5 reasons why Animal Crossing will flourish a social revolution during Coronavirus

To get through the quarantine, distractions like Netflix and video games are essentials, we get it. But how come Nintendo Switch console video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons met unprecedented success and became the biggest hit during this pandemic?

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Image credit: Washington Post

Since its debut on March 20, 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons broke several records in the video game history:

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Image credit: Nintendo

Be prepared for quite an investment if youd like to play this game: Switch console + Switch memory card + physical/digital copy of the game + Nintendo membership + Amiibo + another Switch controller if you want to play with your partner… It can easily add up to $400–$600 if you purchase them at regular price. Not to mention as the demand of Switch and its accessories soared with the hype of the game, Switch is sold out almost everywhere and you can’t get one without paying a price premium (I am glad that my boyfriend has a Switch hence I just needed to order the game).

It is an exceptional phenomenon we are looking at right here, especially under the current context of low consumer confidence as the result of COVID-19. Why is Animal Crossing so popular and why play it?

1. A dreamy getaway

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a combination of fantasy, interactive education, inventory management, social simulation, and open-world adventure. Nintendo defined it as an “escape to your personal island paradise”, which pretty much sums up the essence of the game.

You start a new life in an isolated, deserted island and build your own warm, healing world by catching bugs, watering flowers, growing trees, gathering resources, trading merchandise, extending your house, upgrading your skills, and making friends with all types of anthropomorphic animals.

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Image credit: Pocket-lint

The theme is nothing new; the third-person perspective is debatable; it has a somewhat long history but is still far less popular than Super Mario or The Legend of Zelda. However, born in a global pandemic, it is Nintendo’s best gift to our lockdown world.

I’ve never played Animal Crossing before, but during the first few hours of playing, I saw lots of efforts devoted to this soft story. For example, I received a letter from my virtual mum asking me everyday questions such as if I ate well, brushed my teeth and washed behind my ears (very much like my mum). The unique tenderness and fine emotions of the game seem to be such a luxury in our solitary life.

I’d like to mention that the Director of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Aya Kyogoku, is the first female video game director at Nintendo. Not only her game development team at Nintendo has an even gender split, but also this generation of the Animal Crossing series removed gender options from the character customization for the first time, making it a gender-free game. Being politically correct or not, diversity and inclusion are proven to be good for business and creativity.

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Image credit: Video Games Chronicle

2. Joys with a slow pace

Animal Crossing: New Horizon plays in real-time: day and night cycle mimic those in real life; seasons change over time on their own accord; its calendar keeps track of bugs, fish, and collectibles that you can only get during certain months. You can easily play this game for months, if not for a year.

Since April, I’ve experienced the cherry blossoms/sakura season (you’ll need to be on the Northern Hemisphere), Easter Bunny Day and a fishing tourney. You can even enjoy different phases of the Moon at night in the game as in real life!

The seeds you planted take days to sprout and flourish. The merchandise you ordered requires a day to be delivered to your mailbox. The infrastructure you built, the land you moved and the house you extended also take some time. There is no shortcut — you can’t do anything to accelerate the progress (except some people do time travel but you shouldn’t).

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Image credit: Nintendo

This slow-paced, immersive gaming experience is ideal for living in isolation, not just because you have nothing else to do, but you’ll gain delayed joys to look forward to, something cheerful to hope for every day. It is not a typical approach in today’s world where everybody is rushing for immediate gratification.

I remembered waking up before sunrise on day #2 of playing this game because I was so eager to see my new house, like a kid waking up early on a Christmas morning to see what’s under the tree. I smiled as I thought of what was waiting for me the next day. One thing Animal Crossing taught me is that it is OK to step back every once and a while and appreciate small achievements.

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Image credit: Nintendo

3. (Almost compulsory) social sharing

Nintendo made virtual socialization as one of the key elements of the game. Your island by nature has only one type of flower, one type of fruit on the trees, and limited types of items available in stores. The only fast way to get more natural resources and more diverse products is to visit other players’ islands and exchange items.

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Image credit: Nintendo

Moreover, turnip prices are a gamble that brings the Internet together. The buy-in price for turnips is always around 100 bells. As turnips rot in a week, you’ll need to pay close attention to the price and sell them at a fairly good one, if you want to get rich and pay off your loans ASAP in the game.

Using a turnip price calculator is not the sickest hack (as its price varies slightly on your own island), visiting other islands where turnips are sold above 200 bells, even 400–500 bells will be a more effective way (but be aware of turnip trading scams with strangers).

To extend my inventory, I started by visiting my friends’ islands. It felt almost surreal to talk to my longtime friend who I haven’t seen in years, located on the other side of the earth with a 12-hour time difference! Then I began to visit random people’s islands with a Dodo code shared by the island owner (I stopped doing so when I noticed other visitors like me took the gifts I left to the owner as soon as I dropped them. Courtesy people!).

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Image credit: SuperParent

4. Unlimited possibilities to do whatever you want

The narrative thread of the game ends when you complete the K project (by inviting the famous musician K.K. Slider to perform on your island). At the end of the day, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a relaxing life simulator and an extensive open playground where everything is beautiful and manageable.

On my day #15, I had no more new missions and was in a free mode to do whatever I wanted. It is fascinating to explore this game deeply, appreciate the charm of every villager, and gradually shape your island in your own way.

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Image Credit: Pocket Gamer

Whether you want to focus on re-designing natural landscape, experimenting cross-pollination to get hybrid flowers, customizing design patterns on clothes, or investing in the global turnip market, you can always find an area that interests you, sharpen your skills, and get the most fun out of it.

You can also do things that are not achievable in real life because of social distancing. In the past few weeks, there were virtual weddings, graduation ceremonies, work-from-home meetings, and political protests in this pixeled world. This game offers us a comforting and safe way to reconnect with others.

From a digital marketer’s perspective, I’ll say that Animal Crossing has also become the frontline for lots of brands, pandemic or not. KFC Gaming collaborated with Animal Crossing to host a free Switch giveaway on Twitter. The fashion line 100 Thieves had a full apparel drop in the game. There has still a blue ocean out there if your business targets millennials.

5. Exquisite details

Japanese culture believes that it’s possible for inanimate objects to become sentient and that after serving people for a century they can gain souls. This spiritual yet romantic Shinto folklore has been interpreted perfectly in Animal Crossing — each time you break a fishing pod, a net, a shovel, a slingshot, you genuinely thank for their service and memorize the good times you had together.

It is just one of the many magnificent minor details you can find in Animal Crossing. Leaves and plants will rustle when the fan hits them, various content is broadcasted on the TV during the day, your stereo can register and play different songs of K.K. Slider, villagers’ footprints match their species (also frog villagers don’t carry umbrellas in the rain) …

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Image credit: Washington Post

Besides, most of the furniture is designed to be adorable and (semi-) functional. You can get snacks from a vending machine, use the toilettes if you have eaten fruits, and play a dollhouse with surprising elements. There are always some small interactions that you’ll recognize.

Furthermore, there are almost 400 animal NPCs (Non-player characters) in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Not only they look adorable in pastel colors, but they also have very distinct appearances and personalities. And no one is boring! Talking with them is full of wonder. You’ll discover their background stories and life ambitions, witness chemistry among them, and bond with some of them.

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Image credit: Ordinary Reviews

Even though this game is relatively stress-free, there is still a chance for a burnout point overtime. Discovering and admiring small surprises offered by the island is the best way to keep yourself engaged and have fun. Things like decorating your town, fill your museum with fossils and rotate villagers who live on your island spark new interest and rejuvenate the gaming.

This is not a perfect game and I had some frustrations. You can’t buy fashion items in bulk from the clothing store, it is very hard to achieve a five-star rating for your island, and playing online with other players is complicated with a disruptive drop-in/drop-out, to name a few. But it is very accessible to gamers of all levels, and you’ll enjoy the game as long as you have a certain degree of imagination.

Finally, we are going through a cultural revolution where virtual interactions will become the new norm. And I feel Animal Crossing: New Horizons is nearly an unsung hero under the current crisis — it creates a smooth and safe social dynamic by making human connections less scary under the current uncertainty.

Written by

Life-time world traveler. Full-time Japanese TV series enthusiast. Part-time digital marketer.

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