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Animal Crossing

Published This article is more than 2 years old.
  • Quartz Obsession — Animal Crossing — Card 1

     This week Nintendo announced a 41% year-over-year increase in profit, largely due to the success of the game Animal Crossing, and the Nintendo Switch gaming console it runs on. More copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold in its first week than the combined launch sales of all previous games in the series. It’s made the Switch as hot a commodity as toilet paper.

    The stress and isolation of social distancing in the midst of a global pandemic has brought Animal Crossing into the zeitgeist, creating a refuge of stability and companionship, without violence or tension, drawing in all sorts of gamers. The game isn’t just a stand-in for leaving the house without fear; it’s a world in which the stakes are low, delight is high, and you can make a comfortable living goosing butterflies and playing the turnip-based “stalk market.”

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    392,000: Nintendo Switches sold in Japan the week Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released

    330,000: Nintendo Switches sold in Japan the week of the system’s initial launch

    840,000: Nintendo Switches sold worldwide the week ending March 21

    1.88 million: Copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold in Japan from March 20-22

    >30 million: Total copies of Animal Crossing games across all editions sold

    13.4 million: Copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold in its first six weeks

    >40%: Share of players that are women and girls

    $60: US retail price of Animal Crossing: New Horizons

    >$600: Price of Nintendo Switches listed by third-party sellers

    $299: Regular price of Nintendo Switch in the US

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    When gaming designer Katsuya Eguchi went to work for Nintendo in 1986, he was just 21 years old. He moved from his home in the Chiba Prefecture to Kyoto, leaving his friends and family behind. Later, when he had young children, he struggled to balance work and family, often spending long hours at the office. So he created Animal Crossing, and designed it to reproduce the warmth and comfort experienced through close relationships into game form. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008.

     The game is simple. You move to a new place, set up your home, visit neighbors—who are generally cute animals—and work at tasks like catching tarantulas and growing turnips, to pay off your debts and buy new things. You can travel to visit other players, your friends IRL, simulating the experience of taking a trip. Animal Crossing also makes it possible to interact with other players even if you’re not in the same place or playing at the same time, by sending notes and gifts through the mail. The underlying values of friendship and small town life are drawn from Eguchi’s life experiences, and it’s a modest, but seductive, fantasy world in which you’re productive, but never stressed, and you have plenty of space, but you’re never lonely.

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    It’s complicated. A bottle of drugs with an American label may be distributed by a company based in the US, but the pills are often made and packaged in other parts of the world, while the chemicals that make the drug effective often come from China. Our Because China video team explains how the global pharmaceutical supply chain works, how changing Chinese appetites are shaping agriculture around the world, and explores China’s film scene. If you’re as obsessed with China’s influence on the world as we are, you’ll want to watch the entire series—and maybe even award us a Webby—it’s the last day for voting!

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    “During the time that they are playing, they can forget everything, like all the troubles they have. I think that it’s important that the game can have a very high immersive experience.”

    Katsuya Eguchi in an interview with Nintendo

    “All video games aestheticize busywork. But few make it feel like freedom.”

    Ian Bogost, The Atlantic

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    Animal Crossing isn’t just a game about chatting with your friends and neighbors—there’s an economy, and a political viewpoint about that economy, built into it. In The Atlantic, Ian Bogost argues that “according to the Tom Nook doctrine, pastoralism and capitalism coexist perfectly. You can fish for high-value red snappers and sell them to buy espadrilles for your character, or 1950s-diner furnishings for your house. Or you can fish for never-before-seen specimens, to donate them to the museum. Or you can cast a line just to enjoy watching the moon dance across the water. All of these activities are interchangeable and equally delightful. Animal Crossing sees no greater or lesser virtue in one than another.”

    While the Tom Nook character supplies players with loans, Bogost points out that no one is ever kicked out of their home in the game—the debt, no matter how large, has low stakes.

    On April 23, though, the Bank of Nook cut interest rates on savings accounts from 0.5% to 0.05% monthly, reportedly to lower the return on a game hack in which players would deposit bells, the game’s internal currency, then reset the time on Switch to a future date, to reap the rewards of compound interest. As a result, “Savers at the Bank of Nook are being driven to speculate on turnips and tarantulas, as the most popular video game of the coronavirus era mimics global central bankers by making steep cuts in interest rates,” the Financial Times reports.

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    2001: The first edition of Animal Crossing, called Animal Forest, is released in Japan for Nintendo 64.

    2002: Animal Crossing arrives in the US for GameCube.

    2005: Animal Crossing: Wild World is released for Nintendo DS.

    2006: Doubutsu no Mori is released in theaters in Japan. The film follows an 11-year-old girl named Ai who moves to a village populated with animals; the box office take was ¥1.7 billion ($16.2 million).

    2008: Animal Crossing: City Folk is released for Nintendo Wii.

    2012: Animal Crossing: New Leaf edition is released.

    2020: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is released, becoming one of Nintendo’s most successful game launches in its history.

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    Tanukis, like Tom Nook, play a trickster role in Japanese folklore, and they are often associated with wealth—and depicted in traditional woodblock prints with very large, surprisingly useful testicles.

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    One Animal Crossing gamer decided to make a parody music video about bass. The quarantine is clearly getting to all of us.

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    The calm, simple world of Animal Crossing is what gamers—even hardcore Twitch streamers like Yassuo—are craving in an uncertain time. “It almost feels like it was designed to help us through this, even though I know it wasn’t,” Katira Campos, 24, told the Quartz Daily Obsession. She usually plays large-scale, open-world games like Fallout, or multiplayer first-person shooter games with friends. “I don’t know if I’d be super into this game if the world wasn’t in a horrific crisis, but… it’s giving me something to look forward to the next day.”

    Campos isn’t alone in those sentiments. “People definitely need that escapism,” Zachary Ares, 32, told the Daily Obsession. Ares used to think Animal Crossing “seemed like a baby game,” compared to the massively multiplayer online (MMOs) and role playing games (RPGs) he regularly plays. But now, he appreciates the quiet moments when he doesn’t have to focus his game conversations with friends on a goal or mission, and can just hang out. “There’s no adrenaline, it’s just like a slice of life,” he said.

    For 23-year-old Haasitha Hewawasam, Animal Crossing replaced an IRL trip with gamer friends. “We were actually planning a whole trip come May to go to Canada, but with all the travel limitations we decided to cancel,” Hewawasam told the Daily Obsession. Instead, they’re hanging out on a friend’s island “running around and having fun. It felt similar in a way to the gatherings we’d have every year and really spend that kind of face-to-face time that we don’t always get.” With its gentle rhythms, Animal Crossing is providing a virtual platform for real life, including celebrations like weddings, graduations, and birthday parties, as well as mundane tasks like watering plants and doing household chores.

    World-building games like Animal Crossing and The Sims “help remind us that we’ll get this back, and return to normal life,” Chris Ferguson, psychology professor at Stetson University, explained to CNBC. “Rather than, you know, worrying too much about how bad things are going to get.”

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    The hottest boutique in Animal Crossing is helmed by three hedgehog sisters who are doing a brisk fashion business. Some players have also taken to designing custom clothing for their characters to wear in the game, and creating intricate interiors for their characters to enjoy or even employing actual interior designers to improve their in-game spaces. The Getty has taken notice, and made an open-access collection of artwork available to hang on virtual walls, including the iconic pieces Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises and Edouard Manet’s Jeannie (Spring).

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