Good morning, and welcome to another lovely day on the island. Today’s to-do list: Follow your bliss!

Go swimming. Go fishing. Bask in the sun by yourself, or get chummy with the neighbors. Go exploring, or just stay home and decorate. Carve out your own private slice of paradise. Whatever you do, do it your way.

Welcome to the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a life-simulation game that rode a tidal wave of popularity as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe this year.

It has not been unusual in these tense times to see folks who never dabbled in video games snapping up Nintendo Switch machines, on which the game is played. It seems everyone wants to escape to an island paradise and pursue a simple life of easygoing foraging and relationship-building. Gameplay is accompanied by soft musical flourishes that sound like what you’d hear in a calypso lounge’s elevator, if there were such a thing.

Fred Rogers would have loved Animal Crossing. The entire experience seems meticulously engineered with zero tolerance to anxiety inducement.

But why not take the serene lifestyle of Animal Crossing to a new level by incorporating some of the game’s iconic visuals into your real life with a few island-inspired updates to your home and yard? 

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Here are some outdoor features you can add to your world, so your life imitates video-game art.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons invites players to vicariously savor an unhurried island lifestyle.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons invites players to vicariously savor an unhurried island lifestyle.

Grow apples, pears and cherries

As even the greenest gamer will attest, the fast track to prosperity in Animal Crossing involves cultivating and marketing a variety of fruits.

Here’s good news for gamers and nongamers alike: Washington state is an extremely friendly climate for apples, pears and cherries, three of the most prized commodities in Animal Crossing.

Fruit trees aren’t hard to grow, says Mark Lee, who breeds and cultivates apples, pears, plums, grapes, cherries, berries, hops, roots and more on the one-third-acre tract he calls his edible landscape in Edmonds.

Lee says a novice grower can buy an apple sapling at a local nursery, plant it at home and reasonably expect fruit within two or three years. For pears, the wait is five years. For cherries, four to seven.

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“You could grow a dwarf variety of apple tree in a 5- or 10-gallon pot,” says Lee, an electrical engineer in Seattle.

His favorite apple for eating (as opposed to cooking) is the Honey Crisp.

“They’re so much better than store-bought ones, in my opinion,” he says. “You decide when they’re the ultimate ripeness for your taste.”

Lee is hardly a novice. A visitor to his patch might find him experimenting with growing dwarf varieties, grafting trees onto different root stock, and cross-breeding fruit by harvesting the pollen and pollinating flowers by hand. 

Lee’s advice for beginners and expert growers alike: Join the Seattle Tree Fruit Society

“It’s good to meet other growers,” he says. “It’s a great way to learn.”

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Terra cotta pots are the type of decorative touch players might add to their virtual surroundings in Animal Crossing. They’re used here as a water feature in a Seattle garden.
Terra cotta pots are the type of decorative touch players might add to their virtual surroundings in Animal Crossing. They’re used here as a water feature in a Seattle garden.

Add hardscaping and water features

As players grow in their abilities, they discover that Animal Crossing is about much more than making cartoon friends and foraging for fruit. At heart, the game is about real estate development and property management. 

With the proper permits in hand, players can build a network of cobblestone paths and waterways to transform their islands into burgeoning empires that are as cute as a pail full of kittens.

Similarly, in the real world, hardscaping elements such as stone walkways and water features transform backyards and gardens from barren wastelands to lush little Edens.

While hardscaping projects are not necessarily beyond the skill of an average DIYer, the most impressive results come with help from a professional.

Rudy Pantoja, who has worked as a landscaper and garden designer in the Seattle area for 40 years, says he’s busier than ever installing stone paths, waterfalls and fountains.

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“People are staying put,” he says. “They know they’re not going to the park, so they’re trying to create places of comfort close to home. They want to turn their yard into a whole new room, just like their kitchen or dining room, only it’s outside.”

(Pro tip to DIYers from Pantoja: Don’t forget to illuminate your footpaths. Ground-hugging solar lights are the way to go.)

You can re-create the warm glow of the campfires and tiki torches that illuminate the sandy shores of Animal Crossing by adding your own outdoor fire pit. The Cove Square Gas Fire Pit Bowl (shown) is a popular choice. (Courtesy of Outdoor Greatroom Company)
You can re-create the warm glow of the campfires and tiki torches that illuminate the sandy shores of Animal Crossing by adding your own outdoor fire pit. The Cove Square Gas Fire Pit Bowl (shown) is a popular choice. (Courtesy of Outdoor Greatroom Company)

Create a warm glow with fire

Animal Crossing gains much of its homey charm from its sandy tropical shores strewn with campfires, fire pits and tiki torches. The fire elements cast a rosy glow on your character’s comings and goings, especially as daylight wanes and the stars start to shimmer.

In reality, unless you’re visiting an officially sanctioned state park recreation area, outdoor fires in King County have strict limitations before a permit is required. There also needs to be no air-quality burn ban in effect. So far this summer, King County has not had to issue a burn ban, though other counties have, according to Andrew Wineke with the Air Quality Program at the state Department of Ecology.

For consumers who want maximum wow factor with minimum fuss and no permits required, stores such as Sutter Home & Hearth in Ballard offer several styles of ready-to-use fire pits and fire tables.

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Consumer interest in fire features for porches and patios has been “crazy,” says Tyler Nickla, a sales associate at Sutter, which stocks a variety of shapes and sizes that burn liquid propane or natural gas, priced from about $1,500 to $2,600.

One popular model, the Cove Square Gas Fire Pit Bowl, sells for $2,599. It leaps to life with the push of a button and burns three to five hours on a standard 20-pound tank of liquid propane. 

At the end of the day, gather the people in your bubble — and the marshmallow sticks — and bask in the island ambience of your new backyard, where a twilight worthy of Animal Crossing will be waiting to lift your worries away.