Love in the Time of Animal Crossing
How To Go About Virtual Dating During a Pandemic
When I matched with my last girlfriend on Tinder, neither of us were quite sure how it had happened, from a logistical perspective. She was living in Los Angeles, and I was based in Berkeley for college. Both of us had our preferred locations set to 15 or 20 miles away maximum, and yet somehow, we both swiped right on each other. What followed was a kind of game in which neither of us were ever serious with the other because at the end of the day, neither of us really intended to meet up. Where would we go, Merced?
“Do you think sharks can comprehend God?” I would bait her.
“Has anyone ever told you that you kind of look like Blacc Chyna?” she would respond, with unparalleled eloquence.
And then the attraction thing sort of happened, and after a few long distance dates, we decided to be exclusive. After I graduated, I moved to LA, just in time for Covid-19 to make physical dates impossible.
From the outset we knew we would be unable to quarantine together. My mother was immuno-compromised, and I wanted to be with her in case anything happened. My girlfriend had a similar situation with her grandmother, who was a double-amputee, navigating the difficulties of a world suddenly shut down by the virus.
“I guess we’re breaking up then”, I joked, hoping she would correct me.
Rolling her eyes at my obvious stupidity, my girlfriend, ever practical (perhaps something to do with her Taurus rising) offered a solution: we would both procure the Nintendo Switch Lite with the added game Animal Crossing New Horizons.
“We can go on virtual dates, and the game itself isn’t too lousy either”, she explained over the phone one night, “My cousin has it and she’s obsessed”.
“Okay”, I agreed, secretly skeptical. I had never been one for gaming, preferring to submerge myself in books of films or conversations. Eventually, I took the plunge and bought the cheapest Nintendo I could find which just happened to come in a rather soothing shade of turquoise.
Immediately I was plunged into island life: fishing and gardening and constructing new homes for other residents, all with the overly chummy Tom Nook looking over my shoulder like the face of capitalism itself, if capitalism was a raccoon in a Hawiian shirt.
Once both of us had established something of a settlement on our respective islands, the dates could commence. I would make my way to the local airport and fly to my girlfriend’s virtual retreat. We would run across the beaches together, dressed like we might in real life—her tremendously stylish, and myself forever shabby. When I would go into her house, I could see the ways that the virtual decorations reflected her—a kind of digital remapping of her own psyche into a visual for me to observe and interact with. We gifted each other fruits from our islands, and sent each other clothes and bags. Each of us created a special place on our own islands for us to hold dates. My girlfriend’s spot was meant to mimic Palm Springs, where we had taken our first romantic getaway as a couple. Complete with potted cacti and an illuminated swimming pool, we pretended as though everything around us were normal. Sometimes we would joke about having affairs with other islanders.
“Tammy was totally hitting on you the other night”, I would say, in mock outrage.
“So what? Scoot is obviously trying to win you over with all his muscle talk.”
The nights online begin to blur together.
“Miss u” her character would tell me in the game, “I wish we could kiss”.
“Me too”, I would clumsily respond. Our conversations were like this: abbreviated and consistently riddled with misspellings and limited by a character count, but at least it felt like we were together. Even though integral to the feeling of virtual togetherness was the understanding that physically we would not be together for months.
There is something about the virtual which is entirely melancholy—one remains connected to a reality which is not entirely real, but that feels inevitably true, in its own way. In an attempt to create virtual dates, my girlfriend and I were actually creating a microcosm of our selves in relationship with each other. Nintendo provided a space in which to explore not only the unsettled land of Animal Crossing New Horizon, but also to pioneer a burgeoning relationship.