Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers Students an All-Around Good Time ™--By Sarah Yuen
Talking toy-like animals, cute and colorful furniture, and an endless indebtedness to a raccoon entrepreneur named Tom Nook. From the outside looking in, Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t seem like a very universal game. Yet, ever since it’s timely release on March 20th, just days after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, it became Nintendo’s all-time best-selling Switch game in its opening month. True to the statistics, it has claimed endless hours from almost every demographic; college students, married couples, and even retired seniors all can’t get enough of Animal Crossing. At RB High, many currently-addicted students find that the game offers an escape from boredom and reality in a time where many activities are limited.
Upon opening a new save file in New Horizons, players are let loose on an island that is empty, save for your campsite and an abundance of trees, weeds, and rocks. After an introductory phase, players have many options for gameplay. They can use the island’s resources to build hundreds of unique pieces of furniture, pay off the debt on their house, catch fish and bugs for the museum, invite zany animals to live on their island, participate in seasonal events, and so much more. The goal of the game is to achieve a “three-star” island and attract the famous musician K.K. Slider, but the game doesn’t narrow your path to just achieving this; it’s more like a sandbox where players can shape their own experience and freely express themselves. Some players have already devoted hundreds of hours to designing islands with all sorts of unique themes.
A description might not be enough to do it justice, but students like senior Christian Jonas can help explain the appeal of Animal Crossing.
“On the surface, I can see how the game’s appeal can be somewhat enigmatic,” Jonas said. “The feeling one gets from watching over a town that one interacts with and contributes to is one that makes you feel like you’re doing something more than just passing time.”
Throughout the many hours that players inevitably get sucked into, the game’s playful music, satisfying sound effects, and eye-candy visuals create a calming and carefree atmosphere that can do a lot for students who are struggling with social distancing. According to Jonas, his experience with an older version of Animal Crossing similarly helped him get through a tough time in his life.
“As winter break came around in my freshman year, I started facing a lot of hardships socially,” Jonas said. “The game gave me solace in a tumultuous time of my life and brought me good times, showing me the fundamentals of wholesome behavior.”
On top of being a wholesome experience, the large online presence of the new game gives players a unique way to feel connected. There are articles giving advice on gameplay, YouTubers showcasing unique islands, artists posting scans for in-game custom designs, items for trade on an online market called “Nookazon” - one Twitter user even documented their experience of actor Elijah Wood visiting their island (lucky duck!).
Senior Jenna Ongoco, who has over 300 hours in the game, and sophomore Seth Mounivong, who has over 160 hours, are two students who have taken full advantage of the game’s social aspect. They and a few other RB High students often interact through the social networking app Discord to trade and notify each other about changes in the game’s “stalk market.” And of course, there’s no end to the Animal Crossing memes.
“Everyone’s super positive most of the time,” Ongoco said. “It’s really chill and friendly, and we all share a special hatred for the Easter event.”
So yes, on the surface, Animal Crossing: New Horizons easily passes as a simple-minded game for children - but behind that is a game with universally-appealing mechanics and a fun online community to back it. For many students, this makes the game a good way to pass time and escape to a world away from reality. Well, except for the crippling debt following you around.
“Tom Nook bleeds you dry,” Mounivong joked.