Photo by Javier Domínguez Ferreiro via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
On September 13, 2018, Nintendo’s YouTube channel broadcasted a highly anticipated Direct — a press conference in which they reveal upcoming games.
I’m dressed in green, hoping to somehow send a signal to the company’s executives that I want an Animal Crossing game for Switch.
35 minutes go by and still no sign of Animal Crossing. I try to keep my breathing steady and my thoughts calm.
Isabelle, a fan-favorite character from Animal Crossing, appears on the screen and I lose it.
“PLEASE, JUST ANNOUNCE IT!” I yell at the screen. To outsiders, I look like a complete maniac. Nintendo fans know the pain, hoping that your game will be announced even when you have dozens of games in your collection that you’ve barely touched. You don’t need it, but you certainly want it.
Finally, I’m rewarded with the announcement that Animal Crossing is indeed coming to Nintendo Switch. I am about to fall over, not sure whether I’m relieved or exhausted.
At Nintendo Direct, the company’s executives announced the original release window for New Horizons: 2019. At the Electronics Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, in 2019, they confirmed that they would postpone the game’s launch to March 20, 2020. Naturally, I was disappointed at first. Given current events, I don’t think that Nintendo’s decision-makers could have planned the release date better if they’d tried. As Keza McDonald of The Guardian wrote, “If there was a perfect time for a game about embracing a simple existence on a deserted island, we’re living in it.” We were offered the chance to create the world we wanted instead of the world we had — and that reality has caused players from all walks of life to embrace New Horizons.
Navy veteran Sean Izor typically plays first-person shooters and role-playing games, but has experienced Animal Crossing for the first time with New Horizons. Though not originally interested in purchasing the game, he’s now logged over 200 in-game hours.
“Animal Crossing has provided a nice respite from the fast-paced and complex video games I typically play,” said Izor. “The game mirrors actual local time, so many play aspects are repeatable on a ‘daily’ basis. There are numerous achievements to strive for: expanding your house; attracting more people to live on the island and collecting fossils, bugs, fish, clothing and décor to name a few.” A regular exerciser in real life, he’s even decorated a room of his virtual house like a gym in hopes of returning there soon.
As you’ve probably already gathered, Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t your typical game. There’s no high score to aim for like Pac-Man, no final boss to fight like in Super Mario Bros. However, that’s exactly part of the appeal: since there’s no actual “end” to the game’s objectives, there’s always something to do every day. That’s one of the reasons why Kaden Unger, an English major at West Chester University, finds it enjoyable to play right now.
“Animal Crossing has given me goals. During this pandemic, I’ve been struggling with motivation,” he said. “It has given me something to focus and set goals for.” Indeed, at times during lockdown, it’s been hard to even know what day it is, but the game’s daily routine gives a sense of normalcy to the many sharing Unger’s situation right now.
Even journalism professor Yanira Rodriguez, who is interested in video games but doesn’t regularly play them, has been attracted to Animal Crossing. Her family, from her 4-year-old son to her husband, have been enjoying the peaceful nature of the game.
“I have been interested in trying it. I’ve seen some beautiful serene scenes of people fishing — that looks so peaceful!” said Rodriguez. “It’s kind of funny, my daughter’s also playing [first-person shooter] Assassin’s Creed at the moment — both [Assassin’s Creed and Animal Crossing] are ‘AC,’ but there’s such a high contrast,” she added.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons’s broad appeal can be seen in its internet popularity and sales numbers. In an interview for the New York Times, Twitter executive Rishi Chadha stated that “It’s [Animal Crossing is] now the No. 1 most talked-about game in the world, dethroning the likes of Fate or Grand Order — which held that title for nearly two years — and Fortnite.” Per Nintendo’s official sales data, the game has already sold 11.77 million units, despite being out for a little over a month.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has even assisted people in coping with real-life event postponements. The Washington Post’s Aron Garst reported that in-game weddings, graduations and parties are regular occurrences; as he noted, before we might have thought such simulations were cute, but now we see that they effectively serve as substitutes for the real-world events we might have had. They allow us to dream about what might have been.
Right now, my Animal Crossing island is far from perfect, but it’s rapidly improving. It’s earned two out of five stars and it’s got room to grow.
Yes, I have to admit I’ve been envious of other people’s islands. I peruse social media and find gorgeous five-star islands with a Google search. They’re perfectly planned little masterpieces; their themes are coordinated and their creativity is stellar.
I wouldn’t trade with them for the world — just like our rebuilding society, my island’s a work in progress. It recently got its first fountain, and I plan to build gardens and bridges to brighten everything up. My neighbors have become like old friends at this point, and I’ve even convinced a few not to leave. Cape Nook mayn’t be astonishing, but it’s home. It’s in a state of relative hibernation right now, but when it flourishes — and we get back to normalcy — it’ll be more beautiful than I can imagine.
For the time being, Izor, Unger, Rodriguez and I will enjoy life on a peaceful, comforting island along with the over 11 million others playing the game. We’ll do a little bit of everything, from working out in a virtual gym to fishing in a beautiful pond. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like some new horizons from what you’re seeing on the news each day. Won’t you be our neighbor?
Christopher Borroughs is a student at West Chester University. CB923088@wcupa.edu.