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Online Games Like 'Animal Crossing' Get You Out Of The House Without Leaving Home

animalcrossing.jpg
ekkun /Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
A screenshot from the online game "Animal Crossing." The game has become wildly popular while people are stuck at home during the pandemic.

From Texas Standard:

If you would rather be relaxing on a beach right now instead of being stuck at home, or instead of trying to work during the pandemic, there is a way to do that. You can even spend time on that "beach" with family and friends. If that isn't for you, pick a different setting: say, a place akin to a college dorm where friends pop in and out for casual chats. You can do all of this through the many online games and video chatting apps that are increasingly in demand right now.

"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is one online game that has become wildly popular during the coronavirus pandemic, partly because the Nintendo company released a new version just as the pandemic took hold in many American cities last month.

Bobby Blanchard, assistant director for audience at The Texas Tribune, is a dedicated "Animal Crossing" player in his off-hours. In the game, players build their own homes and decorate them with objects they collect in the virtual world. In the New Horizons version, a player's home is an island that other players can visit.

"The music, the styling, the art – the tone of it is very relaxing," Blanchard said. "The timing of when it came out worked out so well because what 'Animal Crossing' does so excellently is give a very good simulation of what it's like to go outside."

Blanchard spoke to Texas Standard host David Brown Wednesday, along with TWiT.tv host and producer Mikah Sargent.

Sargent said he keeps in touch with his friends and family with several game and socializing platforms, including the Houseparty app. He wasn't much of a game player before social isolation, but that's changed.

"In order for me to be stimulated by something, it has tended not to be games," Sargent said. "I'm kind of jealous of folks that are able to play a game and not get bored."

Now, though, he's hooked.

"It was just a little thing called desperation," Sargent said. 

Houseparty wasn't originally meant as a game platform. It was a way to hang out together via group video chats in which participants could casually enter and leave chat rooms. Some used Houseparty for pulling off silly stunts; Sargent likens the atmosphere to a college dorm. But the developer, Epic Games, added in-app games that broadened its appeal for people stuck at home.

"These are those fun party games that you play whenever you're together in a group," he said. "So it's really creating that experience you would have when you have your friends over."

Sargent said online games can be a substitute for in-person socializing. He uses an app called Game Pigeon to play card games with his partner's family.

"Something that's really cool about the brain is that oftentimes it's unable to know the difference between something actual and something imagined," he said. "So, in a sense, we are recreating that experience for our brains, which, psychologically, can be a very healthy thing."

Blanchard agreed, saying gaming with friends gives some people a feeling of more control over their environment that they don't necessarily have in real life.

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