On March 20, 2020 I made an impulse purchase.
It had been eight days since Mom’s unexpected passing. My brother and I had decided to postpone the services due to COVID-19. Her ashes had just been placed on the fireplace, next to her Dad’s mandolin and her Mom’s tambourine, where they still wait for interment. We were scrambling to get Mom’s rent house packed and cleaned before the end of the month. I was tired and stressed. When I saw that the new Nintendo Switch game ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ had been released, I thought it would be a nice distraction.
If you are unfamiliar with the Animal Crossing games, they’re like a cute version of The Sims. You live on an island and slowly customize it. You earn bells (in-game currency) through a variety of activities (such as fishing or catching bugs) which you can turn around and use to purchase tools, a larger home, and all kinds of stuff. There are other villagers to interact with and events to attend. Most importantly: the game runs on a real-time clock. When the sun sets in Tulsa, it sets on my island as well. If you plant a tree, it’s going to take several days to mature and bear fruit. That pace encourages patience and persistence; for me, it turned the experience into a therapeutic escape.
I named my island Bigheart (the original town name for Barnsdall Oklahoma, Mom’s home town) and created a little memorial for her since I could not yet in real life. I used the in-game editor to make a Route 66 shield so my place felt more like home. I’ve been playing it a little every day.
As my house expanded, I decided to make my basement (the largest- footprint room in the house) into a classic diner. I started collecting tables, chairs, kitchen implements. I visited as many other islands as possible to check their stores and find new crafting recipes. Friends mailed me items and sent me encouragement. On a whim, I added Denny’s restaurant chain as a friend when they shared their friend code on Twitter. Yeah, it’s a modern marketing gimmick, but so what. I love diners!
On April 24th, I had a stroke of incredible luck. I was wandering around my island and stopped at the little in-game airport. This is how you connect online and interact with other players (visiting their island or opening up your own island for visitation.) I checked to see if any friends’ places were open and to my surprise…Denny’s was open! I selected it as fast as I could and found myself connecting to their island.
There is a limit of ten people that can visit any given island at one time; if I hadn’t checked at that very moment I wouldn’t have been able to connect. Denny’s encouraged people to leave notes on their bulletin board and harvest apples from their trees. It was a simple visit; we weren’t there even ten minutes. But it was fun! After I got back to my own island, I went through my spare/duplicate items and mailed them a few things to help them get rolling.
Five days later, Denny’s sent out a call for anyone on Twitter that wanted to “start a franchise”:
I sent a DM immediately. When they got back to me a few hours later, they confirmed they had received a massive response (as I figured) and gave me an inspection time of May 8th at noon. I redoubled my efforts to get my diner finished.
I re-arranged it a dozen times to get everything where I wanted it. I’d seen a few others online create massive outdoor diner setups, but I wanted to keep it inside. What if it was raining when they visited? Plus I’d feel like it was more of an outdoor cafe then, not a traditional roadside diner. Anyway…
When the day arrived, I was ready and waiting. Denny’s connected right on time.
I met them at the airport and guided them to my house. Along the path, I’d created a sign that paid homage to an older version of their logo and a large flower garden laid out as a ‘D’. I switched into my chef uniform and lead them inside.
They loved it!
In addition to the in-game items I’d put together, there were a few custom touches I’m particularly proud of. The globe on the old gas pump features the Denny’s logo. There’s a customized menu board. And on the western wall, a canvas print inspired by the original Danny’s Donuts sign, which is how Denny’s started in 1953.
The Denny’s rep sat at my counter and ordered a Grand Slam (“Bacon, wheat toast, and coffee. Black!”) but I regretted to inform him it’s hard to get good help on such a small island. In fact, the dishes still needed to be done. In spite of that, I was APPROVED.
They said they’d reach out to me on Twitter in a few days. I’m guessing it will be some custom in-game designs, but even if it’s nothing but a discount coupon for a real-world visit — it was fun to participate.
I’ll have another project soon, I’m sure. It will serve the same purpose: giving me a way to interact with friends and be creative when the real world is hard to navigate.
UPDATE: in-game clothing received on 5/14/20!