Sheree Atcheson's character in the Animal Crossing game is sitting at a table with another character at nighttime.
Sheree Atcheson and her partner on a virtual date in Animal Crossing. Image: Sheree Atcheson

How Animal Crossing is keeping remote workers connected

5 Jun 2020427 Views

For diversity and inclusion advocate Sheree Atcheson, the cute and wholesome nature of Animal Crossing has helped her stay socially connected while working from home.

Keeping yourself connected while working from home isn’t easy. Some people have opted for weekly Zoom quizzes with colleagues or casual chats on messaging platforms. But for Sheree Atcheson, a computer scientist and head of diversity and inclusion at Monzo, Animal Crossing has been high on her list.

Like many of us, Atcheson has been working at home for quite a while now. Despite being in the company of her partner and her dog, she told me, being a one-person team has posed some challenges.

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“I’m a team with one person so it means I’m not seeing people in an informal way like I would in the office or with one-to-ones,” she said. “I have to actually put those kinds of catch-ups into the diary, but that’s also not really the same as organically bumping into someone and catching up.”

New Horizons, the latest release from the social-simulation video game series Animal Crossing, has been taking Nintendo Switch owners by storm since it was released in March. Just a few weeks ago, fans of the game were delightfully surprised when actor Elijah Wood arrived on another player’s island for a visit.

It’s those visits that make Animal Crossing a place where people can interact with one another while staying home in line with their local Covid-19 restrictions.

Of course, having access to a Nintendo Switch is a privilege. Atcheson sees herself as “lucky to be in a position to afford one”, as the game has provided her with an outlet for escape and a way to connect with others in recent months.

“As a sort of head of an organisation where my work is sort of affecting everything, it’s kind of emotionally exhausting but exciting at the same time.

“In our work, we have an Animal Crossing community. So it doesn’t matter what your work is, what you do or who you are. There’s just a really nice sense of meeting people that are interested and having fun in this very cute game – even people in the organisation that I personally haven’t met before.”

Aside from the social aspect of the game, Atcheson said, Animal Crossing has “a wholesomeness and a relaxing nature” that may be beneficial to people under the current circumstances.

“I like playing video games in general, but I’m very stressed a lot of the time,” she said. “So I’m trying to find things that have sort of nice goals to reach, but with no peril attached. The biggest perils you get in Animal Crossing are bees!”

Mental health at home

A lot of the recent conversations around working from home have focused on productivity levels and work-life balance, but looking after our mental health is also crucial. With working remotely, loneliness is a real danger and it can take many forms.

“I think mental health is incredibly important, certainly for myself,” Atcheson said. “Even when we started working from home there were a lot of peaks and troughs. But I tried to find a way, I guess, to try and stop comparing it to what I was doing before.

“There are different ways people can prioritise their mental health now. And I don’t know the answer to all of those things but I know, for me, it’s really about trying to make sure we have places that we can disconnect in that aren’t work-related, whether it’s just keeping computer stuff all away in a different place or investing the time to make food in the evening.

“But again, if you can afford things like Animal Crossing or whatever it might be – your favourite board game, a painting set, whatever it is – those are the kinds of things that can help create some sort of enjoyment.”

The power of small actions

Animal Crossing has helped Atcheson with her loneliness, but it is by no means the only answer, she said.

“I think loneliness will be a thing for people in general, because it’s very clear what we’re dealing with is something that most of us will never have experienced.

“Things like Animal Crossing can help, but also things like online communities and the ability to come together using relatively easy things. You know, Animal Crossing is expensive. But if you have any access to the internet, which again is a privilege, you can reach different communities and be able to stay in contact with people.”

An example Atcheson gave was when a colleague came to her Animal Crossing island to collect a recipe for her character. While visiting, she secretly paid off a big chunk of an in-game loan Atcheson had taken out to build a new bridge.

“I met her and I was like, ‘Did you pay that all? Because you weren’t supposed to!’ And she was like, ‘Shh, it’s just to help it along’. It’s obviously not real, but it’s still very wholesome.

“And it’s those kinds of small actions that we would maybe do in work, like if someone’s having a bad day you might take them for a hot drink or just sit with them and listen. People are doing similar small acts of kindness in Animal Crossing, like even just watering someone’s flowers because it’s important to them.”

‘Something special’

Based on her experiences of Animal Crossing, what would Atcheson’s advice be to others?

“Keep in your head that it is a time sink! I try to spend half an hour playing it on a Saturday morning and then I look at the clock and it’s half two,” she said.

“But also, I think if you want something that allows you to disconnect in a way that there is no peril, I think that it ticks all of the boxes.

“Every evening all my islanders get together on the plaza and sing and every time that happens, my partner looks at me because he can hear me giggling.

“I’ve never come across something that feels like it has united people like that in the gaming community in a wholesome way – even older generations, newer generations and everyone in between. It’s reaching all different demographics, which I haven’t seen in a long time and which I think is something special.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa joined the team as senior Careers reporter in July 2019 with previous experience in science communication and media. With a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication, she is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos.

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