In the middle of the first confinement, Belén Cabo and her sister bought Animal Crossing: New Horizons , the delivery of the Nintendo video game that came out on March 20 and became the phenomenon of the pandemic .
In it, players move to an island where they build a small neighborhood and community. Cabo and his sister decided to add to the island that they managed together a monument to honor their aunt, who died a few years ago. They built an area of Japanese inspiration, with a fountain and with flowers.
This is not unusual in the Animal Crossing universe . Belén Cabo herself says that she came up with the idea because she had seen other users create corners like parks and put a commemorative plaque in honor of a deceased loved one.
In his case, the pandemic had nothing to do with it, but in this context in which many people were unable to attend funerals and unable to perform the farewell ritual in the usual way, use the video game to somehow honor who You are no longer able to help in the grieving process.
“If it is a person who is used to moving in virtual reality and feels comfortable in that context, why not?”, Says Valeria Moriconi, psychologist in charge of the Covid-19 Grief Support Service of the Official College of Psychology. from Madrid.
Grief rituals are important because they help to “become aware of the loss” and are a first step “to appear before society with a new identity,” explains the expert.
Running out of them can make the duel open and it is difficult for people to assimilate the death, something that the psychologist points out that they have seen a lot in recent months due to the situation of the pandemic.
The psycho-oncologist and expert in grief and palliative care Cristina Lázaro agrees. “Without the rituals, the personal elaborations of acceptance of the loss remain pending and the absences can be more painful,” he says by email.
Starting in March, there were many funeral homes that began offering services such as funerals or streaming services , but that is only the most direct solution.
The case of tributes in Animal Crossingor the simple updates on social networks talking about the death of a relative are spontaneous ways of transferring the grief to a virtual space, something totally natural, according to Moricone, because the need for the ritual does not disappear.
“It is to close the pending chapters that we may have with the deceased or the relationship, to be able to put a moment of intimacy and homage in front of society,” he says. Lázaro adds that it is a way of elaborating “a symbolic duel where death is not hidden, but is shared publicly and grief or grief is also expressed”.
In Animal Crossing it is common to visit other islands and have their owners give you a kind of guided tour. Belén Cabo says that part of the visit often consists of going to “pay your respects” to the monuments.
That accompaniment of other people arrives and feels the same, he assures, even if it is online and from people of whom on many occasions you only know their avatar.
Miguel Sicart, professor of Game Studies at the IT University of Copenhagen, explains by email that this is not something strange, because Animal Crossing gives “a feeling of belonging in a community”.
The platform, he assures, is “a place where we establish and maintain friendships, with both people and characters, it is a place where we live, have a home, and a clear purpose.” In these spaces emotional places are also created, so it is not a surprise that something so intimate also reaches them.
“Grief manifests itself where we live, in the way we relate to our communities, and in the way our communities relate to us,” says the expert. The video game is one of those communities.
This social part joins the intimate part, also necessary in the duel and present in the game. Belén Cabo never went to the cemetery, but in that monument to her aunt she found “a place to go, in quotes, and remember her.” Valeria Moricone sees the parallelism with visiting cemeteries or lighting a candle.
“All the rituals that are around the deceased or in some symbolic place make us find in a physical place that first space of recollection and contact with the person,” he explains. Although that physical place is virtual.
But it is not only important to have the place. Cabo was also greatly helped by the entire process of creating the monument. “I liked the idea of decorating it, making it beautiful, that it changed with the seasons,” he says.
It is also an area that has been endowed with special symbolism and rules: there they do not cut the flowers or collect the leaves, which are common activities in the game, but rather let “nature” take its course. You now have a “place” to go “and remember,” he says. Whenever she or her sister enters the game, the first thing they do is go to the fountain to see how it is.
Will the pandemic change the way we perform deep-rooted social rituals? Lázaro points out that as soon as possible funerals or wakes should be resumed “to release the contained pain.”
Moricone believes that we are facing a very great challenge, in which we have had to “build something that we did not know could exist”, although he also adds that the importance of the hug cannot be minimized.
However, creative solutions such as that found by many users in Animal Crossing or in other virtual environments will also continue there as a resource with which “to describe not only the personality of each griever, but also the personality of each deceased”, says the expert.