By Zara Iqbal and Emily Xia
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” a life simulation game consisting of developing a village on a deserted island, has taken the world by storm. The Nintendo game has exceeded the company’s lifetime sales prediction by May 2020, already making it the best-selling game of the franchise. Three members of the MVHS community explore why “New Horizons” is the game the world needs right now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Serena Liu
Senior Serena Liu has been playing over 400 hours of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” since late March — she was inclined to buy the game after being attracted to the "cute" characters in Nintendo's promotional videos. Before, she would only hear her friends talk about the game, but now she thinks that it lives up to the hype it has received, especially after shelter-in-place orders have begun, believing that "it's an escape to the outside world, in a way."
Initially, Liu didn't like how players must "grind" at the beginning of the game to improve, and because the game reflects real-time, there's only so much one can do in a day. But through time-traveling (changing the console’s settings to reflect a different time), Liu was able to accumulate in-game currency and reach objectives quicker, making the game more addicting as she discovered new ideas and worlds.
Liu particularly enjoys collecting rare items and sharing them with friends, but her primary objective is designing an island she is satisfied with, which she suspects might take a while because she is trying to gain more items to decor with.
“[At first], I didn't really have a sense of inspiration [for my island],” Liu said. “I just did whatever I felt like, but now everyone has progressed so far into the game and posting their islands and their designs on the internet. I was inspired by some of them, and I kind of want to use their ideas and incorporate them within mine. Because of that, I think I want to tear down everything, but I'm just gonna wait a bit. I'm going to wait for a few more updates and stuff, maybe change it over the summer.”
Nintendo Switch Online is a paid subscription feature released by Nintendo that allows owners of the switch to play with others online. Liu signed up for the seven-day free trial, but decided to extend her subscription just so she could play Animal Crossing with her friends. There are in-game items that players are unable to find on their own islands, but are in abundance in others’ islands, so Liu appreciates being able to trade items with her friends through the subscription.
“Animal Crossing really understands how to market Nintendo Online because in-game, they really like to promote interaction between other players,” Liu said. “For instance, there are DIYs in the game, and you can share these DIYs amongst other players ... The only way you can get [certain items] is by interacting with other players, and that's why they created Nookazon, Amazon for Animal Crossing ... It is not essential, but Nintendo has made Nintendo Online basically fundamental within the game.”
Furthermore, an aspect Liu likes is that Animal Crossing gives players more liberty than some other games. She compares it to “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” which also allows players to work around the main objective and set one’s own in-game goals, making the game more satisfying.
“You can find more fulfillment within the game because it's not like if you have just one main quest, you’re just done with the game in like 10 hours [or] 15 hours, but by setting your own objectives and like having like these tiny like side quests as part of the game, you can make a 10-hour game extend to a 400-hour game,” Liu said. “You really get your money's worth from it because who wants to spend $60 on a game that's going to take you 10 hours to finish?”
Junior Evelyn Lai
Junior Evelyn Lai originally played “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp” –– a mobile game — before finding out about the Nintendo Switch “Animal Crossing: New Horizons Edition,” which she soon bought just to play “New Horizons” on. She believes that “Pocket Camp” fails to be as interactive as “New Horizons,” which is also why she enjoys playing the latter more.
“It's a lot more interactive, not just with villagers, [but] with your friends [as well] because you can come see them, and I really like that because it encourages you to put more into the game,” Lai said. “I feel like it shows how much Nintendo put into the game, like, there are other games where you can have dialogue with the characters but it's not like relevant to the plot ... or it doesn't deepen the plot, but with Animal Crossing, anytime you do something the villagers, [you] can change the outcome.”
Lai’s parents also play with her, as they have their own villagers and houses. Her mom has her own vision for what she wants to build on their island, which is named “Egg Yolk,” and her dad is invested in selling turnips to gain the most in-game currency.
“I think it helps our relationship because it's something that we like to bond and laugh over, and I play in Chinese so I feel like it also encourages me to connect with my parents through our native language, which is something that I've been falling out of recently and I guess it's nice because we can all enjoy it,” Lai said.
While Lai’s parents find the game’s building process and business aspects to be enticing, Lai herself enjoys the game’s aesthetic design and villager interaction. In the game, villagers have a set of actions that they cycle through, including fishing, running, napping, sitting and Lai’s personal favorite, singing.
“It's really cute — and some people just really like that aesthetic,” Lai said. “It's just like Minecraft, but way cuter; you can do whatever you want. And there's an added connectivity within the game because you can have a lot of dialogue with the villagers. ... And I think it's also popular because we're in quarantine right now, so some of us are just kind of bored and bought it.”
Lai also likes visiting her friends’ islands and interacting with them through Nintendo Switch Online. She believes that their islands and villagers are a reflection of their personality.
“If you've never really gamed with [your friends] before, it's also a new experience for your friendship,” Lai said. “I just think it's like a different form of interaction because usually when you think about gaming with your friends, it might be like, ‘Oh, let's go shoot some people,’ but Animal Crossing is wholesome, and you can give them gifts.”
Math teacher Alan Wong
Despite having been a longtime Nintendo fan, math teacher Alan Wong never planned on purchasing Animal Crossing — in fact, he thought of it as a “boring game.” However, when his older son took a special interest in the game’s trailer, Wong decided to buy it as an incentive for his son to do housework.
After playing for just a few days, Wong became “hooked” on the game, and now plays more than his son. Though he didn’t find the game exciting when it was first released, he has found that the game caters to his goal-seeking personality.
“I'm always working towards improving something, whether that's my own personal ventures or in a video game,” Wong said. “I tend to want to get through it as quickly as possible — I want to master the game, if you will. When it comes to Animal Crossing, I want to get to the next step, I want to ... expand my house. And so I just like that idea, just constantly improving upon myself.”
Along with being able to accomplish main goals in the game, such as house expansion upgrades, Wong also enjoys his freedom in how he organizes his island. Being an organized person in general, Wong has found new ways to make his island easily accessible by having more readable placement of his houses, trees and flowers.
“For me, even in school, everything is organized into files and folders, whether it's electronic or paper copies. “When it comes to my island [on Animal Crossing], it's the same thing. All my fruit trees are organized in rows — all my pear trees, all my cherry trees, all my peach trees — they're just neatly organized.”
Though Liu and Lai’s favorite parts of the game revolve around interacting with the villagers on their islands, Wong hasn’t researched on his villager preference despite having seen the market for villagers online. However, he does talk with the random villagers that have moved to his island, his favorites being his crocodile villager, Boots, and his hamster villager, Apple.
Outside of his virtual social interaction with his villagers, Animal Crossing has allowed Wong to connect with his friends and students more. According to Wong, by using Nintendo Online, he is able to visit other people’s islands, and when he brings up the game in his classes, many of his students are able to discuss their islands with him as well. In his home life, he’s found that his relationship with his sons has strengthened from being able to play on the same island as them.
“For the games that we have, my experience level is so much greater than my sons', so it's hard to play with them at times,” Wong said. “But with Animal Crossing, anyone can pick it up. With my four-year-old son Jayden, he just runs around and he just kind of chops trees and digs in the ground. So it's a way for us to simultaneously be playing on the same screen.”