‘Animal Crossing’ gave students a crutch last spring. A year later, some 5C students are still playing

A person holds up a Nintendo Switch while playing Animal Crossing.
The Nintendo Switch game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” provided 5C students with a comforting escape from difficult times during the past year. (Courtesy: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The same month students left campus in 2020, Nintendo released “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” in which players develop their islands by picking fruit, digging fossils, collecting bugs, catching fish, planting flowers and developing a neighborhood.

Originally, Maddie Moore SC ’22 had no intention of purchasing a Switch or the game — but that changed as she adjusted to being at home and noticed the growing community around the game.

“At the beginning of the [release of the] game, I played with friends a lot,” Moore said. “The biggest thing that has brought me joy from ‘Animal Crossing’ is the community around it.”

Moore noted how the game brought her lifelong friends and served as a “light” that brightened her days in quarantine. Although she still plays four hours per week, she no longer relies on it for community. 

Through “Animal Crossing,” Tray Hammond PO ’22 made friends in Thailand, Germany and Australia. He also received over 200 ratings on Nookazon for his ability to trade items and characters in high demand with other users in exchange for tens of thousands of Bells and Nook Mile Tickets, the games’ main form of currency among traders.

“Once I got into trading, I found that I was getting that social interaction that I wasn’t getting [before],” Hammond said. “Sometimes it would be more of a conversation … and I’d be like, ‘Wow, we’re all just going through it.’”

Hammond’s gameplay neared a total of 500 hours, but then he quit playing due to work and school commitments in the summer and fall of 2020. Like Moore, he no longer needed the “distraction” after adjusting to life in quarantine. 

Courtney Reed CM ’22 created a group chat on Claremont Twitter for Claremont McKenna College students and joined various Facebook groups to trade.

“It was a nice way to get my mind off of the extreme hopelessness of the situation last spring,” Reed said. “This game kept me grounded, and things could have gotten really bad. So, it was a nice distraction for me at the time.”

Reed’s gameplay ended somewhat unwillingly. After moving out from home for the fall semester, she purchased a Switch Lite to transfer her previous game data from a separate Switch.

A collage of four screenshots of different Animal Crossing Islands.
The Nintendo Switch game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” provided 5C students with a comforting escape from difficult times during the past year. (Courtesy: Maddie Moore, Omari Matthews, Courtney Reed, Mya Johnson)

At the time, game data didn’t save to Nintendo’s online cloud, and she found herself with no motivation to restart her island. It wasn’t until November 2020 that players received the update to retrieve data from the cloud.

Like Reed, Mya Johnson PZ ’23 enjoyed the opportunity for escapism. She made a fairy-themed island with wonderland elements.

“You can go into this fantasy world that doesn’t have a pandemic and coronavirus. It’s definitely helped calm some nerves during quarantine,” Johnson said. “It’s a pretty good game to pick up if you’ve been stressed.”

Nowadays, Johnson only plays for about 15 minutes whenever she wants to experience the game’s “calming” and “relaxing” nature. 

“I definitely go through playing it in waves,” she said. “I get really excited when a new one comes out, and then it dies down after a year.”

This version of “Animal Crossing” placed an emphasis on character and island customization. Players can create their own clothing lines and purchase clothes at the Able Sisters’ tailor shop.

“I dress my character the way that I would like to dress in real life. The drip is so good — I wish I actually owned those clothes.”—Omari Matthews HM ’21

They also receive Nook Miles for accomplishing tasks and redeem them through Nook Stop rewards. The rewards catalog offers limited edition items to place on islands.

“I love how customizable the game is and that I can express myself through it,” Moore said. “In this world, I can have access to an unlimited closet.”

Reed and Johnson noted how they saw themselves reflected in their characters because of the new options for skin tones and hairstyles. Characters can be recognizably Black and style their hair into high puffs or cornrows.

Omari Matthews HM ’21 suggested the possibility of an “Animal Crossing” clothing line. 

“I dress my character the way that I would like to dress in real life,” Matthews said. “The drip is so good — I wish I actually owned those clothes.”

In “New Horizons,” Tom Nook — the founder and president of Nook Inc. — owns a deserted island that players and their villagers inhabit. In order to continue island development, players must pay off loans to Nook in Bells.

“He’s kind of like the Mr. Krabs of ‘Animal Crossing,’” Johnson said. “I don’t love being in debt to Tom Nook, but it’s humorous.”

Reed described Nook as greedy and capitalist.

“There’s actually no reason why I should’ve owed him that much money from the jump,” Reed said. “I think we should overthrow [him] and then make it a communal ownership island.”

As a child, Matthews attempted to convince his parents that Nook would teach him about money management. As an adult, “Animal Crossing” helped him slow down and appreciate the small things and beautiful aesthetics in life.

Matthews’ gameplay went from over 10 hours at a time to anything between two and five hours. Video games have always been social for him, so he spends the lessened hours enjoying the “vibes” with friends. 

“I could sit here on a log just watching the sunset in the game,” Matthews said. “I feel like ‘Animal Crossing’ is designed to give you those little pockets of joy throughout your day.”

Looking back, all five players agreed that “Animal Crossing” got them through a difficult time. The game provided an escape from a jarring shift in reality.

“At that point, things were very uncertain, and we didn’t know about the future,” Hammond said. “It’s much more hopeful than it was before, so the game’s like this cute little thing I can look back on.”

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