Socially Connected with “Animal Crossing” During Social Distancing

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Illustration by Grace Park

Rick Zhang
Contributing Writer

“Animal Crossing” has always been a popular game. Yet its latest version, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” has broken the three-day Nintendo Switch sales record across the world after it just launched on March 20. In Japan, According to Famitsu data, the title sold 1.88 million physical copies in just three days, a number that would be even higher if it included digital copies.

The setting of the game is very simple: players move to an island that is completely deserted and start a new life, becoming neighbors with all kinds of animals. Players can also visit the islands of real-life friends who also play the game. 

One of the biggest features of the game is that the time is synchronous with real life. That means players have 24 hours a day to play, with day and night and seasonal changes as well. This means players can only wait until their new home finishes construction when they first enter the game, and the stores open in the morning and closes at dawn, just as in real life. Another important feature is that players are able to create objects of their own will. They can design their own clothes, furniture, and even the layout of the whole village. 

These features set the game to be slow-paced and extremely open. Some players spend hours collecting different kinds of fish, some players plant flowers every day and crossbreed them into different colors, while some players hold their own art exhibition and fashion show after designing pieces with a pixel-based art system. Usually, people might not be able to invest too much time in the game on a given day. Now, “Animal Crossing” has become a great place to spend time and to interact with nature, especially when many people are trying to find something to do or are eager to go outside in the time of quarantine.

More importantly, the developers of “Animal Crossing” have done a great job of attracting players by utilizing emotional attachments. Every animal in the village has different characteristics. When you encounter an animal, it might give you an article of clothing as a gift saying, “I just saw it in the store and thought it really fits you.”

You can also find the gifts you give villagers on the shelves of their homes when you visit them. The emotional design of these non-player characters (NPCs) makes players feel connected and cared for. In a review, an author even wrote, “I felt sad when the animal villager told me they were moving out.” 

Moreover, the game also encourages players to interact with each other. At this time when people are largely isolated, this game has turned out to be a great platform to socialize, either by hanging with old friends or meeting new friends. Some players group up online with players around the world to purchase the family membership plan to get a better deal.

Players who live in Asia visit their friends who live in Australia to experience different seasons and catch sharks that usually do not appear in the Northern Hemisphere. They can also exchange gifts with each other and watch meteor showers together under the starry night. In the time of COVID-19, where many people are being forced to socially distance themselves from loved ones, these feelings of connection can be especially important.

Second-year economics major Kishi Chang told The Bottom Line that she had immersed herself in the game from the beginning and is truly impressed by the complexity of the detail that the game presents. “When I am fishing, the bait would flow with the current; when I am walking on a narrow path, my character would turn to her side; even the sounds made by different shoes stepping on the ground are different!” 

The game itself is no doubt innovative and would’ve gained a great amount of popularity regardless — however, the fact that most people around the world are under quarantine also pushed it to greater success. The game came out at the time when many people were stuck at home, feeling bored or anxious. “Animal Crossing” creates a friendly community that fulfills people’s need for social interaction and provides an ideal world for people to temporarily “escape” from reality and just enjoy the simple moments.