Animal Crossing is a life simulation video game developed by Japanese game designer Katsuya Eguchi which was released nearly 20 years ago on Nintendo GameCube. Its most recent update, New Horizons, is the fifth main series title in the Animal Crossing sequence. New Horizons was released in all regions on World Happiness Day, March 20, 2020. It has sold more than 13.4 million units since its launch, having sold 11.7 million units 11 days after it was launched, which is well past the earnings from all the previous entries in the industries combined.
"Escape to your personal paradise island"- the catchphrase that captures the essence of the game, starts on a deserted land where you build a happy world surrounded by animal neighbours. One has complete freedom to collect unique furniture bugs and watch the sunset while fishing by the lake. You also get to share the joys of your little town by visiting friends or other players of the game. A cheerful colour palette and relaxing music largely contribute to a stress-free player experience. The rise of COVID-19 and the need to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the infection have reduced socialisation and caused people to engage in virtual means to keep up with activities. Applications like Zoom, which has also experienced a radical surge in popularity since the infection outbreak, have helped small, medium, and large businesses keep up with work, meetings, and sharing information.
Stories and updates pervade social media on the COVID-19 infection, most of which are negative. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a welcome distraction from the harsh realities of our world. It has been termed an "unlikely hero" in these gloomy times. Life during this period can be frightening and stressful, but that is not the reality on your "paradise island". The game's design makes it the perfect quarantine pastime. There are no mandatory lockdowns, face masks, no broadcasts of dire news, and you get to hang out (oh!) with your friends and family without maintaining a three-meter distance. This virtual world has become a representation of what people would have done if things were different.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons allows the users to design the landscape, furniture and pixel-based graphic patterns. It has created opportunities for real-life designers, fashion photographers and programmers to write High-fashion ID codes for custom clothes. The games' custom wardrobe has created an avenue for people to make money by setting up codes like Marc Jacobs and Valentino. It has become a socialisation tool for friends and family separated during the pandemic and a creative platform for designers and artists to share their skills and creativity. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sparked an interesting dialogue among its users, and the design elements used in that platform have helped connect people virtually.
As a local designer who is also a big fan of this game, I have personally designed patterns that replicate the Thob el Nashel - a traditional Khaliji dress worn during festivities and gatherings during Ramadan. The patterns were then posted online as a code allowing other users to experiment with it and host virtual gatherings with their friends and families. Due to COVID-19, traditions like hosting food festivities and social gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan have been stalled. However, games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons have given us an alternative way of connecting virtually through design.
Through this virtual design exchange, a new phenomenon has been created, posing the question of how we will continue to socialise virtually post COVID-19 and the future of design. How will platforms like Animal Crossing: New Horizons affect design collaborations and design exchange post-COVID-19?