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Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a game that helps calm my anxiety

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A virtual safe space

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Now that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is on my smartphone, I can play it virtually anywhere. Pocket Camp, like its predecessors, is colorful, vibrant and full of things to unlock. I’ve always found the series calming and relaxing, it’s a nice mental break away from life where you can just immerse yourself in a world full of cutesy characters.

Pocket Camp generally follows the other Animal Crossing games, with a focus on making friends and collecting things, but this time it’s set on a campsite you can deck out with furniture crafted from materials you obtain. It’s similar to past games in that you have plenty of things to do — a core mechanic of the game is talking to the animals and making friends with them, which really fosters a sense of community. You have your own campsite you can customize and invite your friends over, which feels like a virtual safe space, and it’s one I gladly load up and go to when I need a mental health break.

I suffer from anxiety and depression, and like everyone else have good and bad days. It’s manageable most of the time, and you have ways of working around it like meditating or taking a walk. But for years I’ve also turned to video games as an escape, and most notably the Animal Crossing series.

The game mechanics of catching fish and bugs and picking fruit reflect a kind of mindfulness mentality of being present in the moment. You also craft furniture and wait for them to be completed, which varies between a few minutes to hours and hours. The waiting encourages patience, which is kind of an anti-thesis to our instant-gratification mindset, especially when we post to social media and the likes and comments are nearly instantaneous. There's an option to speed up the process by buying “leaf tickets,” a premium in-game currency, but there's a certain joy in waiting.

In the couple of days or so I’ve played I’ve made eight animal friends, invited them over to my campsite, and swapped many gifts. Because it’s on mobile, Pocket Camp is an experience you can play anywhere, so it's more accessible than previous Animal Crossing games (at least if you don’t want to carry your Nintendo DS around with you everywhere). It’s also great for brief escapes throughout the day because there’s not a lot to do but wait once you’ve completed all the tasks your animal friends request. Again, there is the option of paying the leaf tickets to access more tasks, but it’s nice to be able to pop in and out of this virtual world and see how new things have progressed since you’ve been gone. So it’s better to play in bite sized chunks rather than long stretches.

For a truly relaxing experience, though, avoid Tom Nook and his overpriced products — probably the only stressful aspect of the game.