Animal Crossing and Cultural Norms

This past year has seen circumstances that allowed for the gaming scene to grow and evolve in all types of ways, with people having free time to congregate into communities based around their favorite titles. One such title is Animal Crossing New Horizons, which saw an explosion of popularity and reached outside of the established community of Animal Crossing much further than most anticipated. I say this because the community regarded itself as a quiet bunch, enjoying the slow paced, life simulator that characterized the previous titles. However, New Horizons shifted in a different direction which, especially with the time allotted to many due to the turmoil of the world at the time, allowed for much more player input and expression. As such, a major focus of the game became creation and customization, and bred a culture of displaying one’s progress and work on social media and within communities.

Those who continued on from previous titles still recognize the fundamental goals the game wants you to achieve. Starting a life in a new location, taking out loans for a house, paying off said loans by doing activities for money, and having an active town with the presence of villagers. These factors were the backbone of the game and its systems, and influenced player decision the most. The player did not have as many free customization options, such as the inability to place furniture outside, the lack of control over which villagers move in or out of the village (unless you have amiibo cards), the impending doom of interest building up on loans, and so on. The need to constantly keep these monetary costs in mind while also maintaining the quality of the town required players to plan and make responsible decisions. For many players of these older games, they interacted with the technology in a way that prompted them to be hardworking and attentive to the game, diligently completing their daily tasks. This demonstrates the “technicity” of the players to the game, which Dovey and Kennedy (2006) define as “the interconnectedness of identity and technological competence.” Many older players identify as “playing by the rules of the game” when they continue their hardworking and diligent attitude in the newest game.

Due to the changes New Horizons brought to the table, a different type of culture stemmed from the affordances the game had that contrasted from previous titles. Villagers would remain in your town until you personally allowed them to leave (and as a result became seen as more of an accessory to further improve the appearance of one’s island rather than an interactive character that added charm to gameplay loop), loan interest was removed, furniture could be placed anywhere, and perhaps the largest change was the introduction of terraforming one’s island to change its geography entirely. It is clear that a heavy emphasis on self expression was at the forefront of game design, while diminishing the importance of the activities that were focused on in previous titles. A popular social media trend spread of people posting their incredible custom designs and terraformed islands, prompting others to want to achieve that same appeal on their own islands. The identity associated with the game seemed to shift to that of artists and designers creating incredible works to display to others, rather than that of hard workers maintaining their own towns to simulate real life functions. Just as how Dovey and Kennedy (2006) state that one can “interpret The Sims (Electronic Arts 2000) as a reinforcement of the hegemonic values of consumerism,” the Animal Crossing series can be seen as a similar type of game in which consumerist ideals are presented through obtaining financial bearing in a new land that can be renovated in the player’s image once it is affordable. This is only the initial impression of the game, however, and understates the sheer open ended creativity and free will the player has in making whatever they envision.

A let’s play video showcasing ways in which one can change their island landscape to create works of art and aesthetic locations. Video by froggycrossing.