I was home alone every day with a deadly disease ravaging my body and trying to take my life from me. My children were in school, my disabled parents were unable to visit me, my wife was at work – providing me the insurance that was saving my life, my brother was working every day, and my sister was living in Europe.
Every day I would wake up, drive myself to my radiation treatments, then come home to an empty house. Every day I would sit and look at myself in the mirror as my disease slowly took its toll on my body. Every day, the hearts of my wife and children broke as they had to leave me, but there was no other option.
I could have sank into a deep depression. I could have looked around the empty house and decided to give up. But I did not. In fact, looking back, I can’t even say I was depressed. Worried, certainly, but not depressed.
My wife, a month before I was diagnosed with my cancer, had purchased the game “Animal Crossing – City Folk” for the Wii. It’s a silly game, with no levels, no competition, no goals other than what you set for yourself. Your avatar lives in a virtual world shaking trees or hitting rocks for money, fishing, hunting bugs, collecting furniture, and interacting with other NPCs in the game.
A friend of mine once called it the Seinfeld of video games; it’s a game about NOTHING. I found that humorously appropriate.
The thing is, it’s seriously addicting. It’s a happy game. Everything about the game is happy – from the virtual world colors, the characters, the interactions, and the music. You can spend, literally, hours at a time exploring your town, building your house, and visiting the city.
In my lonely hours every day, I immersed myself in my Animal Crossing avatar – his name is Dude. He lives in a town called Sparksty. I would sit in my easy chair, connected to the machine that fed my feeding tube, and played Animal Crossing as the soft whirring of the machine pumped food directly into my belly. And I was happy, because the game was so innocent and happy. It quite literally helped me achieve a better state of mind, helped me fend off depression, and gave me a sense of well-being and accomplishment - exactly what I needed as I sat alone with my disease every day.
I would build snowmen while wearing funny costumes:
I would cover my head for warmth and fish in the ocean:
I would get wisdom from decidedly odd characters:
I would take the time to rid my house of pests:
The options are limitless. As you can see, the colors are happy, the characters are cute, and everything about the game is designed to be a happy venture into a world that you control as much or as little as you like.
You’ve probably read before about video games and virtual worlds helping the sick and the elderly. It’s absolutely true and, in my opinion, getting patients involved in games like Animal Crossing does no harm and can yield enormous benefits.
In my case, it certainly helped me. It helped fill my empty days, it helped ward off depression, and helped me beat my cancer. Of this I have no doubt. To this day, I still play Animal Crossing, City Folk. It makes me happy.
The powers of Animal Crossing are pretty significant. Take a look at this cartoon, not made by me, about someone else’s experience with Animal Crossing:
Video - see the cartoon as a video
Don’t underestimate the healing power of a good video game. I really, really hope Nintendo makes another version of Animal Crossing – I really think this game helped save my life.