I remember vividly when the first COVID measures came around beginning 2020. We all thought it would last a few weeks and that everything would return to normal soon, but of course that wasn’t the case. After a few weeks I had caught up with all the shows I wanted to watch, got tired of doing workouts in my room and I started anxiously searching for something to entertain me. It was then when I came across Animal Crossing New Horizons, scheduled to be released March 20th 2020. I had never played Animal Crossing and owned a Nintendo Switch that was gathering dust in a corner of my room so I thought I’d give it a go. Despite the game’s official announcement having been uploaded on June 11th 2019, the came seemed to be made for the pandemic.
The original announcement shows the player as the main character, mainly living in solitude on a deserted island. The player is seen cleaning up weeds, building and placing items and exploring an imaginary world. The end of the teaser shows numerous players gathering on the beach (a feature that is enabled through online play), creating an idyllic image. As stated by Lin Zhu the success of Animal Crossing New Horizons is partially dependent on its ‘right timing’. In a search of escapism from the pandemic, the game enables its players to seek comfort and social connection in an imaginary world. In juxtaposition to other Nintendo games such as Super Mario 3D World, there are no difficult end bosses and there is no fear of running out of lives after messing up a level hundreds of times. In Animal Crossing, it’s just you trying to pay off your extremely high debt to Tom Nook, while creating your dream island (the capitalist aspect of Animal Crossing is something for another blog post…). The game transports its players to a world without COVID, violence or any negativity really. Upon opening the game, you’re greeted by your villagers (animals living on your island) who give you nicknames like ‘burrito’ or ‘vitamin V’, and no matter how ugly your island is they look up to you and tell you encouraging words. Animal Crossing answers your call for escapism by transporting you to a simpler, happier life. By playing online and inviting your friends to your island, you can emerge in this dream life together, which ultimately offered a sense of connection to me and many others practicing self isolation. Events like birthday parties, weddings and graduations were held in the game, rather than physically. Long story short, Nintendo managed to release a game that was announced before the pandemic even started which turned out to provide the perfect way of escapism.
Despite me appreciating my daily tasks on my island – like picking weeds and harvesting my extreme amount of peach trees – as the COVID restrictions started clearing up, my motivation to play the game kept decreasing more and more. It got to a point where I would gather go to a bar than talk to the animals I had called my fictional friends for all these months. There were free updates and patches that had been released throughout the months I played the game, along with events like Halloween and Christmas. Considering that they were free and downloaded within a few minutes, they were fun but did not add much. I stopped playing the game and was extremely close to selling my copy of the game after saying to my boyfriend that ‘I would never play that game again’. Of course, I was wrong.
On the 15th of October, my unconscious call for a big update was answered and the DLC Happy Home Paradise was announced.
Upon release, Animal Crossing New Horizons‘ amount of copies sold in its first month surpassed any other console game in history. By the end of March 2020, close to 12 million copies were sold (for more numbers, refer here). By June, 22 million sales were reached; and in September the number was just over 26 million. Nevertheless, more than a year later the sales had slowed down and many stopped playing the game. The release of Happy Home Paradise marks the first release of a paid DLC, at a cost of 25 euros. I believe it’s a smart move by Nintendo to get players involved again and gradually revive the Animal Crossing community, perhaps tempting them with more paid DLCs in the future.
I had not touched my copy of Animal Crossing for nine months at the time of the announcement. Nevertheless, the introduction of a new aspect to the game made me reach for the game instantly. After the guilt-tripping comments of my villagers who said ‘Where have you been for 9 months? I thought you’d never come back!’, I continued my long paused journey of finishing my island. When reading comments on the original announcement of YouTube, a common theme was something among the lines of ‘Nintendo just summoned the people who haven’t touched their AC in months’ or ‘This will give me that first month rush again which I miss’. I relate to these comments and after the release last Friday (5-11-2021), I can say with a little bit of regret that I’m already behind on readings and assignments because Nintendo was able to bring back my spark for Animal Crossing.
Once again, Nintendo has released something at the perfect time. It’s getting colder and rainier outside, COVID regulations are getting stricter again and all I needed was some escapism the original game wasn’t offering me anymore. The DLC enables the player to create holiday homes, and provides you an escape from the loans and your island that’s probably still mid-renovation. It’s like an inception of escapism, and at the cost of 25 euros I don’t regret spending even more money and time on the game.