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Two players in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Lady_Brittany_

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Animal Crossing fans are using the game for Tinder dates

Social distancing hasn’t killed romance

When Sam stepped off the seaplane, she was struck by the luxury of her island destination. “It was HUGE,” she says. That’s when she saw Animal Crossing: New Horizons in-game clock was a little off. “I noticed his time was about twelve hours ahead of mine, and a week into the future.”

Sam, who was totally new to the life sim franchise, was on a date with a boy she had met on Tinder. Speaking to Polygon over email, she says she could “totally” tell that her date was “cheating” at the game through a practice commonly called time traveling, but she didn’t mind. He was too nice to bring it up, she says.

He took her on a tour of his island, showing off spots like a garden flush with flowers. After encouraging her to take whatever resources she needed from the island to kickstart her own fledging getaway package, he pulled out a gift.

“He dropped a bag of 63,000 Bells and told me to pay off my debt with it,” Sam tells Polygon.

It was a nice gesture, but not enough to save the boy from the volatile waters of dating.

“Super pure interaction,” Sam reflects. “Totally ghosting him though. Sorry, man!”

While the coronavirus pandemic has forced widespread social distancing measures, dating life continues unabated. But rather than going out to the hot new brunch spot or a dimly lit bar with cheap drinks, lovebirds are exploring their digital options. On queer dating site Lex, many of the posts now have people asking for sexting partners who are willing to receive and encourage nudes. Speed dating events have moved on to Zoom, where participants break off into random rooms for quick chats. Platforms like Tinder, meanwhile, are temporarily allowing users to match with people around the world for free.

A conversation with a Tinder match about Animal Crossing.
A conversation shared with Polygon between two new Tinder matches.
Screenshot: Carlos

These options have their benefits, but they fail to capture key elements that define dating: the process of getting ready and doing yourself up, and the transportive act of going somewhere and doing something. A good date is interactive, not just a series of exchanges. Perhaps this is why Animal Crossing has emerged not just as a popular platform for dating, but an effective touchstone that brings people together. Several people who spoke to Polygon recently say they’ve changed their Tinder bio to mention the idyllic game, and it’s helped them get more attention.

“I’ve seen more matches, and gotten more numbers from girls in the process,” says Bekah, a Twitch streamer.

Part of the reason it seems to work as a pull is that the game itself encourages social interaction. Items and furniture pieces appear on islands randomly, and often only in select color ways, meaning that if you want to set up a dream room, you probably have to trade with another player.

According to Carlos, a Tinder user who has seen a “small influx in matches” since changing his bio, talking about the game is a good way to signal that you have a sense of humor.

“I don’t think people want someone who is so uptight looking for love,” he says. Instead, it’s easier to open up with a conversation about native fruit, which is a great excuse to schedule an in-game visit. Not only does fruit originating from other islands sell for a premium, you also get an achievement and Nook Miles for collecting all the comestibles.

Animal Crossing is also a good failsafe — no matter how the date goes, you still get something out of it. Madeline says she matched with someone on Hinge who started the conversation by asking about her native fruit. When she mentioned she had apples and cherries, it didn’t take long for him to pop over to her island.

“We mostly did some fishing, and got the apples he wanted,” Madeline recalls. “Unfortunately it didn’t last long, it was probably like half an hour I’d say he was there. Maybe he only wanted me for my apples, who knows.”

But if the date goes well enough to keep things going, Animal Crossing is also a great way to keep your prospective beau engaged with you. Leigh is an artist and Tinder user who went on an Animal Crossing date — her character dressed up for the occasion and everything — and since then, her sweetheart has sent her a pink vending machine through the game’s mail feature.

Ian, a Tinder user who is still in contact with their Animal Crossing date, says they used the occasion to create mementos.

“I left a cute note on her message board and some gift wrapped flowers in front of her house,” they recall. While they note that going on an Animal Crossing date doesn’t compare to actually going out in real life, the fact they’re still talking at all is “better than half the IRL dates I’ve gone on.”

Animal Crossing has become such a staple in our lives that at least one Tinder user I spoke to, Chelsey, says she bought a console specifically for a New Horizons date.

During a Snapchat conversation with a Tinder match, Chelsey recalls that she “said how the game looked like it would cure my boredom during quarantine [and] he had said something like ‘if you get Animal Crossing i will never leave you alone.’”

Next thing she knew, Chelsey had a neon yellow Switch Lite on her hands.

“We’ve visited each other’s islands and he always sends me cute letters in the mailbox with presents attached,” she says. Often, those gifts are pink — her favorite color.

And when there’s a need, industry follows. Lady Brittany, a Twitch streamer who spoke to Polygon over Twitter, has built her entire island around the idea of Animal Crossing dates. She has set up multiple romantic scenes around town her where players can sit down, take in the intergalactic-themed sights, and chat over candlelight. There’s even a festival area where players can pick up wrapped goodies, as if they were shopping.

“I wanted to create a place where the whole island is a place where you’d want to go in real life,” Lady Brittany told Polygon in a Twitch tour of her creation. Since the only way for people to visit her island is for her to host a game, she has to stay inside her in-game house while folks enjoy their date. But, she notes, her presence can be a service.

“I could take pictures for them,” she says, noting that being a third party allows her to get more dynamic angles on the tableaus she has arranged. She’s already had a few guest dates, and they’ve apparently gone swimmingly.

A date in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Lady_Brittany_

Animal Crossing’s newfound identity as a hot date spot may be a result of a trying situation for everyone involved, but based on conversations I’ve had with people playing the game, it’s not just novelty. Folks have found something genuine in New Horizons. Animal Crossing has an innately intimate quality that lends itself to dating — every island is a reflection of its owner. Visiting someone is the video game equivalent of checking out someone’s room for the first time. Maybe it’s even more personal, because you aren’t limited by things like money or space — only your own creativity. It’s an evocative enough window into someone’s personality that I wouldn’t be surprised if, even when things go back to normal, Animal Crossing might still live on as a date spot for some.

Leigh is already joking that she’s only going on Animal Crossing first dates now.

“I think the nervousness and anxiety of meeting someone face to face fade away while playing,” Leigh tells Polygon. “So you immediately get to just be goofy and have fun on [an Animal Crossing] first date ... and you get to know someone more before you meet them.”