Coconuts, Custom-Play & COVID-19: Social Isolation, Serious Leisure and Personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
This paper discusses Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ (ACNH) release during the COVID-19 pandemic, and draws upon responses from nearly 2000 players to frame how the game acts as a platform for routine substitution and social connectivity in a disconnected physical world. A combination of the game’s elements, including its comforting aesthetic, participatory community, financial mechanics, and goal-setting, promotes the player’s construction of their sense of self and provides crucial stability. In contrast to other life simulator games such as The Sims, the timing of ACNH’s release makes its substitution efforts more adoptable by a wide spectrum of players between casual and hardcore sensibilities.
Moreover, the game substitutes some complex face-to-face interactions during self-isolation and it affords stability and routine through a simulacrum of real-life, however exaggerated and narrowed in scope. The gameplay provides player agency and self-determination of playstyle as well as routines that contrast with the intense disruption of the everyday by the pandemic. Players’ shared affinities and engagement with the game function as a form of serious leisure which in turn creates personas from a diverse range of roles such as, the social player, the turnip trader, the gardener, the artisan. The persona roles enable players to adopt multiple recognisable specialisations within an expansive social environment. In essence, players of ACNH create an array of malleable, interchangeable gaming personas that successfully embody the routine and social play forcibly absent from real life during the pandemic.
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