As the year has progressed, more and more events have had to be held online due to the threat of COVID-19. Virtual meeting websites such as Zoom and Skype have been used to hold classes and workshops; conventions have been utilizing Twitch and YouTube to create experiences like Comic-Con@Home.
Political campaigns have also been forced to move online, and while some are using YouTube and Zoom, others are using video games to target a younger demographic.
According to a YouGov poll, 40% of millennials say they’ve been gaming more often during the pandemic, and in total 28% of US adults report a similar boost in time spent in virtual worlds.
In March of 2020, Nintendo released the fifth main game in the Animal Crossing franchise, “Animal Crossing: New Horizon.” The game is simple – you play as a villager whose sole job is to run around and make sure all your nonplayable neighbors are happy. Its launch happened to coincide with the surge of COVID-19 cases in the states, resulting in it becoming the second-best selling Switch game to date.
One of the important themes of the game is cooperation, and one of the most well-received features is the ability to visit others islands, no matter whether or not you know them in real life. Many politicians and political groups have been utilizing this feature to hold rallies and meet voters.
NextGen America held an Earth Day rally across various islands the day before Earth Day, complete with political campaigning and people who walked users through the process of voter registration. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who have been known to parody Nintendo games in the past, staged a virtual protest about capturing animals for aquariums, a feature included in all main Animal Crossing titles.
On May 7, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opened her Twitter inbox for constituents to share their Dodo Codes – short passwords the game uses to allow specific people to visit your town at certain times.
In a tweet, Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “I would like to visit random people’s islands and leave a doodle or note on their bulletin board.”
Later that night she had already visited one family, and she used their time playing to talk to the family and even made sure to write them a message on their town bulletin board, a feature where guests can leave a permanent message in the town center.
Another important feature in Animal Crossing games is the ability to make designs that you can place on clothing, make into paths outdoors, decorate signposts and even customize your town flag. These designs can be shared with other players via QR code or an online feature within the game.
Many fans have utilized this feature to decorate their island with their political beliefs, such as using the feature to create in-game Black Lives Matter flags and personalized Pride flags.
On Sept. 1, the Biden-Harris campaign released four original Biden-themed designs for players to decorate their islands with. These designs include his official campaign logo, his Pride logo, a Biden-Harris sign and a sign decorated with red, white and blue aviator glasses.
The campaign also plans to work with various famous streamers to have them feature the signs in their gameplay footage in hopes that the streamers help encourage young people to vote.
Christian Tom, Biden’s director of Digital Partnerships, says this is a good way to “meet the voters where they are.” As November comes closer – bringing the election date with it – Tom hopes that this will help to “engage and connect with Biden-Harris supporters.”
As many Animal Crossing players use their islands to express interests such as other video games, real life products and other forms of media, it only makes sense to add politics into the mix. Whether you prefer the homemade logos or you intend to put a Biden-Harris yard sign in front of your virtual house, the use of a video game to reach wider audiences is an interesting method of communication.