With the release of New Horizons in 2020, Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series will be in its 5th iteration with 2 accompanying spin-offs and a mobile version. More than 29 million copies of the main series have been purchased since its GameCube launch in 2001 making it a well-loved and well-played franchise, indeed.
This perhaps because Animal Crossing games have offered players a set of experiences that seem distinct from those presented by many other games. Inspired by the sensation of starting a new life in a new community, gameplay in the series centers around befriending talking animal neighbours, decorating a home with furniture, and dressing up in a variety of stylish clothes and accessories. Instead of combat or conflict, players may catch fish and bugs, dig for fossils, and participate in the town’s annual events, which are often in synch with real-world holidays since the game runs in real-time .
Given this range of gameplay mechanics, ‘progress’ in Animal Crossing games is not measurable by story beats or completed levels. Instead, the basic flow of gameplay is modeled after capitalist accumulation. By doing favours for villagers and selling excess goods for the in-game currency, Bells, players acquire furniture to personalize and fill their home. Eventually, they run out of room for more objects and are encouraged to pay off their mortgage in order to expand their home (taking on a new and larger debt in the process). This, in turn, incentivizes the player to catch more fish to sell and to do more chores for neighbours, which eventually fills their new living space all over again, and the cycle continues.
These competing logics recall Ian Bogost’s distinction between “naturalism” and “consumption” in the series, but this is by no means the only way that scholars have discussed Animal Crossing (Bogost, 2007). Given the series’ tendency towards what Brie Code calls “tend and befriend” mechanics, others have discussed Animal Crossing in relation to affect and nurturing (Järvinen, 2005; Murphy & Zagal 2011) and feminine conceptions of virtual space (Fullterton et al, 2004). Other work has focused on the community of Animal Crossing players (Calinescu, 2017), it’s cute aesthetics (Flynn-Jones, forthcoming), it’s queer potentialities (Anthropy, 2013), its fraught ties to freemium profit models (Scully-Blaker, forthcoming), as well as the game’s perceptible horrific dimensions (Brown & Marklund, 2015; Flynn-Jones 2019). Even so, there remains much that could be said about Nintendo’s animal village simulator including examinations of its laborious (playbour) patterns, colonialist values, perspectives on race representation, particular and peculiar play habits, close readings of individual characters, and so much more.
This is why, rather than suggesting a specific set of theories, methods, or concepts, this special issue calls for authors to reflect on the Animal Crossing series of games in whatever way most interests them. We welcome submissions from authors of any discipline and background.