While most players have spent their first few days in Animal Crossing: New Horizons upgrading their homes, hoarding fish, and customizing outfits, some people have taken Nintendo's flagship life sim game in an unexpectedly romantic route.
Yes, people are using Animal Crossing to go on virtual dates while stuck in quarantine.
Considering the real-world circumstances surrounding Animal Crossing's release, a peaceful game centered around relaxation, decorating, and talking to cute animals could not have arrived at a better time. But as it turns out, Animal Crossing's multiplayer social elements—long considered a tertiary feature in a mostly single-player franchise—are proving to be the real star during a time when many people are unable to socialize face-to-face.
"We can't see each other rn so we had an in-game date. Sat like this for an hour just talking," reads a post on the r/AnimalCrossing subreddit, coupled with a picture of two player characters sitting across from one another in the game's museum.
A quick scroll through the rest of the subreddit proves that this couple is hardly alone.
One post is titled, "My friend and I went on a cute little museum date!" Another reads, "Our Aquarium date before he had to move back to his home country :')" There are friend group dates and even dates between strangers who randomly met in-game.
Most of these dates seem to take place in Animal Crossing's museum, a fan-favorite location wherein players can donate fish, bugs, and fossils for bowtie-wearing owl-curator Blathers to put on display. While the museum has appeared in every Animal Crossing game so far, Nintendo really outdid themselves with the New Horizons museum, which features over ten intricate, multi-tiered rooms and navigates just like a real museum. Silly as it sounds, walking through the Animal Crossing museum with your friend or partner feels just about as close to the real thing as you can get right now.
Moreover, the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app's new Nooklink feature makes chatting much smoother than any prior Animal Crossing game, allowing players to both voice chat and text on their real phone with the messages appearing in-game. The resulting experience is one where people can create the feeling of an experiential hangout with friends, despite the fact that their activities are virtual.
Perhaps Animal Crossing's greatest asset is its ability to allow players to fully integrate themselves into its world. The series has an incredibly distinct, uber-cute aesthetic, but the customization options are limitless. This gives players the opportunity to make their in-game character and island entirely their own, from designing clothing and murals to terraforming the landscape. The character isn't just an avatar. It's them. As such, when you visit someone else's space in Animal Crossing, you really are interacting with a personal extension of that person.
In this regard, Animal Crossing holds the potential to bring people closer to one another much more intimately than even similar life simulator games.
What other game would allow family members from across the country to come together and camp out beneath the stars? What other game would support the best friends of a couple forced to cancel their wedding during a global pandemic to hold a surprise, custom wedding ceremony on the beach? What other game would facilitate the visual memorialization of a lost father?
As the world suffers, Animal Crossing has emerged as a niche full of catharsis. Here, in a virtual space populated by cuddly animals and bright skies, real people can come together to lick their wounds and ease their loneliness.