How Animal Crossing helps manage depression and anxiety

Animal Crossing's "just do you" environment can create a safe space for those coping with mental illness.

Living with a mental illness can feel like being trapped in a cage of your own thoughts and impulses. Countless people use video games as a coping mechanism to escape into another world, a simulated haven where they can get out of their own heads for a while and into someone else’s. For many, that haven is Animal Crossing.

The player is surrounded by villagers for a bridge-opening ceremony in Animal Crossing New LeafThe game is designed to create a sense of a community. You move into a new rural village populated with friendly anthropomorphic animals. And they all love you! Okay, maybe not unconditionally, at least not at first. They tend to send you on an errand every chance they get. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. Fatigue and difficulty concentrating are both symptoms of depression. Sometimes being given simple, manageable, familiar tasks is enough to help afflicted individuals reengage. And after only a few short days of buying medicine, delivering packages, and burying time capsules, your villagers will treat you like family.

Though it might sound silly, it can be a great comfort to have someone, even a virtual someone, say something sweet like “I’m going to compliment you until you puke on Saturday” or just tell you that you are appreciated or even threaten to beat up the person they think was messing with you after a bee attack.

And when you’re not being wooed by your adorable villagers, you can do whatever you want. That’s kind of the point of the game. You literally can’t lose. You can’t starve to death. You can’t go bankrupt. You can’t fail.  The pressure is off! After an exhausting day of depression and anxiety tag-teaming you, telling you that you can’t do anything right, it’s nice to go to a place where you can’t do anything wrong. Want to spend the day fishing? Go forth and park it on the beach. Ran out of bells? Sell some fruit and then treat yourself at the hair salon. Want to design a bombin’ dress? Rock it. You are fab.

Players of all gender identities can dress their avatars in a way that makes them the most comfortable.

Speaking of which, New Leaf has taken great strides in letting players create and customize a safe space by breaking down the rigid gender binary that once dominated the Animal Crossing fashion scene. Female-bodied characters can wear pants now. Male-bodied characters can wear skirts and dresses. Players of all gender identities can dress their avatars in a way that makes them the most comfortable. Considering how transgender individuals are more prone to mental illness than cisgender individuals, it is especially important for games with character customization to allow their players to present themselves however they wish.

Animal Crossing’s most important gift is simply making its players feel at home. The village is a safe space in which you can slow down and be yourself. And while it certainly shouldn’t be used as a cure, Animal Crossing can make living with mental illness just a little bit easier.

Published Jun. 4th 2015
View Comments
  • KungFro
    This series has been an escape for me many times. I've always had pets, since people can be stressful to deal with, and then Animal Crossing gave me even more animal friends. It was exactly what I needed.

    By far my favorite article of yours.
  • Jackson Ingram
    And the best part is, these animals can actually talk to you! As much as I love my dogs, our conversations are a bit one-sided. AC really succeeds in creating an interactive community.

    And thanks, man. That really means a lot to me. :)
  • Victor Ren
    Awesome article. Although I may not be able to relate to the depression aspect, I can say that I loved Animal Crossing. As a kid it gave me so much to look forward too. You could go into the coffee shop and listen to K.K sing, make plans with your neighbors, and then they would even get mad if you forgot about them in real life.

    Even just fishing or looking for fossils made the time pass by.
  • Jackson Ingram
    Thank you. :) I think that's one of the game's biggest strengths. It always gives you something to look forward to. Even if it's just like "oh, this tree I planted today will be bigger tomorrow," it's still a comfort to have something to be excited about.
  • Steven Oz
    Featured Contributor
    Wow...this post! I have depression and what you said is true. While this game is not a cure it certainly does help with all the confusion and sad times for me.
  • Jackson Ingram
    Me too. I'm very glad to have it to pick me up or calm me down when I need it to. :)
  • Fireboltz_7795
    Featured Contributor
    The Animal Crossing games really do help me with stress relief.
  • Jackson Ingram
    Me too. Even outside the games, players have built communities on sites like Tumblr where they can make friends and feel supported. Animal Crossing's effects go far beyond the game itself.
  • Manisha Hossain
    Shit, this article really made my night. Loved every bit, very relatable!
  • Jackson Ingram
    Thank you! That means so much to me :)
  • Anonymous_3105
    This is amazing
  • Jackson Ingram
    Thank you :)
  • Anonymous_3105

Cached - article_comments_article_23614
More Animal Crossing Content

GameSkinny Newsletter

Get Animal Crossing news the moment it happens!

You have been successfully subscribed to this newsletter.