It’s no surprise that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has revolutionized the quarantine experience. New Horizons, coming out eight years after its predecessor (Animal Crossing: New Leaf), has taken the world by storm. The game is so popular, there are even conspiracy theories about its oh-so appropriate release date; many joke that Nintendo must have released the Coronavirus to increase sales for New Horizons. While there’s no possible way to back up the conspiracy theory, it does raise a great question; why are we so obsessed with a game about catching fish and talking to cartoon animals?
The first reason is obvious; there are millions of Americans Who are trapped in their homes during quarantine, and the game was released right as many countries are beginning their stay at home orders. This optimal release time, mixed with limited entertainment options, shows us just how successful a game can be.
But the reasoning behind the popularity of Animal Crossing extends beyond that. According to BBC, the game provides a source of escapism and comfort in a time where the outside world feels scary or daunting. New Horizons is also predictable; there are many repetitive components that people find reassuring when COVID-19 makes everything feel unpredictable. It is similar enough to its predecessors to attract old players who have nostalgic attachment, but also brings in a new audience with its improved graphics and the aesthetic appeal of the new game. The game also has social components, whether it be non-playing characters (NPCs) like your island residents and visitors, or your real-life friends and family who you may be separated from. You can send your friends gifts or visit their islands, which helps a lot of players feel a bit less isolated during isolation.
The game also provides a schedule and sense of accomplishment for players who may suffer from mental health issues or disabilities. This is also related to the game being somewhat similar to real life, in the sense that you perform tasks and make money, which you can then use to buy items or clothing you want, something some of these players may struggle within the real world. It also functions in real-time, which contributes to the realism of the game, though the similarities between New Horizons and real-life are relatively limited to these things. The time helps contribute to players returning to the game after the initial purchase; there is no “winning” in Animal Crossing. But because it’s not time-sensitive, there’s no obligation to play until your brain melts; if you get too busy, your island is there waiting for you to return. The bugs and fish that are catchable are seasonal, so each month has new creatures. These critters are also only available at certain times of day, so players have to play at different hours of the day to catch different things. In addition, Nook’s Cranny and Able Sisters, the two in-game stores, aren’t open all day– just like actual stores, they aren’t available during your 3 AM snack run. You have to keep playing, continuing to improve and create at all hours of the day, and all days of the week, to see everything the game has to offer, so we keep playing.
These days, when things seem a bit bleak, a simple game with cute animal friends and fruit trees seems to be a small encouragement in an otherwise daunting time, so play to your heart’s content.