Inside the cult of ‘Animal Crossing’

Forget baseball. In a pandemic, “Animal Crossing” is the true national pastime.

Life is simple in the latest version of Nintendo’s popular video-game franchise. Players assume a cutesy avatar and move to a tropical island, which they’re tasked with building up while making nice with their neighbors. There are no levels or bad guys or battles — just polite social interactions, shopping decisions and chores suggested by the island proprietor, Tom Nook.

“It’s this adorable, idealized version of a life that you completely control and design — like ‘The Sims’ but without any drama,” says player says Austin Voigt, who lives in Minneapolis and writes gaming how-to guides for NintendoLife.com. “You can’t die in the game. You can’t even really get hurt … And it doesn’t end. There are things to do every day in the game, because it works like real time.”

If this all sounds mundane, it’s the kind of mundanity people are craving. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” launched on Nintendo Switch in late March, just as America was rolling out early coronavirus lockdown protocols. Within six weeks, the $60 game sold a record-shattering 13.4 million copies.

For quarantiners, it’s become the platform of choice for connecting with people — you can share a code to give them access to your island — while escaping from reality at the same time. Even celebs are into it: Guy Fieri lords over a virtual Flavortown island, Elijah Wood is stocking up on digital veggies and “Queer Eye” interior designer Bobby Berk  — who doesn’t even play the game — is advising fans on their “Animal Crossing” decor choices on Twitter.

“I think we all want to be transported to another world at the moment,” Berk, who’s 38 and has played previous “Animal Crossing” games, tells The Post. “It’s a really great way to take yourself to a happy place where you’re not bombarded by [bad] news.”

Ready to channel your “Animal” instincts? Here’s our comprehensive guide to the low-stakes game our high-stakes world seems to need right now.

Playing mind games

Superfan Voigt spends up to five hours a day escaping into her soothing “Animal Crossing” world.

“I will listen to the soundtrack while I’m cleaning,” she says. “I purposely built a waterfall behind my house in the game because I liked hearing the noise of a waterfall … It’s wonderful, like ASMR.”

A relaxing soundscape helps, but “Animal Crossing” also addresses psychological needs on a deeper level. Jamie Madigan, founder of PsychologyOfGames.com and author of “Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them,” says that the game’s ultracustomizable world provides a rare resource during pandemic times: options.

“It gives you a sense of competence or control over the experience,” says Madigan. From managing your inventory to redecorating your house to exploring the virtual outdoors, “Animal Crossing” players can experience “some choice and some autonomy … that we’re not necessarily getting in our day-to-day lives.”

Retail therapy

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