On March 23, Governor Kate Brown ordered Oregon residents to stay at home and started to legally enforce social distancing. Three days prior, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released to a swath of fans that had been waiting for a new installment in this popular game series for eight years. Now, as people in Oregon and all across the world are only allowed to physically interact with the people who they live with, people, including Willamette students, have used Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a way to stay in touch with friends and cope with life in quarantine.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a real-time lifestyle game where your character lives on an island that is at first deserted, but that you can build into a beautiful and thriving community. Almost everything is customizable, from your house, to the island’s scenery and decorations, to your clothes and character’s appearance. There is a cast of 402 possible residents, cute animal characters that come and live on your island that you can talk to and form friendships with.
“There’s something in it for everyone: you can build a new world, you can do interior design, you can play fishing games, you can shop, you can go to mystery islands and collect things, you can get involved with the stock market,” said Sammie Zemanek (‘20).
The Collegian interviewed multiple students about their experience with the game and how it is impacting them during social distancing. They all agreed that it has been a helpful tool to stay in touch with friends and family, and is also a calming piece of escapism.
You can also easily visit other friends’ islands, to visit their shops and museums and see how they have customized their islands and homes, among other activities. This is where the bulk of socialization through this game has been happening. Many Willamette students have been visiting friends’ islands while using Zoom or Facetime, so they can both play and talk at the same time.
Jay Hadfield (‘20) has been using the game to stay in touch with multiple people, including their childhood friends, brothers and mom. Hadfield reminisced about the neighborhood friends that they played Animal Crossing: Wild World with, a game that was released in 2005. Now in 2020, Hadfield has reconnected with those same friends who are now all playing New Horizons.
For Hadfield, this game is not just a way to connect with friends around their age, but has used it to stay in touch with family members of different generations.
Speaking to playing the game for the first time with their mom, Hadfield said, “She loved it so much that this morning she got up early so she could play before my brother got up. She’s thinking about getting a Switch so that she can have her own island. My stepdad plays with her as well, and they are trying to get my grandma to play it.”
Meg Pratt (‘20) planned her birthday party on the game. She was supposed to see her favorite band in concert with her friends to celebrate her birthday, but with COVID-19 and the cancellation of the show, Pratt said, “Second best thing is that it is happening in Animal Crossing. I am setting up a concert stage, I have a bunch of games planned… I’m trying to get one of the members of the band to fly into my island.”
Pratt also is using the game to stay in touch with her best friend, who she has not seen in person for two years.
Sam Levy (‘20), who uses she/they pronouns, is using this virtual world to stay in touch with her friends, old roommate and long distance boyfriend.
“It was one of the best things ever… There was something about physically sitting next to him, and facing each other in the game that, I was like, ‘I don’t know why this is so helpful, but I feel like I’m with him. And it feels so much better,’” Levy said about the first time their boyfriend visited their island.
When asked if playing Animal Crossing with friends and family feels like substantial socializing time, all those interviewed agreed that it does not replace the real thing, but is a great activity to do together, besides just talking over Zoom or Facetime.
“I think that is something important that is missing from all of our lives right now,” said Pratt.
When asked why she thinks Animal Crossing has been so widely played during social distancing, Levy said, “It really reinforces calmness, safety and community in a way the outside is not replicating right now.” Later in the interview she said, “I think a lot of people are flocking to it because it’s something that you can control.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing worldwide distress and grief, and for many people, living in this time feels overwhelming and like they are completely out of control. Graduating seniors are stepping into an uncertain and dangerous world, where important aspects of life like financial security and housing may be harder to come by. For many, Animal Crossing has been a way to escape those feelings of fear and uncertainty for a moment. While playing, you are transported into a world where you will always have a stable income, since you can sell fish, insects and fruit that are all easily attainable, and you have a whole island that you change and design to your exact liking.
“All of those kinds of landmarks, like remodeling your house, sort of feel unattainable for our generation, for most of us I would say. Maybe that’s a little over serious. At the end of the day, it’s a cute, fun game. But for me it’s definitely, like, well, I can’t afford an armchair for my room right now, but I can afford six in Animal Crossing,” said Pratt.