Having been nourishedAnimal Crossing: New Horizons became a popular destination for major events in 2020 and 2021, thanks to pandemic restrictions. Protests, political campaigns, and celebrity talk shows took place alongside the game's own seasonal events. However, when putting together its exhibition on the stories of New Horizon players, the National Videogame Museum discovered that people were sharing things that were much more personal in nature.
The Museum opened their call for entries in December and closed it a few months later so that they could capture a record of the game's first year.“It all started with that perfect storm of the game being released coincidentally at a time when many countries were either on lockdown or implementing social distancing measures,” says Claire Mead, program and collections manager.“The entire concept behind this project is being able to collect these stories and really focus not so much on the game itself, but on the ways in which different players have been able to shape their experience of the game.”
Occasionally, these occurrences were linked to things that were happening in the outside world. However, the museum's timeline of bells ACNH is also filled with people attempting to inject a bit of novelty into the monotony of pandemic life. Mead mentions Nintendo South Wales (a group of fans who are not affiliated with the company) who organized a "shutterbug off" event that took advantage of the game's photography mechanics and the abundance of natural resources. The exhibition page for the event includes a video that showcases many of the photographs taken by the club's members.
In addition to using a timeline of the game's first year to highlight moments like these, the website provides a "random" button for diving into more of the diaries. However, in order to allow (virtual) exhibition attendees to explore in a more structured manner, the museum's curatorial team discovered that entries fit into several broad categories: maintaining a routine, creating your space, representing yourself, sharing creativity, and staying in touch. It is possible to get a true sense of the many different ways people have interacted with the game by browsing through each section. For example, the shutterbug-off falls under the category of sharing creativity, as does everything from using the built-in fashion designing mechanics to using the game to create poetry or podcasts.
The themes are also intended to make the exhibition understandable to people who may not have played New Horizons or who may not play games at all.“So for us, it was really about getting people who did not play Animal Crossing to approach those themes and understand how the game assisted them. And to challenge their preconceptions about what a game is in the first place.”
The exhibition, which focuses on players' experiences during the first year of the game, is still accepting submissions for possible future showcases. Mead has a number of potential avenues that she says she would be interested in exploring, such as inclusivity.