel if bars, clubs, restaurants, gyms, museums, movie theaters, tattoo parlors, nail salons, subway stations, concert venues, and everything else worth visiting still had open doors? Would I even be playing this game?
It’s a good thing, then, that doing other things while you’re playing New Horizons is very easy. The game is practically built for multitasking; there are few moments that call for your constant or even instant attention. There’s plenty of built-in down time where there isn’t much for you to do. (Editor’s note: Or if you’re like me, you’ll want something to do instead of ceaselessly catching worthless fish to grind Nook Miles while you wait for something to be built.) Here are some activities you can juggle alongside this minimally demanding life simulator. Of course, I am but one man; I can’t possibly list all the ways you can multitask while playing New Horizons. If you’ve been balancing the game with anything else (parenting, cooking, or any other thing I’ve no experience with), please feel free to share your hacks.
The widespread practice of social distancing has sent swathes of the workforce into a work-from-home situation, where it’s harder to get work done but easier to get distracted. What’s more, the proliferation of video conferencing apps, like Zoom, makes it all too easy to play video games while you’re on a work call. (Note to editor: I would never.) Games like New Horizons are ideal here. You can still tune out a conversation that easily could’ve been an email, but you won’t run the risk of missing that one instance where the boss asks for your input.
Some people notoriously take their sweet time making moves in board games. You could twiddle your thumbs for seven minutes while your friends bicker over the fine print of a sheep-and-wood-for-ore trade. Or you could cast your line into the azure seas of your personal cay. (You’ll probably just catch another sea bass, though.) Your pick.
It’s no secret that the games-as-a-service games of today have excruciating load times. Have you ever sat through the boot-up process of The Division 2? How about Destiny 2, a game Kotaku writer Ethan Gach pinpointed as another multitasking game? New Horizons is, by its nature, a perfect fit for playing while another game is starting up. It’s engaging enough that you’ll want to play but low-stakes enough you can immediately put it down once something more riveting is ready to go. So instead of staring at your drop ship for six-and-a-half minutes, go replant some trees.
Throw a load in the wash. Plant some trees. Move your clothes to the dryer. Plant some more trees. Take your clothes out of the dryer. Catch some bugs. Fold a few shirts. Catch some more bugs. You get the point.
We all have that one friend who grinds strategy games to a halt. Here’s an example: I started a wholly remote game of Civilization V the other day (woo, social distancing!). It took about two hours to make it 45 turns, a pace that would bring any longtime Civ player to tears. The good news is, while my one maddening friend was making life measurably worse for five other people, I was messing around in New Horizons. On one hand, I built up the megalopolis of Super Tokyo under the rule of Oda Nobunaga. On the other, I uprooted and replanted an entire glade of pear trees.
At this point, you might have an idea of what I’m going to suggest. “New Horizons is great for playing between sets.” Well, yeah, it is. But it’s also great for playing during sets. You can effortlessly hold the Switch in your hands while doing a plank. Trust me when I say that mindlessly selling shells to Timmy and Tommy helps the seconds tick by. And if you’re doing anything with concentric contractions—sit-ups, crunches, that sort of thing—you can hold the Switch in front of your face. This works twofold. One, you’re playing video games, which: awesome. Two, it locks your arms in place, making it more difficult to use them to swing your upper body weight through those excruciating final reps—something any fitness expert will tell you is extremely bad form.
Someday, we’ll be able to do this again. Someday.