It’s been hard to miss the recent buzz around Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Released on March 20th this year, the game has been a staggering success, with an estimated 5 million digital copies sold in March alone. Easy to pick up for new gamers, and a familiar face for existing ones, the player base is diverse. From tweens to 87-year old Audrey Buchanan, you probably know somebody who plays this game. And many of those somebodys are millennials.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick breakdown of the millennial generation: we come in many different shapes and sizes, and were born somewhere between 1981 and 1996. We’re the Marco Polos of the gig economy, the James Cooks of the side hustle. Relentless consumers of avocados, narcissists, and perpetual renters, millennials are often the subject of some pretty negative press. And now, with COVID-19 ravaging life as we know it, we’re about to enter the second financial crisis of our lifetime.
Essentially, millennials can’t seem to catch a break. With that, it’s no wonder some of us have found our way back to the cathartic, alternative reality that is Animal Crossing.
A match made in the millennium
First released in 2001, many millennials were introduced to Animal Crossing in their formative years. Starting with the Nintendo 64 and then the Gamecube a couple of years later, it would have been part of our early console experience.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and Animal Crossing New Leaf was released for the Nintendo 3DS. Shortly afterwards, Satoru Iwata, 4th President and CEO of Nintendo, shared an interesting insight into the game’s core demographics: a significant portion was made up of females aged between 19-24. Eight years on, those players are 27-32 and they’re now picking up the newest iteration of the game on the Nintendo Switch.
We’re also the generation that grew up with the The Sims, released just a year before Animal Crossing. This is another social simulation game where you get to build homes, lives, and even careers for your characters. If you didn’t create digital versions of yourself and your crushes in this game, are you even a millennial?
The perfect escape
While we saw the likes of The Sims and Animal Crossing emerging on console and PC at the break of the new millennium (#Y2K), we were also escaping into alternative realities online. The year 2000 also saw the arrival of social networking service Habbo Hotel. Unlike the text-based chatrooms that had come before it, Habbo was an entire virtual world. You could create your own character, decorate rooms, and even own pets— all while talking to people from around the world.
We were overwhelmed with virtual escapes. Digital worlds that were more interesting, more exciting than the one we lived in. They allowed us to mould new realities for ourselves, and perhaps set in motion a desire for escape that we haven’t yet been able to shake off.