Dave Soltysik, Head of Media Studies and A Level Examiner
In this blog I’ll be looking at things for teachers to consider when teaching the new set video game, Animal Crossing, for A Level Media Studies.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is part of the Animal Crossing franchise developed and published by Nintendo and created by Katsuya Eguchi and Hisashi Nogami. The game belongs to the open-world social simulation genre with players taking the role of a character to engage in various activities such as fishing, gardening and decorating. As it’s an open-world game, the structure is non-linear allowing players to have a degree of freedom and flexibility in how they play the game.
The video game is exclusively designed for Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite devices. Unlike some video games that are platform agnostic, Nintendo focuses on creating games specifically for its own hardware. This approach allows them to fully utilise the features and capabilities of their devices.
While students are not required to play the game, they should have a good understanding of its fundamental elements. A starting point could be to introduce students to the concept of Let’s Plays and Gaming Walkthroughs. This introduction itself can lead to rich discussions about the influence of audiences in promoting and popularising video games. This video from the ZackScottGames YouTube channel offers a guide through the initial island experience, game setup and the basic premise of the game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was commercially successful, as the sales data below shows:
The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) suggests that in 2022, the UK video game consumer market reached a total value of £7.05 billion. While there was a slight decrease of 5.6% compared to 2021, the market remains significantly strong, boasting a 17% increase on pre-pandemic levels. The UKIE’s report on the growth of video games and video game hardware highlights some other interesting statistics that may be worth exploring with your students.
The report emphasises that console video games remain the most popular purchases amongst consumers. However mobile gaming has experienced significant growth of 11% since 2021. This can be attributed to a variety of factors including the proliferation of technology (for example, better consoles, opportunities for online user interaction etc.) and the widespread availability of the internet.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the gaming industry and can be seen to have contributed to the success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The video game’s release in March 2020 coincided with the national lockdowns where limited social interaction meant audiences turned to video games as a way of keeping entertained and staying connected with others.
The escapist and fictional open-world gameplay with an emphasis on social interaction and customisation made Animal Crossing a popular choice for audiences to escape the realities of the world around them during the pandemic. At the time of writing, it has sold 42.79 million units. This chart from Statista highlights the high volume of sales of the game in the first four months of release.
The world of video games has undergone a transformation thanks to advancements in graphics technology and processing power. Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ exclusivity to the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite hardware seamlessly integrates with the video game software offering an immersive gaming experience through touchscreen and motion controls.
Although players are limited to setting up one island per device, they can access DLCs (downloadable content) and patches available for purchase. This is common practice amongst similar video games. This website provides information on all the game updates so far including the paid DLC Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise.
Interestingly, shortly after the release of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo tapped the mobile gaming market by releasing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, a free-to-play social simulation mobile game for iOS and Android devices.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has received a PEGI 3 rating from the Video Standards Council indicating its broad appeal for a family-friendly audience. While the basic premise of the game and visuals are generally suitable for all age groups, it’s important to also consider how fan-made content generated through Let’s Plays and Gaming Walkthroughs is regulated.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has broad audience appeal owing to a range of factors. When starting the game, players are given the freedom to fully personalise their avatars and islands. Avatar customisation allows players to choose their character’s gender, hairstyle, hair colour, eye shape, eye colour and skin tone. As they progress in the game, players can collect a range of clothing items and accessories to further customise their character’s appearance.
In terms of island customisation, players begin with a canvas island and have complete creative control over its layout. They can strategically place their buildings, bridges, furniture, flowers, trees and other decorative objects to bring their dream paradise to life. The game also features seasonal changes, with different events and decorations corresponding to real-world seasons.
Due to the open-ended nature of the game, some players have used it to express their support for different causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement. This article from The Guardian offers further insight into how audiences used the game’s customisation to express their support.
There are several unofficial fan websites. The Animal Crossing Community website is a good example of how fans interact with each other. The website has forums and discussion boards where players can ask questions, share their in-game experiences, trade items, and seek advice from other players. Fans often share guides and tutorials covering various aspects of the game. These guides help players enhance their gameplay experience and achieve their in-game goals.
YouTube and Twitch have a range of Gaming Walkthroughs and Let’s Plays. These are helpful for Nintendo as audiences can interact with each other in the comments sections, driving the popularity of the game further.
A well-established franchise like Animal Crossing brings numerous advantages in terms of retaining audiences, as dedicated fans eagerly await the launch of a new instalment.
I hope this blog offers you some approaches to teaching this new set product. A factsheet to support teaching of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available on Teach Cambridge.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Media_Film. You can also sign up to subject updates to keep up-to-date with the latest news, updates and resources.
Dave Soltysik is Head of Media Studies in a large comprehensive secondary school and sixth form in Hertfordshire. He is an A Level and GCSE examiner and moderator. Dave is passionate about exploring innovative, fresh and relevant approaches to teaching Media Studies and ensuring that it remains a vital part of the curriculum.