Animal Crossing Promotes Healthy Social Skills
We need social interaction. Even the introverts who can go days without it. We’ve found ways to entertain ourselves during lockdown by finding something creative to do, but perhaps we all felt the need to socialize with someone…ANYone. But the fact most of us have most likely gone weeks, possibly months without socializing with the outside world might be a little terrifying. Beyond the creative aspect, Animal Crossing: New Horizons also offers a sense of community. The game allows players to visit other players’ islands, trade items, and interact with each other’s villagers. This social aspect has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as players are able to connect with others and form friendships in a safe and virtual environment. The one thing we craved the most during the lockdown was most likely social interaction, and this video game – a video game! – gave us the chance to have the feeling of being with friends all over the world. Birthdays, graduations, proms, and even weddings were celebrated within the world of Animal Crossing.
Within many players, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has given them a sense of autonomy. In Andrew Z.H. Yee and Jeremy R.H. Sng’s article, “Animal Crossing and COVID-19: A Qualitative Study Examining How Video Games Satisfy Basic Psychological Needs During the Pandemic,” they claim, “Participants recounted that ACNH offered a feeling of escape and distraction from the restrictions and stresses of the pandemic and day-to-day life, provided a platform with the freedom to artistically express oneself, and enabled them to set and fulfill their own goals.” During the pandemic, many people have experienced significant changes in their daily routines and lifestyles. With the sudden shift to remote work and social distancing, many individuals found themselves struggling to adapt to the new normal. Especially so suddenly!
One of the main appeals of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is its ability to offer some sense of normalcy during a time that is anything but normal. The game allows players to create their own virtual, fantasy world and escape from the stress and anxiety of what we experienced the pandemic at its beginning.
In the midst of this interesting time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provided players with a much-needed sense of escape from the stresses of the world we were all experiencing. Whether it was through exploring a virtual world or engaging in a lively multiplayer battle by making a make-shift wrestling ring and shoving the other players out of the “ring.” The game allowed players to forget their worries and immerse themselves in a new and exciting environment. In short, the game offered a valuable source of entertainment and connection during a challenging period in human history.
The game is almost like starting a new life. You’re on a desert island—that you can make your own!—with new faces. Though these “new faces” might be anthropomorphic animals, they still add some sense of socialization to the game. Everything in the game is ultimately up to you. If you want to get to know your new in-game neighbors, you can. Much like real life, the more you talk to these villagers, the more you know about them. The relationship between you, the player, and these villagers may not seem like much. Yes, because they are fictional characters, but when it felt like we were trapped indoors…these villagers were probably our only means of social interaction. I personally loved getting to know my villagers. I’ve met a ninja rabbit who is obsessed with working out and always brags about how he’ll be the first animal to get a 12-pack. I’ve met a friendly dog who loves sharing book recommendations and who always gives me fruit in the mail. The relationships with these villagers ( much like the relationships you make with those in real life) will only increase with your effort put in to them.
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. I, personally would much rather go out with friends getting food and exploring the town. Not being trapped indoors for a long period of time and having only technology be the way to communicate. It isn’t even fun either. Texting and FaceTiming is convenient for the lockdown…but it wasn’t entirely fun. Communicating with people through FaceTime or Zoom is getting boring.
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.”
Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t just known for its “online play platform”. It can certainly provide much needed social interaction, but there are so many other mechanics that have this benefit!
When not communicating with other players, the game has hundreds of villagers that can 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 (Animal Crossing: Population Growing, Animal Crossing: Wild World). From several of the older games, villagers will judge the player cold hearted-ly for anything they did unusual if they were not friends yet. 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. In these older Animal Crossing games, you had to gain friendship points with the villagers and their dialogue will become nicer. The number of points is not shown in games, it’s truly based on who the villager is and how you interact with them. Much like real life.
Lin Zhu, author of the case study, “The psychology behind video games during COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” explains the relationship more in-depth between the social interactions that can happen within the game. For starters, even though you are starting off the game “alone,” there are villagers there waiting to become your friend in-game.
Now, 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.
New Horizons offers are 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.
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.
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. Myself personally, I put so many hours in 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. Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides players with a “safe space” from the troubles going on in the world. Sometimes, all we need is to be with people to get our minds off of certain topics and the online mode mechanic in New Horizons does just that. 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.”
The beginning of the pandemic, I personally felt more “vulnerable” than I ever felt before. I wasn’t ready to accept this fast and quite so sudden 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 felt when they played the game. I did everything the game had to offer and more. Socially interacting with other players around the world was strangely rejuvenating. Trading items was simple, efficient, and fun. Playing made up games on different people’s islands were relaxing to me. I felt there was some sense of 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, “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 faced enabled us to actively use the Internet for social interaction. A fairly large sum of individuals before the pandemic utilized any form of the internet—including online games—to interact with people online. During the pandemic, these survey results changed with more people becoming more dependent on online social interaction.
People might argue that video games are in no ways a substitute for real social interaction. Sure, video games do not have that real, true feeling of interacting with a person face-to-face. But in situations where we are in need of communicating with someone…anyone…doing so online is really our only solution. Not to mention that we now have the technology to do so (it’s in our lives inevitably at this point).
We have FaceTime, Google Meets, Zoom, and the other applications for video chatting with family and friends…but there’s no “fun” in that. If people can make a simple Zoom call amusing, then they must have planned for such an elaborate call.
Video games, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, enable players to not only play the game, but to also be able to communicate and play the game with their loved ones when they are physically unable to do so in real life.
Think about social media: Within the many applications available, they provide us some form of enjoyment and the ability to interact with people all over the world. Animal Crossing can be seen as social media. A different type of social media, yes, but the game does provide the same benefits as Instagram does plus more.
An article from Cornell University, “Animal Crossing – A New Social Media?”, dives deeper into the idea that Animal Crossing is, in fact, a “new social media.”
“You can also add a player as either a friend or best friend, and send messages or mail whenever you want. These relationships can be seen as building a social network, perhaps with strong ties between your friends or best friends, and weak ties between those whose island you just visit casually through codes or the cloud storage. These relationships are unique in the pandemic times, where you can now virtually interact with someone, visit their home, share gifts, and explore together, which can retain current relationships and foster new ones.”
There are so many mechanics to explore in the (digital) world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The best part about this is you do not have to do it alone. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has so many in-game features to explore.
The recent release of the franchise, New Horizons excited many seemingly lifelong fans. Each Animal Crossing game in the series had the same format: You move into a new town and you explore your newfound life the way you want to. However, each game advances in their special features.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons adds more abilities to communicate with those online to make new friendships and connections including the option to now allow seven other people online to be in one digital island (whereas previous games, the limit was three additional players), the addition of new events to celebrate with friends, new in-game furniture items to decorate islands however the player sees fit, and the players of Animal Crossing have created online mechanics of their own.
Nookazon is an online platform where Animal Crossing players can purchase in-game items with in-game currency. The only thing required to get the desired copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night is to interact with people online…much like most online transactions. The joy with this method of getting in-game items is the ability to visit the seller’s island, or have the seller visit you. It is ultimately the player’s choice whether they want to become online friends with this stranger.
Furthermore, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides more in-game mechanics that promote social interaction exceptionally. Though there are hardly any people who do this, New Horizons allows players to write letters to both, their anthropomorphic animal villagers and to the friends they make online. Players can mail them a heartfelt letter expressing their appreciation, send packages and emergency fruit to sell, or they can right an angry, hate-filled letter expressing how their newfound online friend is the bane of their existence. Quite like real life, except people express their opinions of each other on social platforms like Instagram and/or Twitter.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (and other video games can be seen as this, too) can be used as a “safe place” for most players. People have their methods for escaping the worries and stressors of real life, but investing that method into purchasing this game will make such a huge impact. The relaxing, atmospheric nature of the game and the ability to not only interact online with strangers, but also with your animal neighbors is very relaxing to most.
In regards to video games in general being “safe spaces”, writer Andrew Fishman, of the article, “Video Games Are Social Space: How Video Games Help People Connect”, explains: “Video games and other online spaces are “safe” for these individuals because they allow people to communicate when they want to, with little or no pressure to respond immediately and without requiring them to be in the same physical space with others.”
The joy of being in an awkward situation with a stranger online is the glorious ability to shut the WiFi connect off your Nintendo Switch, kicking everyone on your island off and immediately returning them back to where they came from (if only we had that luxury in real life). Communicating with people online can often put us in uncomfortable situation, much like communicating with people in real life. The only benefit of communicating with people online versus in person is the ability to remove yourself from the situation.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is safer than other social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram. If a user is causing another distress, the “block” button is effective, however the user can simply make another account and keeping harassing others online. Animal Crossing keeps their players safe while using their online features. Animal Crossing: New Horizons also allows the player to select who they want on their islands to spend time with and who they’d rather not interact with again.
“Real social interaction” truly comes in many forms. Communicating verbally is just one way of social interaction, much like texting and using social media. Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides another outlet to communicate with those and to feel relaxed whilst doing so. New Horizons also enables players to do so much more than play online to effectively communicate with their friends and families, they also have the ability to sell their items online and to write letters to other players of the game. The game provides many resources to have real and meaningful social interactions. The special thing about this kind of social interaction is that it is through a video game and it is done safely.
Guenther, K. (2020, October 31). Can Animal Crossing make you happier? ScIU. https://blogs.iu.edu/sciu/2020/10/31/can-acnh-make-you-happier/
Yee, A. (2022, April 1). Animal Crossing and COVID-19: A Qualitative Study Examining How Video Games Satisfy Basic Psychological Needs During the Pandemic (J. Sng, Ed.) [Review of Animal Crossing and COVID-19: A Qualitative Study Examining How Video Games Satisfy Basic Psychological Needs During the Pandemic]. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.800683/full
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
Animal Crossing – A New Social Media? : Networks Course blog for INFO 2040/CS 2850/Econ 2040/SOC 2090. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://blogs.cornell.edu/info2040/2020/09/29/animal-crossing-a-new-social-media/