How to tell the pandemic with The Animal Crossing Diaries - editorial

How to tell the pandemic with The Animal Crossing Diaries - editorial
In the early days of the lockdown I decided to write a letter to my future self, it said: "I feel calmer, yoga helps, I wish I had a dog". Brevity is said to be the soul of reason, but I'm not sure that's the case. To be frank, though, I have to say that the letter was written in Animal Crossing: New Horizons using the keyboard on the Nintendo Switch touch-screen, so let's say I was inclined to use a few words. Fortunately, in New Horizons there are much more interesting ways to chronicle the pandemic, so much so that the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield (UK) has started the project The Animal Crossing Diaries.



Alex Roberts, curator in the museum, explained that the research project aims to "expand the possibilities of what it means to collect gaming experiences and document how it is possible to do so in an ethical sustainable ", and the latest chapter of Animal Crossing seems perfect for this goal. "The release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons during the pandemic lockdown has almost made it a lifeline for many players." The game not only gives us an island to customize, but also allows us to visit friends. According to Alex, "finding a place where we could meet transformed the role of Animal Crossing."

There are tons of posts on ACNH-themed social networks, but one in particular struck me, dedicated to the exhibition "Good Night ", the first held at the Woodsorrel Garden Gallery with six nocturnal themed works. "The Garden Gallery was born when my partner played Animal Crossing on my Switch, but he didn't go beyond a small tent," explains creator Sarah Cole on her site. "I decided to customize it, move it to the garden and turn it into an art gallery."

Among the rooms set up by Sarah, one of my favorites is in the latest exhibition dedicated to joy. It is a path bordered on the sides by rows of toilets that open as you pass, let's say an Animal Crossing answer to Marcel Duchamp's urinal, but much more interesting. Sarah used her experience as a creative consultant to create the performances a little at a time. "I suffer from aphantasia, I can't visualize objects with my mind," he wrote to me, "so I tend to approach exhibitions from a spatial point of view. I start building slowly until I reach the sensations I'm looking for. It often happens. that it goes by trial and error, that you try different music to change the atmosphere, that you try ideas like filling a room with toilet. " Sarah sees her work as a testament to her experience in this pandemic. "Almost every object is about things I miss: people, places, feelings. I mean, there is a work inspired by the East Croydon train station."

The Good Night and O Joy exhibitions are finished, but you can still visit the last one thanks to the Dream Suite. The transitory nature of so-called player culture has been a concern of Sarah and the NVM. "Until now, the National Videogame Museum has focused on material collections," said Alex, "but the approach has to change as many of the materials we intend to preserve are digital, and therefore extremely fragile." Sarah has already started archiving her work with guides, screenshots and videos. According to her, Animal Crossing is "the digital equivalent of renting a room in the Nintendo house. You can move furniture and invite friends, but you have to follow the rules. I've worked hard on it, but Nintendo may decide to cancel everything tomorrow. It's me. the owner of my creative output? " So then it's not all so utopian at ACNH. As Sarah says: "You can use any colors you want, but you have to color inside the lines."

This content is hosted on an external platform, which will only display it if you accept targeting cookies. Please enable cookies to view. Manage cookie settings Animal Crossing isn't the only colorful game to have animated the pandemic zeitgeist. You will surely be aware of Fall Guys, the battle royale. "Judging from the audience response we can say that it was the right time for something colorful, bright and silly," said game designer Ben Nizan. "In Animal Crossing, with its light and soft aesthetic, we find that comfort we seek. I think Fall Guys, superficially, tickles the same strings, even though it's a very different game." True, but here too, players have created their own up-and-coming social media stories.

If Animal Crossing is a dollhouse simulator for creating viral screenshots, then Fall Guys is a borderless game simulator. As Ben puts it, the game's weird physics "generates those moments to share, those scenes you would watch on TV." Fall Guys is very inclusive thanks to simple rules and accessible controls, and according to Ben there is another winning aspect: Fall Guys does not have any kind of in-game commentary on matches. "It might seem like an oversight, but they are the streamers Our commenters and they definitely do a better job than any AI comment, because they can react in real time to exceptional events."

I asked Ben what about it. thought of Fall Guys' online triumph, and admitted it was a surreal experience. "Our success still seems like one of those things that just happens on Twitter. In reality it's a huge phenomenon, but it's hard to get the correct perspective when your window to the world is your PC screen, you know?" While it is true that online gaming can generate a community, it is also true that it can generate rifts. Sarah realized this with the introduction of the Dream Suite in Animal Crossing: now everyone can visit past versions of her island, as long as they have a code. "Many players, before, wrote me messages during their visits and commented on the works, or used reactions. Via Dreams, on the other hand, I don't know who comes, and I have no idea what they think of the works. It's like painting a picture, putting it in a bottle and throw it into the ocean. "

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It's easy to focus on the sugary side of Animal Crossing and see it as an antidote to the pandemic, but Sarah's exhibits aren't all heart warmers. One room, designed by collaborator Siobhan Fitzgerald-Gibson, contains a festive crowd, a crown ... and a guillotine. It is called "hope". I was wondering if the National Videogame Museum would collect examples of political activism in Animal Crossing. "The selection criteria will be established in the course of the research in collaboration with our partners, but we certainly expect to include major events such as Black Lives Matter and the pro-democracy protests seen in the game," said Alex. And what about other games like Fall Guys? "Ultimately, we want to collect what video games mean for the lives of players. In times like the ones we are living in, with so many shared experiences, they have the potential to be used in many different ways, and to represent different meanings for different players. "

If it is true that Animal Crossing and Fall Guys were a source of digital escapism during the pandemic, it is important to remember the hours of work needed to create them. Ben told me that the last few months of filming during the pandemic were particularly difficult, and the staff only made it through psychological and material support initiatives. Likewise, player creations, such as the Woodsorrel Garden Gallery, are also the culmination of hundreds of hours of design and collaboration.

Creating a virtual archive means recognizing the role of digital creativity and friendship, even if limited to some platforms. It is a testament to the dreams of the digital community during a global pandemic, the hope for a future where we will have the luxury of looking back with nostalgia. Animal Crossing: New Horizon has come at the right time, but it's timeless. As Sarah says, "the flowers on our islands will never wither, the inhabitants won't stop singing", and I'll keep writing letters to the future.

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