Animal Crossing: New Horizons Helped Maintain Social Interaction Online
If I were to tell you I’ve had a pleasant conversation with an anthropomorphic cat about the weather and how my outfit choice is completely vile…you’d think I am insane. Maybe so, but we all felt some sense of…insanity almost when we’re trapped in doors due to the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. While texting your best friend about the shows you’ve watched is interesting and all…it just isn’t the same. Maybe communicating with your friends through FaceTime or Zoom is getting boring, too. A lot of us, myself included, felt the need to communicate with new people. To be extreme with the case…our old friends became “boring.”
While Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t initially known for its “online play platform” it can certainly provide much needed social interaction. While not communicating with other players, the game has hundreds of villagers that live on your island. Each of these villagers come in different species and are divided among eight personality types. One day, you might have a conversation with a bodybuilder cat about working out. The other could be an anteater discussing her latest read. As the Animal Crossing series grew players began to notice the dialogue of these villagers became…friendly.
Animal Crossing players prefer the almost realness of the villagers from the earlier games. From several of the older games, villagers will judge the player cold hearted-ly for anything they did unusual. Villagers would become so harsh…it added a sense of realness to the game as there are people in real life who also behave similarly. Now with New Horizons, players are finding villager dialogue to be a bit dull as the villagers are “too nice.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lin Zhu, author of a case study entitled, “The psychology behind video games during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” discusses the relationship between the social interactions that can occur within the game and the psychological effects of this. To begin, you will find that even though you start the game on your own, you will find that there are villagers that are waiting for you to become their friend in the game.
While talking to a non-playable video game character is nice…it isn’t the same as talking to an actual person. Animal Crossing: New Horizons allows players to play online with each other to experience the game more. There are many benefits to the players playing the game by playing online. This includes collecting items for your island and having villagers move to your islands. But when it comes to Animal Crossing players, they are finding more ways to utilize playing online.
The creators of the game allowed the online feature to be used to visit friends’ islands and trade items. With the players trying to crawl out of the boredom they are facing, they took the ability to interact with users online to a whole new level.
Zhu discusses in detail the benefits of playing online. In Animal Crossing: New Horizon, players have the option to create events that bring people together through their creativity. “The gamers not only can invite others to their islands to trade items but also talk and hang out virtually. There are even real stories of people having weddings on the game after their ceremonies had been canceled in real life. It is a thoughtful way to make memories and have some laughs during the time they cannot in person.” For many people, Zhu stated, many meaningful events were canceled. High school proms and graduations were also held in this game. It was through these events that many people came together to plan the events, to decorate a part of the island, and to get together — just as if it were a real-life social gathering
The game offers a large variety of items that players can use to decorate their islands however they’d like. Obtaining these items, however, may be harder than others due to the rotation the game automatically sets for when items will be available for purchase in the in-game store. Nookazon is an online platform where Animal Crossing players can purchase any in-game item using the in-game currencies (Bells or Nook Miles Tickets) to purchase these items. Communication among other players is crucial for these transactions to be successful and this allows other players to have the opportunity to visit other player’s islands and possibly become online friends.
During this time I wanted nothing more than to see my friends and spend time with them. I’m sure a lot of other people thought the same during the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic. Animal Crossing: New Horizons created a “safe space” for a lot of players. Personally, I put so many hours into the game because there was simply nothing I wanted to do more than play a game where I didn’t have to worry about what was going on in 2020. Clinician Andrew Fishman, writer of Video Games are Social Spaces: How Video Games Help People Connect, explains, “There is also evidence to suggest that video games can be a safe place to experiment with social interactions for vulnerable people.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, I personally felt more vulnerable than I had ever felt before. I wasn’t ready to accept this fast and unexpected change we as a world faced. With the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I felt so excited to feel “relaxed” as the rest of the world did when they played the game. I did everything the game had to offer and more. As a result of social interaction with other players all over the world, I felt rejuvenated. Trading items was simple, efficient, and fun. Playing made-up games on different people’s islands relaxed me. I felt normalcy again after a long time without it.
Writers Jonathon N. Cummings, Brian Butler, and Robert Kraut of the article, “The Quality of Online Social Relationships” explain that after many surveys among people, “…the general public continually reveal that most people using the Internet value email and other forms of online social interaction. Even in the age of the Web and e-commerce, online social interaction is still the most important use of the Internet.” Before the epidemic we had, we were able to actively use the Internet for social interaction. It is estimated that a large number of people before the pandemic used the internet—including online games—to interact with people via the internet. There is a good chance that these survey results will have changed during the pandemic as more and more people become more dependent on online social interaction in order to cope.
Cummings, J. N., Butler, B., & Kraut, R. (2002). The quality of online social relationships. Communications of the ACM, 45(7), 103–108. https://doi.org/10.1145/514236.514242
Fishman, A. (2012). Video Games Are Social Spaces: How Video Games Help People Connect | ResponseCenter. Jcfs.org. https://www.jcfs.org/response/blog/video-games-are-social-spaces-how-video-games-help-people-connect
Zhu, L. (2020). The psychology behind video games during COVID ‐19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/hbe2.221