Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at exactly the right time. It released during a global pandemic that disrupted all of our lives, which resulted in so many of us seeking solace on its virtual sandy shores. Not only was it an obvious distraction from the chaos happening all around the world, but it also gave us a lifeline to those who were unable to see loved ones in person, and created a sense of routine when it felt like the days were endless.
Animal Crossing's unofficial status as a "lockdown game" hasn't gone unnoticed. In fact, Animal Crossing: New Horizons recently got its own online exhibition at the National Videogame Museum, which is based in Sheffield, UK. The Animal Crossing Diaries (opens in new tab) was created with the aim of showcasing "the range of unique ways players can experience a video game and shape it to reflect their needs," Claire Mead tells GamesRadar+, programme and collections manager at the National Videogame Museum.
All on display
The Animal Crossing Diaries is comprised entirely of fan-submitted content – such as photos, videos, journal entries, poems, open letters, and more. By detailing fans' experiences with Animal Crossing: New Horizons during such a turbulent time in history, the exhibition acts almost like a time capsule, which is exactly how Mead describes it – as a "rapid response exercise in collecting these stories for posterity."
The exhibition is made up of five categories that all represent a different element of New Horizons and how it was applied to pandemic life. The categories are: Keeping a Routine, Making Your Space, Representing Yourself, Sharing Creativity, and finally, Staying in Touch. "It was important to the National Videogame Museum from the beginning," Mead continues, "that this would be a project in which we didn't impose our narrative as a museum and instead let people have their say about what their personal experiences of playing during the pandemic had been like."
For the first category, Keeping a Routine, you'll find tonnes of entries relating to how Animal Crossing: New Horizons' "everyday acts" helped to create a sense of routine during the various lockdowns most of us endured. In Making Your Space, there's submissions surrounding Animal Crossing's customizable features and how players were able to use them to create a safe space during a time where it felt like everything was changing.
The rest of the categories: Representing Yourself, Sharing Creativity, and Staying in Touch tell stories of players using Animal Crossing: New Horizons to express themselves, exercise their creativity, and probably most commonly, as a way to communicate with those they were no longer allowed to see due to travel restrictions. According to Mead, it was discovered whilst organizing all the submissions that there was "a really strong focus on ways the game helped contributors in their day to day lives, in quietly powerful ways."
So why choose Animal Crossing: New Horizons to base an exhibition on? It's become increasingly obvious over the course of the pandemic that video games have provided a unique outlet for those struggling to cope with the sudden change in lifestyle. However, as Mead explains, "trying to keep a routine, staying in touch with people, and creating a predictable space for yourself during the pandemic are all themes we understand and relate to in different ways." This meant that Animal Crossing: New Horizons stood out to Mead and the National Videogame Museum "as a game that actively shaped many people's experiences of the pandemic, with its slow gameplay and focus on routine."
The National Videogame Museum hopes that "this project can not only show how important it is to showcase the range of unique ways players can experience a videogame and shape it to reflect their needs but also show how these experiences can help reflect and understand a historic moment in time."
Mead and the rest of the team at the NVM are still accepting submissions for The Animal Crossing Diaries, so if you'd like to appear in the exhibition you can do so on their website (opens in new tab).