To say we live in uncertain times is to assume that there is an end to what we’re currently living through. This could be the new normal, for all we know, living in fear or what comes next and just how bad it gets as others come to grips with the horrors of a deadly pandemic. Most people in North America have spent the last week huddled inside, fearful of what comes next and unsure if they have any control over it.
For the moments in between, we’ve done our best to stay occupied and maybe avoid the constant news cycle that brings bad news. And for a significant part of the population, video games are that refuge from everything else. Friday’s double dose of major releases, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal, were long-hyped titles that were made only more essential as the days leading up to their release were colored by phrases like “social distancing” and “self-quarantine.”
Doom and Animal Crossing are very, very different games. This has been pointed out exhaustively, essentially since everyone realized they were coming out on the same day. Both games play out on different consoles in diametric opposite realities of gaming. Doom‘s gory FPS and combat puzzles offer far different challenges than the social tasks Animal Crossing offers in a chillwave package of adorable patterns and gentle conversation. Playing them right after each other offers a stylistic whiplash that can be jarring, at least at first.
Despite those aesthetic and gameplay differences, both share something that’s become increasingly important in recent days. Doom and Animal Crossing are both unabashedly true to what they are, embracing it to the point that it’s easy to appreciate the commitment and follow suit. The former embraces its gore and ridiculousness of hellish figures and absurd pixelated violence to the point that it’s essentially funny while the latter is so cringingly cute it’s actually refreshing. Even Tom Nook, who you immediately become indebted to upon arriving to your island, is a pal, although he might be a crypto-fascist.
Those that gravitate toward Animal Crossing seek the game out because it’s relaxing and offers a simplified version of the American Dream, one where you pay your debts interest-free and make friends simply by running errands. Compared to the real world, where maintaining relationships and making monthly payments will get increasingly tenuous in the weeks ahead, the title’s challenges are blissfully simple.
Doom, meanwhile, is a full escape from any tether to reality, an Earth ravaged by the very beings of hell instead of an invisible menace some still can’t quite understand. It’s a sprint of a game, even if it offers lore and things you can read if that’s really something you’re into. But it’s a run you can take while ignoring everything else around you, chainsawing and hacking your way down a path that’s familiar but far from boring.
In times of crisis when people are grasping for anything that can comfort, there’s something to be said for giving dedicated fans exactly what they want. Both Doom and Animal Crossing do this, and have done it in a moment when other forms of entertainment like sports and museums have taken away our games and art. Most would find it difficult to place either of these titles in a conversation about Monet but, then again, you work with what you got.
Getting through all this will probably not take pulling a floating demon’s eye out in a glory kill or sawing ghoulish figures in half for ammo drops. It will almost certainly not require you to assemble a fishing rod out of twigs or digging up fossils. It actually may, come to think of it, take interior decorating skills. But it will certainly require a bit of both teamwork and complex problem solving. And for many it will take playing these games, if only to get away from the realities of what lay ahead once they put the controller down.
Right now it’s hard to find fault with anything that helps, even if it’s part of the job.