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Three years of ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’

"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" may have been a staple of early COVID-pandemic life, but three years later it's core fanbase is still keeping it alive - for now.
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" may have been a staple of early COVID-pandemic life, but three years later it's core fanbase is still keeping it alive - for now.

It’s 2020, and the entire world is on lockdown. You feel as if you’re losing your mind from being cooped up indoors during what seems like the end of the world.

Enter "Animal Crossing: New Horizons."

Countless people retreated to a virtual island, where they were surrounded by cute animals and a world of creativity — an escape from the mess that was reality.

Nintendo first confirmed a new Animal Crossing game for the Switch in 2018. Initially, the game was planned to release in 2019. After a delay to avoid putting employees under intensive work, the game came out on March 20, 2020.

Unbeknownst to Nintendo, this delay would only enhance the success of “New Horizons.”

The game immediately became a hit, drawing new and old players alike. In fact, Switch sales spiked so high that many retailers sold out of the popular console. The release of a special, “New Horizons” edition of the Switch only raised demands. As of Sept. 30, 2022, the game had sold 40.17 million copies.

The popularity of the game attracted several celebrities such as T-Pain, Chrissy Teigen and Guy Fieri, as well as brands like Gucci. Activist groups such as PETA also took to “New Horizons” to spread their message.

Even political figures created their own islands. Who could forget the infamous Joe Biden Island?

But, three years later, the game’s player base has decreased significantly. We’re no longer in quarantine, and many people have since abandoned their islands for the real world.

However, Kate Reed, a junior strategic communications and English literature double major at Miami, has remained dedicated to the game since its release.

“How dedicated the community is is what’s holding it together,” Reed said.

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Since 2020, Reed has racked up about 585 hours on “New Horizons.” She says the game kept her busy and sane during lockdown; the good memories she made on the game are the reasons why she keeps returning to play.

“I have a lot of good memories,” Reed said. “In the morning, I’d finish all of my work around 10, and then I’d spend the rest of the day playing. Afterwards, I just kind of kept coming back to it.”

Jocelyn Taylor, a first-year art education and art therapy double major, also experienced this unique era of gaming. She purchased the game when it first released in 2020, using it as a way to connect with friends virtually.

Taylor has always been a fan of Animal Crossing. She first started playing “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” on the 3DS, then moved to “New Horizons” when the pandemic started.

“We had nowhere else to go, so why not play Animal Crossing?” Taylor said. 

Taylor mentioned that her younger cousin just bought the game, so it may be time to remake her island. But she encountered a  problem when she realized the many updates that have happened since the original release.

“I loved all the updates they added,” Taylor said. “But once they started charging for it, that’s when I fell out of playing.” 

Reed, on the other hand, purchased the “Happy Home Paradise” DLC for $30 and enjoyed it. She considered it one of the better updates to come from “New Horizons.”

“It gave you so many different furniture items,” Reed said. “I liked that they added the new characters in with Amiibo cards.”

Amiibos come in the form of cards or figurines; when tapped onto a Nintendo Switch, they activate a character in your game.

Some of Taylor’s favorite features of the game centered around the personalization of her island. The decorations, placement of houses and buildings, terraforming and planting trees and flowers were a few of the many elements that made Animal Crossing feel special, she said. 

“New Horizons” came to life for Taylor over winter break when she visited an aquarium with her boyfriend and saw a whale shark for the first time. She said the whole time they were making jokes about how they had become their Animal Crossing characters in real life

Even with her love for the game, Taylor’s gameplay has fallen since 2020.

“It ends eventually; it’s not like a co-op game where you can play it again and again,” Taylor said. “There was a point when I was trying to get all frog residents, but that would take so long. I don’t have the patience for that.”

Most college students only have an hour or two in the day to devote to their hobbies. Animal Crossing demands too much time from casual players and rewards devoted players that have 200+ hours in the game. 

Animal Crossing will live on for future generations of players, but people who played “New Horizons” in 2020 will always remember the collective experience of being connected through a virtual island paradise.