2020 has certainly been a strange year for all of us. I don’t know about you, but when I was writing my resolutions for this year “survive a global pandemic” was not on my list. However here we are, it’s October and the pandemic is still going, people are starting to talk about a second lockdown and talk is starting of what kept people sane for the first time around. For some people that may be going for a walk each day, video calling with friends, redoing their garden or learning a new hobby.
However, for a lot of people, something that helped keep them sane was Animal Crossing! On the 20th March 2020 the newest release in the Animal Crossing series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out on the Nintendo Switch. With the last big release of a game being in 2012 with New Leaf (with some smaller releases in the years following), fans were itching to get their hands on this new and improved game, it was sure to be a huge success (Animal Crossing (series), 2020)! The game itself has no competitive gameplay, the player is sent to an Island Getaway where they meet Tom Nook and they are soon set on their way to make the Island into a home for various villagers. They are able to plant and grow flowers and trees, go fishing, catch bugs and with the newest game even terraform cliffs to create a paradise (Etchells, 2020).
What was not expected, was that only three days after the release of Animal Crossing, lockdown would be announced in Scotland. Suddenly this game that everyone had been hyping up and excited for became the only way to see your friends as people were confined to their houses. The surge in sales was huge! In the US alone, hardware, software and accessory sales increased by 35% in March (Lee, 2020).
But what exactly makes this game so special? Why did Animal Crossing capture hearts through lockdown? I sat down and spoke to some people that played the game throughout lockdown to find out more.
Unlike other games, Animal Crossing is not meant to be competitive. Though it is easy to compare your island to others (why do they have a 5-star island and my island is still 4-stars even 6 months later??), you can really take things at your own pace and do whatever makes you feel happiest. For some people that means spending hours on end terraforming their entire island to make the perfect Japanese-inspired paradise, for others it just means fishing for so long that Timmy and Tommy have to buy a whole dump truck for all of the fish you are selling them (don’t even get me started on tarantula and scorpion islands!).
It Helped Them Connect to Friends and Strangers Alike
Most people don’t just play Animal Crossing alone, they would invite friends to their islands to socialise and spend time together when it wasn’t possible to see each other in real life. I met one of my best friends through an Animal Crossing group chat a mutual friend made, I couldn’t imagine my life without her, and I never would have met her if it weren’t for the game! You could get really creative with it too, people would play hide and seek on islands with lots of hidden places and some people even made mazes for their friends to run through or hid presents on their islands for people to find. Strangers from all over the world would connect over the game on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms, visiting each other’s islands, bringing presents and doing trades on places like Nookazon and Discord. The game had a unique way of bringing people together, even if their only common interest was how cute Raymond looked in a maid outfit!
Helped Celebrate Real-Life Events
One of the fun things about the game is that it runs in real-time, meaning when it is daytime in real life, it is also daytime in the game. This also extends to celebrations such as Easter and Halloween! The game has lots of unique tasks, items and other goodies lined up for those who play during these seasons and even hosted a wedding event in June, where you were able to get a bunch of wedding-themed items, leading to some people getting married in-game! As Easter was spent almost in full lockdown, many hosted Easter parties in-game, decorating their entire island with items acquired from the event, hiding presents, and enjoying time with those closest to them. I’m pretty sure almost every person with the game has been to at least one lockdown Animal Crossing birthday party!
Something one of the people I spoke to mentioned was that during a time of economic uncertainty it gave an extra opportunity to give their friends something special for their birthday when they couldn’t afford to in real-life currency. Rare items, Bells or just something they have been trying to find all make perfect presents and really put a smile on peoples faces during dark times.
It’s an Escape
Something that came up frequently was that the game felt like an escape. As the news in the real world seemed to be going by so quickly, but so slowly at the same time, the game provided a certain sense of rhythm, gave them a pace to your day and allowed them to forget about everything for a few hours as they spent their time living in their virtual world crossing flowers to get rare breeds, mass creating fish bate to get that one Tuna that goes out of season in two days or redoing that one part of their island that just wasn’t quite right. It was an immersive experience that really just let them pretend everything was okay for that short amount of time.
One of the people I spoke to shared that their father passed shortly after the lockdown began and that Animal Crossing and the community around it helped them cope. Many have been creating in-game memorials for loved ones that have passed, whether they be family members, close friends or even pets. Finding that one villager that looks exactly like their cat to provide a sense of closure, but also keep them close to their hearts by honouring their life.
Whether their favourite experience was writing silly stuff on the floor with flowers that people flying over the island would see or finally completing their fossil collection or honouring their loved ones with custom fireworks, everyone I spoke to had positive memories from the game that really kept them going during lockdown. It always managed to put a smile on their faces even when times seemed bleak.
I think what makes the game so unique and special during lockdown really is the chance it gave people to find a sense of normality during times where everything seemed so far from normal. For me, Animal Crossing gave me the chance to visit my long-distance boyfriend, to meet new people from all over and even make some new friends along the way. I learned new things about myself, like how much I hate doing chores even when it’s in a really fun game (seriously, how many axes do I need to get all the wood from my trees??) and how much I love all of my friends. I loved spoiling people who just got the game by helping them pay off house loans and giving them expensive kitchen sets to furnish their homes.
As lockdown restrictions begin to tighten, all the people I spoke to and I can only recommend the game to anyone who doesn’t have it! It’s a great opportunity to join a new circle or create your own with your friends or people online!
Animal Crossing Wiki. 2020. Animal Crossing (Series). [online] Available at: <https://animalcrossing.fandom.com/wiki/Animal_Crossing_(series)>
Etchells, P., 2020. Why Are So Many People Playing Animal Crossing?. [online] BBC Science Focus Magazine. Available at: <https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/why-are-so-many-people-playing-animal-crossing/>
Lee, D., 2020. Nintendo’S ‘Animal Crossing’ Leads Lockdown Boom In Video Gaming. [online] Ft.com. Available at: <https://www.ft.com/content/4531a734-c25d-4f1f-a6b3-6be692dade5c>
Rodgers, L., 2020. Eight Things That Have Kept Us Going In Lockdown. [online] BBC News. Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52578358>