Animal Crossing As a Form of Escapism

I started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons in April. Almost every Youtuber was talking about the game and I wanted to know what this hype was all about. So, I watched a few Animal Crossing videos, persuaded my boyfriend (who owns a Nintendo Switch), and purchased the game. I started playing the game during the lockdown in the Netherlands, so there was pretty much nothing else to do for me, which means I played Animal Crossing for many hours, and I got addicted fast. Very fast.

For those who are not familiar with Animal Crossing; it is a life simulation video game for the Nintendo Switch that was released in March 2020. You start on your own island with almost nothing, and you can build up this island the way you want it to be. This means you can create your own tiny virtual world, but it also means the island has to be maintained. There are some villagers on your island, but they will not help with the island in any way.

You start with your own tent, and by paying your loans you can turn this into your dream mansion. You can purchase, craft, and customise furniture and decorations, and with these tools people create the most beautiful islands.

Now, this game may sound not very special, so what exactly is it that makes Animal Crossing so popular? I found this video from AndresRestart, and I think he explains the concept very well. Basically, people like Animal Crossing for many different reasons, and this is what makes it such a strong game. You can literally do whatever you want, there is does not have just one purpose. The game provides you with so many possibilities, making it a very popular game for a wide range of people. The following quotes from the directors of the game pretty much sum it up:

“What people find interesting in Animal Crossing seems to differ from person to person–and that in itself is interesting. (laughs) There really is so much diversity in the way people like to have fun.” – Nogami

“There’s people who just like to collect the furniture, and some people who only want to do fishing. There’s also players who just enjoy designing something to share with others. The fact that we can’t point to just one thing and say “that’s the appeal” testifies to the novelty of Animal Crossing; I don’t think there’s been a game like it before.” – Eguchi

As I said before, I got addicted to the game very quickly? So, what exactly makes it so addictive? AndresRestart explains how, as a life simulation game, it is not only your own world to create, but also to maintain. This means that, if not maintained properly, weeds will grow all over your island, your island villagers will distance themselves from you, and your house will be filled with cockroaches. Furthermore, every day you can find new furniture on the island, and new DIY recipes you can use to create stuff. You will also be rewarded for doing your daily tasks, like talking to your villagers or selling items. These are things that make people (like me) pick up their (or their boyfriend’s) Switch every day.

Everything I mentioned before is part of what makes Animal Crossing such a fun game to play, but I think that there is one thing that has probably had the biggest influence on its popularity. The game was released in March 2020, which was also when the Covid-19 pandemic started to make its largest impact. Many countries were in a lockdown, and people had to stay at home as much as possible. In a time where you are not able to go outside and enjoy the world, a life simulation game such as Animal Crossing can make a large impact on your life. Picking up your Switch and visiting your own created island for a little while can be a great distraction from the real world, and can thus be considered a great moment of the day when you are not seeing anything else but your own house every day.

I see Animal Crossing as a form of escapism, which has even had a larger impact on many people’s life because of the time it was released and because people had the need of escaping the real world now more than ever. As Cambridge Dictionary explains, escapism is “a way of avoiding an unpleasant or boring life, especially by thinking, reading, etc. about more exciting but impossible activities”. When activities outside your home are not allowed anymore, people tend to distract themselves with things that are available within their homes, like books, movies, or in this case, video games. Animal Crossing has definitely had an influence on my lockdown experiences; when the real world got too much for me, I would start Animal Crossing and pour all my creativity into the game.

For more information about Animal Crossing in the Covid-19 pandemic, I recommend this case study, which explains the psychology behind the game very well.

Have you played the game before? What was your form of escapism during the lockdown? Please let me know in the comments!

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  • AkifAliyev
    Posted October 5, 2020 at 8:51 pm 0Likes

    Absolutely love this article, particularely because I myself have a roommate who described this “escapism” that Animal Crossing has provided him at a time of pandemics and quarantine. Do you expect to see a revival in open world concept games in the coming years with social distancing increasingly becoming commonplace?

    • EmmaElize
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:45 am 0Likes

      Thank you so much! Yes, I definitely think that life simulation games have increased during the social distancing, and as we will be in this situation for quite some time still, I think the popularity of these games will only increase. However, I do think that as soon as the social distancing is completely over, life simulation games could experience a major fallback, since people will probably want to go outside again and enjoy the “actual” world more.

  • therese
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 12:11 pm 0Likes

    Interesting! It’s nice to hear this explained. I had the Animal Crossing game for the Wii when I was younger, played it maybe once? Never understood what the point of it was, haha. But the way you describe it it seems like something of a “life” you build up over time. Would you say it has similarities to the “Sims”? Animal crossing has probably also improved over the years and, like you mentioned, this version was released right when the pandemic hit, providing people with a form of escapism. If another lockdown happens, maybe I’ll look into it again;) the psychology behind this is also super interesting, will definitely check out the study you linked!

    • EmmaElize
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:37 am 0Likes

      Great to hear you enjoyed my blogpost! I definitely think it has similarities to the Sims, as it also is a life simulation game in which you create your own world. The main difference, I think, is that in Animal Crossing you can only create one character for each Nintendo account, so you make this character represent you as much as possible. With the Sims, you can create as many people as possible, and for this reason, I think people may feel a different connection with Animal Crossing than with the Sims.

  • ninabeik
    Posted October 6, 2020 at 1:53 pm 0Likes

    This was a great read as someone who currently has 460+ hours in Animal Crossing haha! I definitely agree it is a form of escapism. It was during the most intense parts of the lockdown that I’d be practically glued to my screen for hours. At least everything was nice and peaceful in my little fictional animal island. In some ways I do think New Horizons came out at the perfect time (and I’m sure Nintendo would agree when they look at the game’s sales numbers lmao)

    • EmmaElize
      Posted October 7, 2020 at 10:52 am 0Likes

      Nice to hear you enjoyed reading my post! Animal Crossing definitely had perfect timing releasing the New Horizons game, almost as if they had planned it 😉 And yes, Nintendo has benefited so much from this as well, considering their sales numbers and the major increase in Nintendo Switch prices during the lockdown.

  • Wakana.K
    Posted October 10, 2020 at 7:44 am 0Likes

    Yes! I have played the game before! Though I forced myself to quit because I can easily spend 24 hours for gaming. I found your idea very interesting and I also came up with an idea that Animal Crossing can open up creative possibilities for its players. For instance, my mother and sister play the game every day after they come back from their works and they are enjoying their real life hobbies on their islands. My sister, who draws comics in her real life, is now drawing her own characters on tapestries and clothes in her island and decorating her house. Also, my mother enjoys collecting clothes and various pieces of furniture. In real life, she also wants to collect them, but they cost a lot so instead, my mother makes her ideal rooms in her virtual house and invites her old friends to her house on the game. Now her social life is mostly based on the game after she comes back from her work. I found this very interesting new way of hanging out with friends.

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