How Animal Crossing Became a Cultural Phenomenon
By: Fairley Lloyd
I’ve been an avid Animal Crossing player since the early 2000s when the game first came out in the United States. At the time, there was only one game, but the franchise quickly spawned several iterations. With each new game came new features, and as the game gained traction, it fostered fandoms across the world. Today, Animal Crossing has more than a cult following—it’s become a cultural phenomenon.
So, why are so many people playing this game—children and adults alike? There are many reasons, but at the root of the hype is the fact that Animal Crossing imitates real life in an idealized manner.
In the game, the main goal for players (or strongest encouragement, as the game never forces you to do it) is to buy a house. Not unlike reality, you have to work to pay off your home loans. However, a friendly raccoon landlord named Tom Nook makes the entire experience far more enjoyable than a real-life landlord. Tom Nook is generous—he deadlines to pay off loans, he won’t kick you out of your house if you don’t pay your debt, and he even offers to expand your home after you pay off your first loans. I never thought paying off loans could be fun, but Animal Crossing makes even the most tedious chores enjoyable and picturesque.
Shopping is another fun, idealized aspect of Animal Crossing. There are plenty of things to buy, but you can also find lots of clothes and furniture in a myriad of places—trees (if you shake them), balloons carrying presents (use a slingshot), and sometimes your neighbors will surprise you with gifts.
Speaking of villagers, you won’t meet a more generous, entertaining group than your fellow villagers, all of which are animals. Your neighbors will sometimes ask you to help with tasks—delivering a present to a fellow villager, helping them catch a bug or fish—but they always reward you in the end. It pays to be neighborly, literally. They’ll give you furniture, clothes, and even money for helping them out. If for some reason, there is a neighbor you don’t like, you can convince them to move away—something I’m sure we’ve all wished, at one point or another, that we could do in real life.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what makes Animal Crossing such a beloved game, but the ability to live in a world of your creation provides escape from the responsibilities of daily life. With so many options for customizing your looks, designing your town, and even the way villagers behave, the power is in your hands. There are limitations, of course, but as a whole, your character reigns over almost everything in your town.
Animal Crossing provides a sense of freedom not always given in other games. What sets the game apart is the lack of urgency. In most video games, there’s an obvious objective, a win-or-lose situation, or a save the princess scenario. While Animal Crossing encourages you to do things—buy a house, get furniture and clothes—it never makes you do any of these things. There’s no sense of urgency around you to accomplish a mission. It’s like living a relaxed life, except with more pixels and some larger-than-life elements—like talking animals neighbors.
Real life can be incredibly stressful. You have relationships to navigate, bills to pay, and just general life things you have to do. But in Animal Crossing, you choose to do these things because they’re fun. Animal Crossing is an idealized life. It’s escapism. And with everything going on in the world, sometimes all we need to do is escape for a while.