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Animal Crossing is the Death Stranding of 2020, hear me out

Sam, this is Tom Nookman

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons - a villager stands in shock next to a creepy human baby doll. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Let me pitch a cool game to you. You play as a courier, and your progression allows you to further venture through the wilderness. You must build connections with people in order to restore a society. There’s a baby, you can wear cool sunglasses and a dumb hat, and there’s a mechanic for taking a big pee and poo.

Did you think I was talking about Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding, released in 2019? No, Kojima’s weird dystopia has already come to pass, and so we are moving on. True scholars know I’m referring to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, if you just take a closer look at the themes of both games.

In some ways, Death Stranding ended up being a little prophetic. Weirdly enough, so is Animal Crossing. Both games came at a certain time in the zeitgeist, and had something to say about people and how they connect with one another. Sure, Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen are far from the soft and cuddly world of Tom Nook and friends, but the core thesis is the same. They got the same heart, and that’s important.

Both of these games are about a small group of people who act as couriers, connecting isolated societies via delivering packages. So much of my time in Animal Crossing right now is spent sourcing goods for my friends. Every morning, I pass the contents of my Nook Shop and Able Sisters catalog along to my friends, and grab anything they need. My pals will spend an hour exchanging goods back and forth so each can have the other’s house in their Nook system.

My villagers are content to stay in their little areas; I am the person who ventures beyond each city and goes into the wilderness proper, where mystery islands await. I’ll trade, and I’ll loot.

Both games take place against the backdrop of a familiar world. The previous conflicts of humanity bubble up throughout the game, representing history and death in a previous era. Why else would I be finding combat helmets and gas masks in my Animal Crossing shop. Without these conflicts, who would be making this gear? It makes you think. When was chemical warfare canon in this universe? Does it matter, now that the world has seemingly moved on? Do you believe love can bloom on a battlefield?

Animal Crossing - a player observes a combat helmet in the store. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Also, yeah, both games let you poop and pee in a world where you can get chased by a spooky enemy (BTs in Death Stranding, tarantulas in New Horizons). But speaking more seriously, both games are all about human connection, and community over individualism.

While Death Stranding focuses on the locomotion and logistics of such travel, as well as the greater mysteries of the Death Stranding itself, New Horizons is content to just stop at emphasizing and celebrating culture. Players must reach out in order to have the fullest experience, and Nintendo has provided tons of benefits to players for just being there for one another. Sometimes that’s helping my buddy out with his fishing tournament, and other times its reaching out to a friend to create some cherry blossom items.

Just like Death Stranding ended up predicting a lot about 2020, Animal Crossing seems like the first signs of a light at the end of a tunnel. Even now, when things are hard, people are still looking out for each other. Real world communities are coming together online and finding ways to share with one another. It’s a game where the rudest kind of behavior is turnip stealing or flower trampling, and even with that, players are quick to help their pals out in a pinch.

Here’s hoping that the bonds highlighted by both these games are strong enough to last us well beyond our moment of need.

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