animal crossings avatar watch stars at night

#museumathome with Animal Crossing

Published05/17/2020

We’re talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons across our social media platforms today.  Want to know more about the game and why museum folksincluding our staff membersplay? Jenny Stampe, associate director of public education and science learning, has some questions for her colleagues who play the game.

Jenny Stampe: I hear Animal Crossing is all the rage. What’s it all all about? 

Jennifer Menken, public collections manager: Animal Crossing is actually a series of video games produced by Nintendo over the last 20 years. The latest one is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a life game, and the basic scenario is that you start out with a deserted island and build up a community from scratch. It involves learning about and catching fish and insects, finding fossils, and planting trees and flowers. You also have a bunch of anthropomorphic animal friends that you can interact with, including your racoon landlord (and town mayor), Tom Nook.

JS: I understand this new version was released March 20th, just as we here in Minnesota were starting to stay at home to flatten the curve of COVID-19. And you’re on an island? That certainly resonates! There’s a museum there too, right?

JM: The museum is a beautiful place! There’s a hall of fish, a hall of insects, a hall of fossils (with a tree of life on the floor!), an art museum, and more. The museum is carefully curated by Blathers the owl, who takes specimen and art donations from visitors and labels them with information, like the date they were donated and who donated them, which you can read when you visit the museum.

Kaitlin Ehret, planetarium outreach coordinator: Blathers is extremely enthusiastic! As you might guess from the name, Blathers talks at length about all the objects in the museum. But he’s not the only one who we can relate to at the Bell. Blathers has a sister named Celeste who focuses on space and shows up with meteor showers. 

animal crossing star watching party

In a world without social distancing, Kaitlin Ehret, planetarium outreach coordinator, gets together with friends for a virtual star watch party.

JS: What’s appealing about the game for you? Why do you all play?

Adam Hartman, gallery programs assistant: I grew up playing the earlier Animal Crossing games, so of course I was going to participate in a new game with new features. I always loved the collecting aspects of the game, especially given the natural history focus of the collections. New Horizons brought new critters and new ways to catch them to make filling the museum with specimens even more exciting. Right now I’m working on filling up the museum galleries and acquiring any and all science decorations for display around my island. 

In a time where everyone is confined to their own homes, being able to play a game where you can virtually visit one another is fantastic. Obviously, real human interaction would be ideal, but being able to connect with my friends and family who play, is great—and definitely more engaging than a once-a-week phone or zoom call.  

KE: I grew up playing Animal Crossing games, but not intensively—I was the player who would come back to my town after 2 months to find weeds everywhere and villagers who didn’t recognize me. I was excited to try the new game and see if I could actually complete the collections. New Horizons has been a great way to escape for a while in our current stay at home situation. Making the perfect island where I can walk through wild spaces and look at mammoths and stars is a nice change from being inside! 

I have to say, I’m also into flower breeding in the game, and am going heavy into breeding hybrid flower colors. The flowers have a pseudo genetic component that determines the colors of their offspring!

JM: At my house, we got started because of the quarantine, having never played the previous versions, and then noticed a bunch of our friends playing. I got hooked on the game when I realized that there was a museum involved. It is kind of like being able to go to work in a non-stressful and safe way. I’ve had fun setting up my “house” in the game as sort of a mini-museum in itself, with a specimen preparation room and a cool collection. You can also invite friends from anywhere in the world who are playing on-line to come and visit, and exchange items, so it’s definitely filing a void in stay at home life. 

an animal crossing avatar stands by a mammoth skeleton in the game

Adam Hartman, gallery programs assistant, hangs out with a mammoth skeleton.

JS: Jennifer, you were pulled into the playing by the museum in particular. What do you think of it?

JM: Though Animal Crossing: New Horizons is basically a game for kids, I’ve been really impressed with some of the basic natural history and museum concepts that it covers. For instance:

  • Habitat: Fishing is a big component of the game, and the game differentiates between freshwater stream fish, ocean fish, and pond fish.
  • Weather and seasons: In the game there are meteor showers, which is cool on its own, but there’s also weather, and your ability to see meteors is affected by weather, so you may or may not get a chance to see what you’re hoping to see. Frustrating, maybe, but just like real life. Also, your island goes through all the seasons. But there’s more; if you’re playing in Minnesota and you visit friends playing in the Southern Hemisphere their seasons will be opposite to ours, again just like they are in real life.
  • Phenology: The game plays in real time, and certain resources are only available at certain times of the year, such as cherry blossoms in February and March, or salmon in August and September.
  • The game also illustrates some biology basics, like camouflage (there are several insects that are hard to see on certain flowers, such as white orchid mantis that can only be found on white flowers) and hybridization (as Kaitlin mentioned, you can crossbreed different colors of flowers to get new varieties).

There’s more, though. Blathers, the curator, always talks about the importance of donating to the museum as a way to contribute to the “cultural development” of the community you’re building. That role is important in the real world, too. Museums hold art, history, and natural history specimens that would be lost to time if not for these institutions–and they allow people of all kinds to connect and interact with them. Museums provide people with a space to learn and share information they might not have otherwise encountered, and they give the public access to that information 

JS: It’s cool the game is true to the aim of museums! If you could make any part of Animal Crossing part of real life, what would it be?

AH: In the game, when you donate a specimen, it’s always put on display–no questions asked. The museum also only collects one of each specimen, so you’re free to sell or display any extras you find. It doesn’t necessarily work that way in real life–museums have many similar items in their collections and many never go on display, but they still continue to build their collections, to keep a record for research. It’d be awesome if I could collect and display museum specimens of the same quality and at the same frequency as those in the game. It’s really cool to virtually display museum-quality fossils, fish, and insects in your own home! 

JM: There’s a lot of joy in being able to rearrange objects and displays on a whim. Anyone who works in museums knows that in real life decisions are carefully made and it’s not easy to make changes quickly.  Plus it would be really cool to have a 40 foot tall brachiosaurus skeleton in my backyard!

JS: Adam, could you tell us about your merch?

AH: Sure. Animal Crossing games have always allowed players to create custom designs for their avatars to display and wear, but New Horizons introduced new templates for clothing, including hats, sweatshirts, and dresses. Players can share their custom designs with others via unique codes generated for each design. Other players can then enter those codes into their own games and wear other players’ designs. The interface limits the complexity and shape of custom designs, but if you’re creative enough, you can make simple designs of almost anything. I designed several Bell-branded clothing items for other players to wear including a hat, a sweatshirt, and two shirts. I know some student staffers are using them in the game. Mostly, it’s just a cool way to share your art!