The Delights of Island Life
Shelby Hutchinson discusses why the popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has helped people cope during the pandemic.
The release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) fatefully collided with the beginning of international lockdowns in March, creating the perfect self-isolation experience for gamers.
The game sent waves of nostalgia through those of us who grew up playing previous Animal Crossing Games on the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS. At the same time ACNH offered a new, fun experience for those who are less familiar with the franchise.
While the lockdowns prevent contact with friends and family, limiting outdoor activities and restricting people to their homes, the world of ACNH helps defy the isolation. Not only can you hang out with your cool new animal friends and thrive outside to your heart’s desire, digging up fossils and planting flowers, it also allows you to create a world in which you can escape to build only within the limits of your imagination.
On top of this, Nintendo has continued to release additional updates to the game, including the ability to dream yourself to other islands, behold fireworks displays and swim and dive no matter the season.
There is no set storyline, no level system, no boss battles; your only objective is to find joy in the mundane, and to make your own way in the world. During lockdown this game was a dream come true. The stars had well and truly aligned, and ignoring the chaos happening in the world was made easy.
It’s no surprise that ACNH has risen in popularity during this time, considering the game’s foundation in new and unfamiliar situations. Which is probably why the popularity of ACNH broke Nintendo records, selling “1.88 million physical copies” in Japan, in the first 3 days; and, over “5 million digital copies” downloaded in one month.
The creator of the original Animal Crossing, Katsuya Eguchi, was inspired to create the game upon moving to a new city to begin his position at the Nintendo Headquarters in Kyoto. He experienced a great feeling of loneliness, working long hours, and arriving home late, limiting the time he could spend with his family.
In an interview with Gamasutra, he said that he and his family would all play games at different times, and he wanted to be able to feel the enjoyment of playing and sharing a game with his family despite not playing together at the same time.
The first game in the series, originally named Animal Forest (2001), features the player arriving in a new town on their own, simulating the unfamiliarity and loneliness of moving to a new place. As you play, you learn to live in this new, strange village you’ve found yourself in, making friends and molding your life as you please.
The direct connections to Eguchi’s own life were what created the magic of the game, the desire to leave everything behind and run off with a raccoon to a deserted island, while also allowing a sense of control in an otherwise wild situation.
From as early as 2001 to the present, Animal Crossing has provided gamers with the perfect form of escapism needed to cope with the madness pervading the real world. Which given the times we are in has obviously resonated with millions around the world.
Feature Image: Madelyn Gardiner, Yak Media Designer