This weekend is Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. For most people, gathering together is not possible. But at least we have Animal Crossing.
Popular video games are a little difficult to explain if you haven’t already experienced them. The latest installment comes out on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s basically a cute life simulator. You can plant trees, build houses (and rearrange furniture), and sell fruit to raccoons.
It might all sound very ordinary, but when people are trapped inside, going to an adorable island with your friends starts to sound like a good idea – and this game has been very popular since its March 20 release.
One of the most interesting things about Animal Crossing is the seasonal event. The previous installment of the game featured a visit from Jingle the Reindeer on December 24, referred to as “Toy Day”. (So, Christmas.) And this year, from April 1-12, Animal Crossing is holding the “Rabbit Day” event in the game – a clear reference to Easter – when you can find eggs and give them to giant rabbits to get special prizes.
Thus, Rami Ismail hopes that Animal Crossing can also give 2 billion people around the world who follow the Ramadan tradition a little recognition. But the nod never came.
So Ismail, who is also a game developer, decided to do it himself. He tweeted that he would host a meeting at Animal Crossing for breaking the fast, eating after sunset, and Suhoor, eating before sunset. Soon, he was flooded with requests to hang out on his private virtual island.
Visitors come from all over the world. Half of them, said Ismail, are Muslims who, like him, are gamers who lose personal connections who usually come by breaking their fast with friends or family. Ismail especially felt that now, because he could not visit his father, who lived nearby.
But the other half is non-Muslim, and Ismail is very happy they visited too, because that means he can share culture with them. In that way, Animal Crossing is actually a hidden blessing. Non-Muslims “usually find it impossible to join this tradition because, you know, you have to go to people’s houses or get to know people well enough to have breakfast or dinner with them at, like, 3am,” he said by laughing.
When the program started, everyone gathered around the picnic table, in an open area that according to Ismail he made around memories of growing up in Egypt. Conversations range from what everyone eats to how to get certain types of flowers in the game to growing, to jokes about the various characters on the island.
But there is also silence, Ismail said: “Your mouth is full because you try to eat before sunrise or after sunset.” Just like an ordinary old Ramadan.
VICE News stopped at Ismail’s Animal Crossing Island to see how some Muslim gamers were connected during the pandemic.
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