Animal Crossing and Quarantine Culture
by Tristan Reid
As of December 7, 2020.
On the surface , quarantine may seem easy. One just has to do the bare minimum and stay home. For many people whose work was put on hold, the hardest part of quarantining is the act of occupying oneself for the duration of the day. The quarantine period in southern Ontario this was between the middle of March and the beginning of May 2020. Many people would have to find new ways to stay in touch. This forced innovation like the sharing features of websites like Netflix. It is also within this period that happenstance would give quarantined Ontarians with the town simulator Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The timing for this game’s release seems almost like divine intervention in how perfect the tenets of Animal Crossing fit within the needs of people during COVID-19 pandemic. Releasing on March 20, 2020, Animal Crossing released at a perfect time for Canadians and many others around the world.
Animal Crossing is a game series that is built on routine, and what some people could consider doing chores. The in-game time coincides with the real world time, sharing your entire day with your vilalger. It is also a game about community. Players design their own island that you can decide the other occupants, with a wide range of colorful and cheerful animal inhabitants. There is no real goal to the game, it’s purpose is to simply create an island that is appealing to the player, or to collect all the animals for the museum. These tasks can be completed with the help of other players or by oneself. This rfeature created a micro economy of players shopping around Twitter or Reddit for items or animals they have not found yet, and trading with other people. It is this satisfying gameplay loop that would drive Animal Crossing: New Horizons to the forefront of popular culture at the beginning of 2020, keeping a dedicated fanbase as the year progressed.
Creating a Virtual Routine
Lockdown and quarantine forced most people out of their usual routines which could lead to great mental strain and snuff out any drive or motivation, leading many people to try and find new routines or healthy habits during COVID-19. For many this would prove to be a difficult task, since not having work or school leaves people to their own devices. As odd as it seems however, Animal Crossing would help many people as a stepping stone in building new routines. In a Huffington Post article by Caroline Thompson, she describes how Animal Crossing provided her some sense of control during quarantine after having her normal busy routine being lost to the pandemic. She states “I think it was a lack of control that drew me and many gamer-adjacent people to embrace ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’”. Animal Crossing provided a drama free space that people could work on at their own pace, whilst connecting with other like minded people around the world, much like how the author Caroline Thompson did. The fact that the game runs in real time to the current day and has time sensitive events gives incentives for people to build a schedule around the game. In an article by the New Yorker by Simon Parkin, he describes how because the each day in Animal Crossing is a parallel to our own but a “life lived elsewhere”, it provided people trapped at home with something new to dominate their schedule. Animal Crossing: New Horizons gave control back into the hands of people who had felt the Coronavirus had violently torn it away from them.
Animal Crossing and Mindfulness
The real time gameplay of Animal Crossing also assists in the practices of mindfulness and grounding because of the amount of control the player has over their environment. In an article by Jennifer Scheurle of Polygon, she explains that this atmosphere is created through Animal Crossing’s ‘gentle progress’ systems. This play structure allows the player to make progress as quickly, or as gradually, as they desire. Players could fast forward time by changing their console’s settings to see their efforts more quickly, or players could see their achievements emerge in real time. By removing any system of pressure in the tasks player’s complete in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players feel comfortable to move at the pace they want. ‘Gentle progress’ games like Animal Crossing assist in mindfulness, much like how mindfulness could be reached when colouring or meditation. As Scheurle explains in the article on Polygon, the loose goals of Animal Crossing allows the player to choose the direction they would like to go. Their achievements are of their own intention and not ones that the player was railroaded into completing. It is due to Animal Crossing’s central sense of ‘gentle progress’ that provided many players a healthy escape from the stressful environment of 2020.
The Animal Crossing Commmunity
The community aspect of Animal Crossing was also integral to the positive light the game was during quarantine. It was due to the therapeutic game play loop that drew people in at first, the daily activities, collecting items, animals, and villagers, but it was the sense of community that allowed it to have as long a lasting impact as it did. Initially it was the memes and posts that emerged from early adopters that put Animal Crossing on people’s radar, much like what Caroline Thompson writes in her article, since they too wanted to understand the inside jokes and pictures they were seeing on twitter. The celebrity press was also a large push for the game, as people would see Brie Larson or Elijah Wood on twitter interacting with their fans through the game. However, the most crucial aspect to the Animal Crossing community were the plethora of smaller friend groups and Discord channels dedicated to it. From my own experience I was able to join my friend in Ottawa’s channel where we traded villagers and wore matching argyle sweaters when we’d go to each other’s islands. I would also be able to stay connected with friends from around Guelph who I was unable to see because of lockdown. I was even able to attract people from my work to join me in Animal Crossing, eventually creating our own Discord channel too. The most widespread Animal Crossing community to grow from New Horizons was the Nookazon, a massive community built around a central Discord server that is welcoming to anyone. It has an associated website that serves as an in-game for of Amazon.com. Where players from around the world sell in-game items and trade villagers for in-game cash or items. It was the main force that facilitated the more ‘economic’ side of the Animal Crossing community. COVID-19 has forced people to find new ways to interact and meet new people, the community that sprouted from Animal Crossing: New Horizons provided an avenue for people to connect with friends and other people around the world through a plethora of different means.
The joys of Animal Crossing are small but poignant. It’s gentle nature provided a much needed for of escape from the doldrum of COVID-19 life. It was successful in recreating things that many people lost during quarantine. It provided them a sense of control and a new routine to keep whilst trapped inside. It also gave people a taste of the community they were so distant from, giving friends and family a space to interact and play with each other while in some cases worlds away.
The next page in the archive is about Mental Health.
The common beginning of an Animal Crossing island.
Take a breath.
Visiting my friend the Special Ops Man.
About as pastel as you can get.
What's the beach without some sun?
Caroline Thompson, "'Animal Crossing' Is Getting Me Through Quarantine - And I'm Not Not Alone," The Huffington Post, published August 28, 2020, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/animal-crossing-coronavirus-therapy-feeling-in-control_l_5f458668c5b697186e2dedb8?guccounter=1
Jenniefer Scheurle, "Why Animal Crossing calms you down, explained," Polygon, published April 2, 2020, https://www.polygon.com/2020/4/2/21201065/animal-crossing-new-horizons-calm-mindfulness-coronavirus-quarantine
Mia Mercado, "Psychologists Explain Why You're So Obsessed With 'Animal Crossing' Right Now," Bustle, published April 9, 2020, https://www.bustle.com/p/why-animal-crossing-is-so-soothing-right-now-according-to-psychologists-22757232
Simon Parkin, "Finding Connection During Quarantine with Animal Crossing: New Horizons," The New Yorker, published March 21, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/finding-connection-during-quarantine-with-animal-crossing-new-horizons