I came a bit late to the Animal Crossing craze.
(Don’t worry, this post will get to writing eventually).
I finally broke down and got a Nintendo Switch last month, thinking I’d play the Zelda game. But while that game is beautiful and fantastic, one too many skeletons popped out of the ground and attacked me at night and I found it way too stressful.
So I switched to Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Animal Crossing in the pandemic
If you’re unfamiliar with the game, essentially you’re placed on a desert island and you begin gradually constructing tools, completing tasks, cultivating flowers and fruit trees, and gaining items. You gradually transform your island into your own personal paradise. There are hundreds and hundreds of items so you can basically customize your house and island into whatever your creativity can dream up.
Pirate dungeon? Go for it. Mermaid lagoon? Why not. Modern metropolis? You can do that too.
I quickly got hooked and it really is the perfect pandemic game. It feels like you’re “outside” and accomplishing something, the museum you can build is magical, and it’s just kind of a safe and pleasant alternate world to pass the time in. (Reach out to me if you play it and want to do some island tourism).
There are definitely some dark undertones to the game if you start thinking about what you’re doing too much. Wildlife exists solely to be catalogued and sold for profit, you transform the natural landscape into something almost wholly artificial, and you convert the resulting money into a mountain of crap you don’t need. What it says about humanity’s impulses is kind of bleak.
It’s magnetic. And in particular, I’ve been hooked (sorry) by the in-game fishing.
Fishing in Animal Crossing
Fishing in Animal Crossing is incredibly simple and yet it’s such a perpetual challenge. There are different-sized shadows that denote fishes in rivers, ponds, and the ocean. You get positioned to cast and if you land your lure in the right zone the fish approaches.
The fish approach the lure at varying speeds and they may go straight for a chomp or they might nibble three or four times. Once they bite, you only have a brief moment to pull up before they disappear.
It’s so simple and yet it’s perfectly calibrated to be challenging.
Out of all the tasks I’ve completed in a lifetime of playing video games, fishing in Animal Crossing defies easy mastery. Once you miss a fish because you were too slow, you start getting jumpy and keep pulling up too soon at the first nibbles. Once you miss a few because you’re jumpy, you start being too patient again and lose fish for being too slow.
And good luck to you if you’ve had a couple glasses of wine.
An added challenge is that once you get to know the game, you recognize the shadows of the fish you want to catch (sharks! coelacanths!) and you’ve been at it a while, so you have even more anticipation that can push you back to being too jumpy again. And the rarer the fish, the less time you have to pull up once they bite.
It can maddening to miss your shot.
Zen and the art of Animal Crossing fishing
In order to fish well in Animal Crossing you have to be in a zone.
Here’s what I learned about how to fish in Animal Crossing:
- You have to stay calm.
- Your mind has to be the right mix of alert and relaxed.
- You can’t hold your breath.
- It helps if you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing entirely and you’re just reacting to the sound of the bite. (Looking away from the screen can help with this).
In other words, it helps to be in a flow state.
The benefit I’ve found playing Animal Crossing is that it has helped me calibrate my flow state and get there more quickly. It forces me to realize when I’m agitated, when I’m not breathing properly, and when I’ve gotten too jumpy.
Who knew a video game would be the thing to help with this! Move over, meditation!! Animal Crossing is here!
So how does this all relate to writing (beyond procrastination)?
The writing lesson
There are a lot of myths out there about mental states and the writing process. Hollywood and popular culture glorify the substance- or depression-fueled writer whose brilliance is enhanced by their ailments. Even the adage “write drunk, edit sober” perpetuates a myth that substances help creativity.
In my personal experience and the experiences of writers I respect, the best writing comes from a (sober) flow state.
You’re alert but relaxed. You’re focused solely on the task at hand and time disappears because you’re just thinking and reacting in the moment.
Basically, you have to be in the same mental place as the one where you can catch a shark.
And who knows, maybe Animal Crossing can help you recognize and recapture your flow state. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go water some hyacinths.
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