Tired of social distancing in Kansas City? you need an island | KCUR 89.3

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Melody Rowell is not a fan of video games. At least she didn’t used to be. But after going through a handful of pandemic hobbies, she craved something new. That’s when pictures of her sister’s character from Animal Crossing started appearing on her phone.

Animal Crossing is a video game in which each player creates a character and each character gets an island on which to live and develop. Each island has its own topography and weather conditions, revealed by incredibly vibrant animation. By selling anything that grows on a particular island, characters can earn money, which they then use to beautify their islands.

“My sister said to me, ‘If you have one, I could come to your island and bring you presents,'” Rowell recalls. “And I was like, ‘Wait. Can you come to my island?”

It changed everything. Rowell didn’t have a Nintendo Switch, which you need to play Animal Crossing, but photos of his sister made him want it. The world in the pictures appeared to be a calming retreat from the world she actually inhabited.

“All of a sudden I was like, if I don’t have a Nintendo Switch, if I don’t have this video game, I’m going to die,” Rowell says.

The acquisition of the Switch was a hardship. It’s been flying off the shelves since COVID hit. At one point, Rowell’s distress became so severe that her husband secretly spent an entire afternoon refreshing box store websites until one of the devices was available.

“The first time Meagan and I got to play together, we played for two hours. I called her on the phone and had her on speaker, we were telling the little characters,” she explains. “I actually got very emotional because I was hanging out with my sister. We were experiencing something new together. We both had our little controllers and she said to me on the phone, ‘OK, follow me. “And then she runs off and I run after her.”

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Melody and Meagan Rowell visit the museum on Meagan Island.

The sisters, 31 and 27, live in separate towns. Under normal circumstances, they travel a lot together. This game felt closer to that experience than it had been in months.

Jeffrey C. Hall of the University of Kansas is researching friendship. He says what Rowell and her sister do when traveling or playing Animal Crossing is called a ‘side-to-side’ interaction – as opposed to conversation, which is considered ‘face to face’, even when it happens. digitally produced.

Face-to-face activities are the only ones most of us have had in a while, as that’s all that is really possible by phone, SMS, Facetime, or Zoom. Even sitting six feet apart does not lend itself to activity.

Side-by-side activities are crucial for relationships as they provide a shared experience base.

“Before we had all this free time to do things like travel and play games, in a broad historical context, people were doing things that were useful together,” says Hall. “They were helping each other with the harvest or repairing a house after a storm.”

Which, oddly enough, is an integral part of life in the Animal Crossing game.

When Rowell started playing, her sister came to her island with tools and plants and helped her get started.

“Your island has a native fruit,” Rowell explains. “Mine are apples and hers are oranges. And so my apples are worth more on his island. So I kept my apples until I had a lot of apples. And then I asked him if I could come to his island and sell them. “

This subsistence version of a social life, friendship for survival, is what Adib Khorram does on Animal Crossing in a perhaps more literal way.

Khorram is an author from Kansas City who writes fiction for young adults. His first book, Darius the Great disagrees, released in 2018. It is the story of an Iranian-American teenager struggling with depression and a sense of belonging. The following, Darius the great deserves better, released this week. It portrays a better life for Darius, who just revealed his homosexuality at the start of the book. The usual fanfare of the book’s release cannot happen, so Khorram invites readers to come visit his Animal Crossing Island instead.

Khorram admits, “I had planned to travel, go to conferences, talk to teachers, talk to librarians, visit schools and talk to children. And like, none of that happens. now.”

Khorram saw one or two other authors launch books on Animal Crossing, but he wasn’t so sure to open his island to outsiders. He didn’t want someone to stomp on his flowers, but more importantly, there is a chat function in the game, and he worried about potentially racist or homophobic posts in this space, which he couldn’t be. there to watch all the time.

Next, Nintendo made an update that allowed players to create static versions of their islands that anyone can visit, but no one can change. Kind of like a read-only version of a document. Suddenly he was excited.

To his delight, Khorram says, “I found this little website that you could upload an image to and it would translate it into an Animal Crossing pattern with a QR code, and I was like, ‘Oh, I can put the cover of my book on my island. ‘ And then I designed a bunch of scenes from my book in my island and put in some art and I was like, ‘Yes. Hashtag Darius Crossing.’ “

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When “Darius The Great Deserves Better” hits shelves this week, fans can express their excitement by visiting the Author’s Island in Animal Crossing. This scene was designed to look like the tearoom where Darius works in the book.

Khorram is not sure if this promotion will translate into sales. It will also not be able to track the number of readers who actually visit the island. But being able to do it is still important.

“It’s a do-nothing substitute,” he says. “I think a lot of people are feeling really helpless right now. And at least I feel like I’m doing something.”

In addition to its publicity, the entire writing community of Khorram has, in a sense, moved to this game. Writing is lonely, but Khorram is part of a national network of young adult authors.

“We saw very quickly, you know, that people were basically staying at home and events being canceled, writers whose first novels were coming out at the height of the pandemic. And it was really like we were all getting together. to just say, ‘Oh, that sucks, but how can we help each other?’ “he asks.

They did it by maintaining that sense of community, if only by helping each other buy and sell turnips on Animal Crossing, a world without a pandemic, a world where there is a medicine for everyone. disease and where nothing bad ever happens.

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Adib Khorram enjoys a world full of colorful flowers and no pandemic in Animal Crossing.

Khorram suggests, “It’s not competitive. There is no win condition. All you are trying to do is create a beautiful island. You have to set the standards of beauty. Basically, you have full control. And it’s really nice. “

This is also, in a sense, what Khorram does in his book. It portrays a nicer world than the one we live in.

“Sometimes I feel like my job as a writer is to show the world as it is. And sometimes my job is to show the world as it could be,” says Khorram. “I want to show what could be and tell young people that you deserve better. They have a right to expect good things from the people around them. Even though sometimes the people around us fail us, we still deserve the best. . “

This is precisely what makes Animal Crossing a video game for our time.

“There is something powerful about trying to portray a nicer world than ours,” says Khorram. “This largely reflects the world we live in.”



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