“Animal Crossing” Reaches New Horizons in a Socially Distanced World


photo by Mateo Rives

Max Domel and Wrenny Collamer

The Animal Crossing franchise has been around since 2001, having released five different console iterations in that time. However, the latest installment this past March, titled “New Horizons”, has reinvented many of the game’s fundamentals and given players a new experience, going on to sell ten million more copies than any previous installment. 

The hit game gives players free reign to design their private island as they choose, collecting resources and trading along the way. Players can do pretty much anything, from harvesting fruit to resolving drama with a hippo wearing a pink polka dot shirt.

For Senior Isabelle Saquing, this freedom is core to New Horizons’ gameplay. There’s more to explore and build upon one’s island, making the possibilities endless.

“I was able to spend a lot of time on it because throughout the day it was very dynamic and always changing,” Saquing said. “You could do a lot of different things all day. It isn’t one of those video games where you log on, complete a certain set of tasks, and you log off. You can wake up, catch a certain type of butterfly that only came out at that time of day…or even wait for your trees or flowers to grow.”

According to Freshman Colleen Hoffman, who started playing with their family back in the earlier “New Leaf” installment days of the game, there are a slew of unique and enjoyable events to attend with other players.

“I’ve seen some unofficial marriage and graduation ceremonies hosted,” Hoffman said. “People have also made mini-games and hosted tournaments.”

Senior Oasis Aguayo said a large part of what has made the game appealing to her is the strong communities it fosters. She’s found that she’s been brought closer to fellow players inside and outside of the game.

“It’s fun playing with my brother because we visit each other’s islands and challenge each other to do stuff,” said Aguayo. “There is a lot of socializing within the game itself and with people outside of it…people from all over the world.”

One product of the game’s growing sense of community is Nookazon, a fan-run marketplace site unaffiliated with Nintendo which allows players to trade goods and materials with people from all over the world, offering millions of available listings.

Senior Sofia Buntz has participated in these bonus communities after playing New Horizons for a couple of months. She found the experience to be “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I think my social media algorithms have figured me out,” Buntz said. “They recommend a lot of island building content…[but] everyone in Animal Crossing just seems so nice and every interaction you have with other players is lovely. You can be pretty much sure that everyone is just going to be nice and do transactions like you wanted to…it’s always a lovely community to interact with.”

For Saquing, the Animal Crossing-related content she sees on social media and the game itself has unlocked her more creative side. She says that viewing others’ methods and content often pushes her to discover new approaches to how she plays.

“I follow a lot of Instagrams because there is always a lot of inspiration going around,” Saquing said. “There is just so much creativity. It is kind of like a blank canvas and you can fill it with anything.”

According to Buntz, the newest installment of Animal Crossing came at just the right time. With the pandemic and quarantine limiting people from socializing in real life, the in-game communities and exciting gameplay have been a pleasant substitution.

“It was a time of a lot of upheaval for everyone,” Buntz said. “Structures were changing and everyone’s schedule was totally crazy. No one knew when life would get back to normal. It was always really comforting to have a nice little place you could go in the switch to walk around and have conversations with all these little characters. It creates a calm, reliable source of entertainment to take your mind off things.”

Animal Crossing developers have continued to further customize the game, such as the new addition of photo islands and ways to make short in-game movies or trailers. In the future, though, Hoffman says they would like to see more quality of life details implemented into the game as its fanbase and potential grows.

“I’d like to see…things such as getting crafting materials directly from your storage without having to take them out, and the ability to sort your inventory,” Hoffman said. “I like the way Nintendo is slowly rolling out updates to keep you focused on the game. There is a fall update hopefully coming soon, so I’m excited for that.”