Chopping wood, harvesting turnips and fishing in the ocean give players the resources they need to build their own fantasy paradise.
Real-life friends can drop in to admire the day’s labors by booking an online plane ticket for their own characters, a welcome chance for social interaction at a time when regular human contact is often prohibited.
Some users say they have even adopted the game’s virtual island setting to stage dates organized through online dating platform Tinder, with the possibility of real-life romance stalled for now.
And with the virus prompting bans on public gatherings in Hong Kong, local pro-democracy activists sought to keep their movement’s momentum alive by staging a rally in the virtual world of the game.
Players directed their cartoon avatars to kick dirt onto images of the city’s unpopular political chief Carrie Lam, in a move that appears to have prompted digital stores in mainland China to stop selling copies of the game.
Experts say the game has become something of a poster-child for a period when people feel the need to connect more than ever.
“There is a synthesis between this game and this time in history that will leave the two forever connected in the world of video games,” wrote Mat Piscatella of market research firm NPD.
“A game designed around developing communities and forging connections was certainly the right game at the right time.”