Animal Crossing and the Pandemic
Animal Crossing is a cartoonish, family-friendly social simulation video game series developed for Nintendo platforms including Switch and Wii, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices. The game is free to start, with in-app purchases available. The series is notable for its open-ended gameplay and no defined objectives, similar to games like Farmville and Minecraft, so the possibilities are endless in terms of imagination and creativity. Animal Crossing games are played in real time, utilizing the internal clock and calendar of the video game console or mobile device.
Animal Crossing has been around for almost 20 years, but this year it exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the latest installment, New Horizons, which came out in March. The game served as a pleasant distraction during the lockdown – even among those who usually don’t play games – letting players set up an alternate life on their own private island and virtually connect with others like they couldn’t do in real life.
Each player assumes the role of a human character who lives in a world populated with cute anthropomorphic animals. You start the game from scratch by building a place to live on your own personal island. Then you’re free to fill your days with whatever activities and hobbies you choose – making furniture, decorating your home, planting trees, watering plants, fishing, bug catching, gardening, fossil hunting, and collecting items.
If you like collecting things, you will like this game because collecting items is a major theme of Animal Crossing. You can gather all kinds of objects including fruit from trees, seashells, and discarded items. Special collectibles, such as fossils and paintings, may be donated to the village museum. Nearly all objects can be sold for bells, the in-game currency. Players collect objects to obtain more bells, which can then be used to buy furniture and clothing, purchase home expansions, invest in stocks, and play games.
Players can socialize with each other by engaging in conversation, sending and receiving letters, leaving notes on bulletin boards, bartering, or playing hide-and-seek. Players can do favors for one another and contribute to a functioning society, albeit virtually. There are also special events and tournaments to take part in and attend.
Animal Crossing is a world that kids and adults alike can enjoy whenever they need a little escapism. Up to eight players can live on the same island within one game, so it’s possible to play collaboratively as different characters within one world. The game has Dodo Codes, which are unique temporary codes that you use to invite other people to play online with you.
Animal Crossing, Creativity, and Celebrities
Actor Danny Trejo is a huge fan of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. He made a six-minute video, Danny’s Diary, that demonstrates how the game allows players to express their personalities. Some Animal Crossing players really got busy customizing their space through imaginative design, architecture, and terraforming. (Check out these cool designs that showcase urban skylines, pretty gardens, a spooky cemetery, and an awesome gamer’s den!) The creativity doesn’t stop there, either! Here are some great music videos, both official and fan-made, that were shot entirely in Animal Crossing:
Gary Whitta hosts a live late-night-style talk show, “Animal Talking,” that takes place entirely in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It has featured famous guests like T-Pain, Danny Trejo, and Elijah Wood. As reported in The Guardian, well-known gamer Elijah Wood delighted fans by turning up to visit their towns. According to The Washington Post, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bought a Nintendo Switch and started playing Animal Crossing in May, even visiting some of her Twitter followers.
Animal Crossing and Politics
While games have been previously unutilized by politicians and elected officials in any attempt to reach a younger demographic, Animal Crossing has already been involved in grassroots politics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, New Horizons was used by democracy activists in Hong Kong as a platform to protest after gatherings greater than four were banned. As a result, the Chinese government blocked sales of the game.
In the USA, the Biden-Harris campaign has linked up with Nintendo to make some virtual yard signs. Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, told CNN, “This explains everything: Joe Biden thinks he’s campaigning for President of Animal Crossing from his basement. The Trump campaign will continue to spend its resources campaigning in the real world with real Americans.” But does anyone here think Joe even knows what Animal Crossing is? Ha!
It’s not clear whether the Biden campaign paid Nintendo to place those virtual signs in the game. There are four designs including the official Biden-Harris logo, Team Joe logo, the Joe Pride logo, and an image of Joe’s iconic aviator sunglasses in red, white, and blue. Players can access the designs in-game by scanning the QR codes through the Nintendo Switch online app. Once the designs are uploaded to your game, you can also use them to create other merch and display one as your island’s official flag.
Since you can customize your character’s appearance, some players have gone so far as to recreate Kamala and Joe in the game itself. So yeah, your island can now feature select political ideologies, something that hadn’t been broached before. Of course, it should come with a warning, after what happened with another Nintendo gaming title…
Pokémon Go peaked in July 2016, with daily users numbering 28.5 million; but by the end of 2016 the number of users was down to only 5 million. Funny thing is, the game’s popularity crashed right after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton dropped a Pokemon Go reference at a campaign rally!
The Trump campaign is not currently offering yard signs in Animal Crossing. Players have, however, made custom designs in support of President Trump, like this MAGA hat. Others have added Black Lives Matter flags and T-shirts to the game.