“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” released March 20 for the Nintendo Switch. The game provides socialization and relaxation for homebound players. Credit: Screenshot of Nintendo animal crossing game

With socialization currently at a minimum, video games can offer a new horizon for isolated souls.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, games such as newly released Animal Crossing: New Horizons can provide students with a way to relax and interact with one another without leaving their homes. Teresa Lynch, an assistant professor in the School of Communication and director of video game research lab Chronos Laboratory, said video games are a good way to fulfill the need for connection during a time of forced social distance.

“Some people might want to get lost in the content and be motivated by this desire to let the world around them melt away,” Lynch said. “Other people might just want to play with their friends and have a meaningful experience together.”

The newest installment in the Animal Crossing franchise was released Friday and tasks players with populating a deserted island with anthropomorphic animal villagers. Players can also spend time fishing, customizing their avatars’ clothing, designing houses in their villages and inviting others to visit their villages through online play.

“I follow a lot of game developers and gaming researchers and people who are video game streamers, and everybody is talking about this game,” Lynch said.

New Horizons has sold more physical copies in its first week of release than all other Animal Crossing games combined, according to reports by GamesIndustry, a website that provides insight and analysis on global gaming trends. This does not include digital copies, which GamesIndustry said could be higher due to COVID-19 keeping people indoors.

“I think it’s nice to have this come out at this time,” Quinn Evans, a third-year in exploration and Animal Crossing player, said. “It has multiplayer, so you can play with your friends while still staying inside.”

Lynch said the game’s slow, relaxed pacing presents content that anyone can enjoy without feeling overwhelmed. The lack of rapid decision making present in action-oriented games keeps players from feeling stressed.

“Those factors combined with satisfying experiences like feeling socially connected to friends and getting to make fun choices about how to play the game can contribute to feelings of well-being,” she said.

Cameron Record, a second-year in economics, started playing Saturday and said he has mainly focused on fishing in order to build his collection to donate to his island’s museum.

“It’s just something to do,” Record said. “Games, in general, are good in helping people pass the time and keep their mind off of everything.”

Although Evans has also been fishing, he said he is mainly spending his time gathering resources for more buildings.

Lynch said the game’s creators put the content together in an approachable way, making Animal Crossing more casual. She said the game is meant to be light-hearted and enjoyable and allows players to connect with other people.

“I definitely think the barrier to entry is super low,” Record said. “Games like Animal Crossing and Minecraft let you do whatever you want, and there’s nothing technical or anything about them.”

Lynch said Animal Crossing is a good way for players to socially connect.

“If that sounds like a way you want to pass your time — I would definitely encourage that,” Lynch said. “I think that video game playing has the potential to provide people with positive experiences.”