Animal Crossing New Horizons has been out for about a month now and there are several new updates which have been announced. In my previous post on Animal Crossing, I mentioned cultural heritage and Redd’s blackmarket antiquities. I am glad to see Redd returning to the Animal Crossing world to sell his art. I always like the challenge of looking for the fakes by educating myself on the real works of art. I find myself using the challenge to seek out more information about specific works of art and art history while looking at the picture. All this work to donate the cultural heritage to my island’s museum. 

Additionally, the museum and Blathers will supply smaller amounts of information to the player about the work of art. I was pleased to see Blathers open up another wing of the museum for cultural heritage and look forward to seeing what types of art and historic works will be included in the game. In terms of edutainment, Animal Crossing’s inclusion of cultural heritage is providing basic information and exposure to players about different types of art and history. It is also sparking questions and interest in these areas of study. 

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Blather’s announcement about a new cultural heritage museum wing. Screenshot by author.

The updates also provide new tournaments and special events. The Bunny Day events were an interesting aspect to the game play but also to the engagement online outside of the game. Each limited item or recipe served as something new to trade among players but also as in-game artifacts of Bunny Day. Much like collecting snowflakes and building snow people for winter themed items in New Leaf, New Horizons’ Bunny Day recipes and event materials serve as an artifact of this specific period in the game’s history. I have several unused sea eggs in my inventory that I am not quite sure what to do with now that the event is over. I imagine I will end up selling them to Timmy and Tommy when I get tired of them taking up storage space but for now they are an artifact and reminder of the event, along with the collection of all the Bunny Day recipes and items.

Along with these announcements, I keep seeing people on social media and several YouTubers I watch talking about using Animal Crossing as a way to visit friends during quarantine. This got me thinking about how the virtual spaces as a gathering place for online interactions with friends. One popular idea I see is the swap-meets for players to trade with other players online.  This interacting and trading I think is heightened by a large number of players having to go online to see other friends towns. Traditionally, most of my interactions in Animal Crossing have been local meet-ups, though online capability has been present in Animal Crossing since City Folk on the Wii. But since local meet-ups are rather difficult these days, people seem to be using Animal Crossing New Horizons as a common platform to visit friends, trade items, and see each other’s islands. I have even seen people saying they’re having business meetings and doing team building using Animal Crossing.

The persistence of virtual spaces as archaeological landscapes is particularly interesting to me in this context. Each island is its own archaeological site, especially since islands are highly customizable in New Horizons. No longer is it just your home that you can customize but you can also terraform the island and place items and furniture where ever you would like. This can be taken into account to study how people are using these spaces and how in the current social context people are building and using their islands. In my experience, most homes were designed to show off the complete sets or rare items that people had to other users. Particularly using street pass on the Nintendo 3DS in New Leaf. currently it seems more a way to show off styles and personality for when people visit your islands. There are many ethnographic studies that could be done in this realm.

In terms of current circumstances, archaeogaming in Animal Crossing has many new and exciting avenues of research. Ethnographic research on the communities forming over New Horizons, especially how people are using the online visitation and functionalities to communicate in current times, would be interesting. Additional looks in the future at holiday and special events as artifacts would be interesting future research as well.In the past, these event items have been static, so if you didn’t collect all the items one year, you could try to finish the collection the next (or by messing with the system clock). It will be interesting to see if Nintendo continues to update New Horizons in relation to special event items when Bunny Day rolls around next year. Until then, there are many other archaeogaming related studies and research questions to be asked and answered related to Animal Crossing.

–Kaitlyn Kingsland, Archaeogaming
27 April 2020

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