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Branden Perez, who died from complications related to COVID-19 on April 5 at the age of 23, was given a funeral service on the video game by his friends and family in a way befitting of him, British news agency SWNS reports.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of more than 260,000 people around the world, including more than 73,000 in the United States, and stay-at-home practices have prevented in-person funeral services for families mourning their loved ones.
“Branden absolutely loved video games, so this type of service was perfect for him,” said his cousin, Pricsilla Perez, 36, from Long Island.
“It was the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever seen; we were able to go into the town that my cousin had built on "Animal Crossing" and leave flowers," Pricsilla added. “We have a really big family and it made us so happy to have that for Branden, it’s a place we can always go back to, to be with him."
Branden, who had an underlying heart condition, was admitted to the hospital after developing a fever. He eventually had emergency heart surgery and was revived, but was unable to be revived a second time, his cousin noted.
“His photo was there and we can go back and visit any time we like," Pricsilla said, noting the island is password protected.
The family had a small burial service, with just a few people permitted to attend. They had to leave as soon as the casket was lowered, Pricsilla explained.
“No one got to say goodbye properly, that’s why this memorial on "Animal Crossing" was so special for us all.”
“I love the fact they have the option of having his picture in the memorial there," she added. "People think that games are just games, but this is a way to bring people together and celebrate a life. This gave us a great deal of closure, all his friends got to go and leave flowers and leave comments and memories, it was so beautiful.
“We know that my cousin is smiling down on us right now; he would have enjoyed this so much.”
Others have used the popular Nintendo game for virtual funeral services as well.
When Nick Kitsch lost his mom to a heart attack, he built a memorial garden for her on his island.
“My mom loved the outdoors, she was outside nearly all the time,” Kitsch, 30, said. “She was an avid gardener, she loved tulips so I built the garden with all her favorite flowers. If I’m feeling down and depressed, like at night or something, I just go in there and it really, really helps.”
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" has become a global phenomenon since it was released on March 20. People have taken to the game as an escape from the concerns over the pandemic, The New York Times reported last month.
In the game, players become the lone human on a deserted island with animals and build a society, creating shops, bridges and other world-building tasks. In Branden's case, it's a way for his family to remember and celebrate him.
Nintendo has sold more than 11.77 million units of the game in the first 12 days it was released, according to an investor presentation the company released Thursday. The Japanese video game company added it's sold more than 13.4 million copies in the first six weeks it's been available.
Nintendo shares were higher by more than 2 percent in early Thursday trading on the back of the results.
As of Thursday morning, more than 3.77 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.22 million of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.