Animal Crossing: Why people play a game about 'meaningless tasks'

By Will Chalk & Steffan Powell
Newsbeat reporters

  • Published
Akemi / Animal Crossing

It shot straight to the top of the video game charts when it was released and if, like us, you have gamer mates, it's probably been hard to get them to shut up about it.

We're talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons - the Nintendo Switch game where a tiny, very cute, version of you is dropped onto a desert island and then gets on with living a fairly simple life. It was released four days before the UK went into lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Want to go fishing? Fine. Pick some fruit? Sure. Help your animal neighbours out with some menial tasks? You got it.

OK, so it doesn't really have a storyline or, particularly, a point - but, in these confusing times, something about it has captured the imagination of the gaming world.

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

'I get up early to do tasks'

"I struggle with anxiety and depression and I think the current state of the state of the world where there's bad news 24/7, there's not really a way to escape everything that's going on," Akemi tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

She's been playing games in the Animal Crossing franchise since she was nine - and even took time off work when New Horizons was released in March.

Image caption,
Akemi says she tries to make her virtual world as 'leafy' as possible

"Even though it's just a digital virtual world and I suppose nothing you do in it really actually makes a difference, having a little place where there's not a global pandemic and everything is pretty OK is a really nice escape."

In Animal Crossing you complete tasks to earn money to build and buy the things you want. Very much like real life.

It functions in real time - so if you log-on at midnight, it'll be midnight in the game.

Image source, Nintendo
Image caption,
Not sure this player has quite mastered using a telescope

And this means, to get things done, you need to head back to your island pretty regularly - and at different times during your own day.

"I feel better mentally when I'm in a routine," the 23-year-old explains, "so I've made it a part of my routine to get on the game early and do a few daily tasks and then I just carry on my workday as normal.

"And then in the evenings I get back home and just having something that makes me feel like I'm doing something productive, even if it's watering plants or planting trees, is very therapeutic.

"I think it helps that it's these meaningless tasks that don't really make a difference, but they're just special to you."

Image source, Nintendo
Image caption,
The game rewards players who do tasks for others and are sociable to their virtual neighbours

Go online and players can visit the islands of other players, maybe your friends from the real world, and leave them gifts and messages.

"It's come exactly at the right time for everyone," Hannah, who's 22 and from Warwick, tells us.

She's been playing Animal Crossing games since "she was old enough to know what they were" - and loves how nostalgic they make her feel.

Image source, Nintendo
Image caption,
Hannah says there's a nostalgia to Animal Crossing

"The fact you can visit people is really nice and it's created a great community because obviously people have less to do at the moment," says Hannah.

"There's always someone around if you want to play on online mode, you just go on Twitter and have a look see if anyone wants to swap friend codes."

'Escapism and comfort'

And the game's been welcomed by more hardcore gamers, who've been dipping into the world of Animal Crossing as well as more casual gamers.

"I thought no-one in my community would like it because the vast majority of them are into old-school games like Runescape," professional Twitch streamer Knightenator tells us.

"So many people have joined me in the game and we've had parties around my island purely because everyone is seeking that escapism and that comfort."

Image source, Knightenator
Image caption,
Knightenator has tens of thousands of followers on streaming site Twitch

Knightenator says that during coronavirus lockdown, gaming is proving a popular escape for what's happening in the news.

"I think so many more people are turning to gaming - even my mum has been considering joining me on Animal Crossing because it just provides a whole new world," she says.

And it's not just Animal Crossing that's bringing gamers together.

Jess, who's studying game design at university and streams under the name Yelanis, says she believe more people are choosing to spend their lockdown time playing games instead of on social media.

Image source, Yelanis
Image caption,
Jess thinks people are searching for something to make everything 'a bit better'

"On social media, you're being judged and everything you post is something that people have to have an opinion on," she says.

"Whereas with gaming you can go and do what you want, for however long you want, and it becomes yours.

"When times are so dark, people are just looking for something that's not necessarily going to fix everything but to just make things a bit better, temporarily."

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