You may have noticed your social media feed full of friends fishing, traveling and lounging on the beach — not breaking the rules of social distancing, but hanging out virtually via Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the newest video game in the Animal Crossing franchise, for the Nintendo Switch.
Students are playing the game together on the UNC Animal Crossing Discord server, which has over 50 members, to find community during COVID-19-related campus closures and social distancing.
Laura Nelson, a junior majoring in English and comparative literature, created the Discord channel.
“I wanted to make a place where UNC students could trade fruit, or coordinate times to play," Nelson said. "You can fish or catch bugs or run around and trade furniture. There’s lots of little things you can do that are interactive and I wanted a way for us to find each other and share those things and those experiences online, since we have zero chance of doing that in person now.”
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players fly to their own personal deserted island and can inhabit and customize their island-town to their liking, with events and characters coming and going in real time.
Nelson said there are already many large Animal Crossing servers. But she said it’s different when you have people you share something in common with, which creates more teamwork instead of just a large marketplace for in-game items.
Nelson posted the link to the newborn server on March 19 to r/UNC, a thread on Reddit where students discuss classes and campus life. Even more students joined after she commented the link under a meme where a player had named their island “Chapel Hill.”
Ashley Dos Santos, a sophomore majoring in computer science, was browsing r/UNC when she discovered the Animal Crossing server.
“I pre-ordered the game, so it was already on my Switch when that post came out," Dos Santos said. "So I just signed right up and I was just like, 'OK guys, this is going to be great because Animal Crossing is my favorite game.'”
The game has given her social interaction and things to look forward to despite having little family at home while social distancing, she said.
Nolan Nunez, a junior majoring in biology, was surprised to be as involved in the game as he is, but suspects it’s because of this unique period.
“I guess the thing I miss most about campus is just being able to go out and casually meet people who I would normally see multiple times a week,” Nunez said.
Nunez plays with other server members and his real-life friend Grace Ingledue, a sophomore majoring in Japanese.
“We’ve been talking a lot because of the Animal Crossing Discord and hanging out." Ingledue said. "I came to Nolan’s town and whacked things with a net. It was fun."
Nelson said the game’s childlike and pastel appearance is deceiving in contrast to the depth of customization available.
Because of social distancing, she said she figured that cooped-up college students would be more excited to play than before.
“I think that it’s been so nice to be able to still have human interaction, especially because this is the time of year that normally campus is the most exciting — it’s all warm and pretty and we just came back from spring break and so summer is right around the corner." Nelson said. "...We’re missing that, and so to be able to feel that sense of people just running around having fun digitally, I think it’s kind of eased the pain of being locked up inside with such pretty weather when normally this is my favorite time of year on campus."
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