In early lockdown I chose to send a letter to my future self. It checked out: “I feel calmer, yoga assists. I want I had a canine.” They say brevity is the soul of wit but I’m unsure that applies in this case. To be reasonable, the letter was composed in Animal Crossing: New Horizons utilizing the Nintendo Switch keyboard user interface, so it’s at least a testament to my stubborn button-pressing. Thankfully there are even more interesting methods to chronicle the pandemic through New Horizons: the National Videogame Museum is introducing The Animal Crossing Diaries job with this in mind.
Alex Roberts, a curator at the museum, explained that the research task aims to “expand the possibilities of what it suggests to collect experiences in video games and document how to tackle doing it in a sustainable and ethical method.” The current instalment in the Animal Crossing franchise is the perfect case research study for this, as they put it: “the serendipity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ release coinciding with the COVID-19 lockdown led to the game becoming an unforeseen escape and a lifeline for many players.” The game does not just offer you with a customizable beautiful island paradise, it lets you visit your good friends’ also. As Alex mentioned, “finding a place in which you are able to go outside and meet up with pals transformed the function Animal Crossing might play.”
It seems like there are as many social networks posts about ACNH as there are stars in the sky, but one shone especially brightly for me. The “Good Night” exhibit was the very first setup at the Woodsorrel Garden Gallery, with 6 art pieces themed around night time. “The Garden Gallery came about when my partner decided to try Animal Crossing on my Switch, played enough time to set up a tent, and after that didn’t visit again,” developer Sarah Cole discusses on her site. “Second houses aren’t my style, so I chose to upgrade it, move it back into the garden, and turn it into an innovative outlet-an art gallery.”
One of my preferred rooms that Sarah has created remains in her most current exhibition themed around joy. This is a’ processional method’comprised of 2 lines of toilets that each open as you pass them-it’s Animal Crossing’s response to the Marcel Duchamp urinal however much more intriguing. Sarah brought her experience as a creative expert to New Horizons, developing the exhibitions iteratively. “I have aphantasia – I can’t imagine things in my head,” she informs me over email, “so I typically come at my exhibitions from a spatial angle initially and have to construct it up gradually into a completed work that provides the feeling I desire. It’s a lot of me going ‘What happens if I do this? Would this music alter the state of mind of the exhibit? What takes place if I fill this space with toilets?'” Sarah considers her work to be a record of her pandemic experience. “Almost every piece is about something I miss-people, locations, feelings. I mean, there’s even a piece influenced by East Croydon train station.”
Both the ‘Good Night’ and ‘O Joy’ exhibitions are now over, though you can technically still visit the latter through the Dream Suite function. The short lived, ephemeral nature of gamer culture has been a concern for both Sarah and the NVM. “Up up until now, the National Videogame Museum has actually focused on its material collections, “Alex described, “but with this project we undoubtedly need to take a mixed method as so much of the material we need to protect to tell the story of this video game is digital and for that reason, exceptionally fragile.” Sarah has actually currently been archiving her resolve exhibition guides, screenshots and video footage. In her words, Animal Crossing is the “digital equivalent of renting a flat where Nintendo is the landlord-you can set up the furniture and have good friends round however you need to play by the guidelines … I’ve put so much operate in, but Nintendo might erase my island tomorrow if they felt like it. Do I even own my own innovative output here?” Herein lies the dirty undercurrent to the bright paradise of ACNH, as Sarah sums up the Nintendo principles: “Use any colour you like, but you need to colour between the lines.”
Animal Crossing isn’t the only colourful game that’s become part of the pandemic video gaming zeitgeist. You’ve probably heard of Fall Guys, the zany fight royale video game. “Certainly the vibe we’ve seen from the audience is that it was the best time for something brilliant, ridiculous and vibrant to come along,” Fall Guys video game designer Ben Nizan discussed. “Then you have Animal Crossing with its light and fluffy aesthetic. Its whole vibe scratches that itch of something comforting and wholesome to spend your time with … I believe superficially Fall Guys has that exact same welcoming, wholesome flamboyance however it’s a very various beast.” As has actually been the case with Animal Crossing, gamers have produced their own emerging narratives through social media.
If Animal Crossing is a doll-house simulator that’s perfect for developing viral screenshots, then Fall Guys is “a gameshow simulator.” As Ben mentioned, the crazy physics of the game “drives those shareable minutes and TV-worthy stories.” Fall Guys does not lean into gate-keeping (unless you count solid doors in Door Dash) as it prospers on easy guidelines and controls. Ben likewise brings up another interesting point that I had not considered – Fall Guys doesn’t have any kind of in-game commentary. “This might seem like an oversight, but actually banners are our announcers and they do a much better task of it than any system we could build because they can respond to these one-in-a-million events.”
He confesses the experience has actually been surreal when I ask Ben about the online accomplishment of Fall Guys. “Fall Guys’ success still feels like this thing that’s just … taking place on Twitter. In truth it’s this huge phenomenon but it’s tough to get point of view when your primary window to the outside world has become your PC screen you know?” As much as online play can provide a sense of community there can likewise be dislocation. Sarah experienced this with the introduction of the Dream Suite in Animal Crossing which indicates that anyone can now go to a frozen version of her island as long as they have a code. “Most players [previously] would message me while checking out to state what they liked finest and come find my villager to express their sensations about the programs utilizing emotive reactions. I have no idea who, if anybody, is checking out the gallery by means of Dreams, nor do I know what they believe of the works. It’s like painting a scene, putting it in a bottle, and tossing it into the ocean.”
It’s easy to concentrate on the saccharine side of Animal Crossing as the feel-good antidote to the pandemic, but Sarah’s exhibition certainly isn’t home cooking. A room designed by collaborator Siobhan Fitzgerald-Gibson has a cheering crowd, a crown … and a guillotine. It’s just titled ‘Hope.’ I was questioning if the National Videogame Museum would be gathering records of political advocacy in Animal Crossing. “While the selection requirements will be identified in the course of the research as we deal with partners to expose more ways of playing, we definitely anticipate to include important events such as the Black Lives Matter and pro-democracy protests being held in the video game,” Alex assured me. Would the NVM be open to preserving player culture surrounding other games, like Fall Guys? “At the end of the day, we desire to gather what videogames imply in individuals’s lives. In times like this, as all of us navigate this complex, shared experience we’re having – they have the potential to be used in a greater range of methods and accumulate a lot more complex sets of meanings for different players.”
If titles like Animal Crossing and Fall Guys have actually been an escape during the pandemic, it’s worth keeping in mind the hours of work that entered into these digital sanctuaries. As Ben told me, the last few months of working on Fall Guys throughout the pandemic were particularly difficult, and it was thanks to mental health initiatives and supporting personnel with the right equipment that the video game got “over the line at all.” The gamer content production in these games, like Woodsorrel Garden Gallery, is the culmination of hundreds of hours teaming up and creating.
Producing a ‘viral archive’ has to do with acknowledging digital imagination and relationship, even as it is ring-fenced on your consumer platform of choice. It’s a testament to imagine digital community throughout a world-wide pandemic, anticipating a future when we’ll hopefully have the luxury of being nostalgic about it. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is timely, but classic. As Sarah states, “the flowers on our islands will never wilt, the villagers will constantly be singing in the plaza,” and I’ll keep corresponding to the future.
In her words, Animal Crossing is the “digital equivalent of leasing a flat where Nintendo is the landlord-you can set up the furnishings and have good friends round however you have to play by the rules … I’ve put so much work in, but Nintendo could delete my island tomorrow if they felt like it. Animal Crossing isn’t the only colourful video game that’s ended up being part of the pandemic video gaming zeitgeist. Sarah experienced this with the intro of the Dream Suite in Animal Crossing which implies that anybody can now visit a frozen version of her island as long as they have a code. It’s easy to focus on the saccharine side of Animal Crossing as the feel-good antidote to the pandemic, but Sarah’s exhibition definitely isn’t comfort food. If titles like Animal Crossing and Fall Guys have been an escape during the pandemic, it’s worth keeping in mind the hours of work that went into these digital sanctuaries.