The year we spent in Animal Crossing: New Horizons


Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out a year ago, and since then it’s felt like a bright spot in a very bad year marked by a pandemic, protests against systemic racism and police brutality, and a world that felt like it was on fire. (And sometimes, literally, it was.) The life simulation game, released by Nintendo for Switch just as the pandemic became a pandemic, is inextricably linked to the events of the year in which it came out. That’s reflected in the ways players and communities used New Horizons to connect, grieve, protest, and celebrate together.

Who’s to say how New Horizons would have been received in any other year? In all honesty, it really doesn’t matter. Because Tom Nook did begin offering his island getaway package on March 20, 2020, and for some time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons felt like everything.

In a year that has felt like it lasted for both 10 minutes and 10 years, it was jarring to realize that Bunny Day — a contentious Easter-like holiday in New Horizons — is already coming around again. As New Horizons celebrates its first anniversary, let’s look back at the year we’ve all had in it.

March 20, 2020 — Animal Crossing: New Horizons is released

A human sitting on the beach wearing a red shirt in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Despite a fan campaign begging Nintendo to release Animal Crossing: New Horizons early — as a way to relieve the new stress of the then-impending pandemic — the game was, of course, released as planned. And so, we all dutifully set off on our island getaways, pitched our tents, and began our new lives indebted to Tom Nook.

Eagerly, we all harvested resources for our island, started collecting local fish and bugs, and set up shop in our new homes. These early players were all basically on the same schedule, ticking off goals each day to set up the island groundwork, and though we were all playing separately, there was a feeling of connectedness (and competitiveness) on social media among New Horizons players sharing their progress. Particularly, what stands out from that first week is how many of us had overly prepared for Blathers’ museum to be built on the island; when he finally showed up, many players had already collected an island’s worth of bugs and fish to hand over to him, all of which were stacked neatly — or not — around the islands in boxes and aquariums.

March 26 — Nintendo Switch shortage as people start congregating in New Horizons

Animal Crossing human with a Nintendo Ring Fit Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

There are a few reasons for the Nintendo Switch shortage, like supply chain problems and an increased desire for something to do during the pandemic — including staying active while indoors. New Horizons absolutely played into that. There were always plenty of games for people to play during the pandemic, but New Horizons became an essential part of how people connected online. People even went on Tinder dates in their Animal Crossing islands.

It seemed hard to find anyone who wasn’t playing the game, which also had new gamers picking up the console for the first time. “We see the platform appealing to a wide range of consumers,” Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser told Polygon last year, referring to the huge influx of Switch sales. “This year, in particular, we’ve seen more women gamers come into Nintendo Switch platforms, women that had not owned a Nintendo Switch platform in the past, and they’re engaging in our content in new and different ways.”

April 1, 2020 — Bunny Day begins

Zipper T. Bunny cheerily talks to an Animal Crossing character Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

It feels fitting that New Horizons’ first event of the year was a weird one: Bunny Day. Players were immediately put off by the holiday mascot, Zipper T. Bunny, who appears to be another villager inside a terrifying bunny suit. Not only is Zipper a menace to players, he tasks them with collecting eggs scattered around the island — some to be fished out of the sea, others to be knocked loose from trees. Eggs quickly became the bane of players’ existences, because they were just … everywhere.

April 10 — Collective sadness that the cherry bloom season was ending

Animals sit around a villager at night under cherry blossom trees in Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

While Bunny Day caused chaos in New Horizons, there was another more delightful event going on at the same time: cherry blossom season. During this time, New Horizons’ trees are tinted pink and bursting with cherry blossoms. The season was only 10 days long, which felt like too short of a time to collect all of the lovely DIY item recipes.

April 10 — New Horizons reportedly removed from Chinese stores due to Hong Kong protests in the game

With the coronavirus pandemic raging worldwide, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong started demonstrating in new ways — including in New Horizons. People’s avatars gathered on islands, donned face masks, and created signs in support of Hong Kong protesters’ five demands. Reuters reported in April, however, that the game was pulled from Chinese retailers after this. (Although the game had not been officially available for purchase in the country, some retailers had still been selling it on gray market sites.)

April 13 — The first fishing tournament

A villager wearing fishing waders appears sad while holding a fishing rod in a screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo via Polygon

There are plenty of fishing tournaments in New Horizons throughout the year, but the first one was special. Largely because we all realized, together, what a pain in the ass it was. Specifically, the New Horizons’ fishing tourney has a huge problem with the A button. There was so much dialogue! And if you want a gold trophy, you had to run this event dozens of times.

April 16 — Museums realize New Horizons’ potential

my Animal Crossing: New Horizons villager visits Blathers’ museum. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

A number of museums, including The Getty Center and Getty Villa in Los Angeles and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, closed their doors to patrons during the pandemic, but opened up shop in New Horizons instead. Both museums hosted their collections online and made them available to import into the game using Nintendo’s customization tools.

But they weren’t the only ones: The Museum of English Rural Life asked New Horizons players to create rural smocks using the Custom Design Pro Editor app in the game and submit them to the museum, while The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and the Field Museum in Chicago gave tours of the in-game museum. After all, Blathers did do an exceptional job in setting up his historical institution.

A small boar with turnips on her head, Daisy Mae, notes that she’ll be around on Sundays selling turnips in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

For most of April, New Horizons players had been wildly invested in the Stalk Market — where turnip prices are everything. Players buy turnips on Sundays from turnip seller Daisy Mae, then try to sell their turnips for good prices throughout the week. Here’s the thing with turnips: If you don’t sell them before the next Sunday, they’ll rot and become useless. If your island’s prices were bad, that meant you had to seek out someone else’s selling prices, and go to their island to get rid of your turnips. People spent April in hours-long queues stacked with hundreds of desperate turnip sellers. When I opened my island to turnip sellers, a hundred people streamed in and out for an entire work day. (I also made 7 million Bells in tips.)

The experience of buying and selling turnips could sometimes be painful. It was often stressful to decide when to sell. And then there was the stress of spoiled turnips, which both me and Ariana Grande’s mom, Joan Grande, learned about the hard way.

An Animal Crossing character wearing rabbit ears blushes by some trees Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

When something has value, people will always find a way to exploit that. So it’s no surprise that a black market popped up around New Horizons, where players could spend Nook Miles, Bells, and sometimes real money for hot commodities.

The value system in New Horizons is tied to a number of different things, like hard-to-create or find items, as well as villagers. Working alone, you’d have to go “hunting” for villagers camping out in your world, but on the “black market,” you could purchase a villager that was leaving someone else’s island. Of course, not all villagers are created equal in that regard. Not everyone can be a Raymond.

April 23 — Nintendo slashes interest rates to fix the game’s broken economy

Tom Nook in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

In an attempt to fix the New Horizons economy, Nintendo slashed interest rates on the Bank of Nook. It didn’t share numbers, but it was clear that players were earning less money from storing their bells in the bank. In exchange, Nintendo gave players a giant bell bag rug. Great! Despite the change, players could still consistently rake in millions of bells and stay very, very rich.

April 23 — Spring update

An Animal Crossing character holds up a fish in a field of yellow flowers Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

The spring update for New Horizons was a big one, adding two fan-favorite characters: Leif and Jolly Redd. Leif set up shop on the plaza to sell shrubs and flowers, while Jolly Redd occasionally visited players’ “secret beaches” to pawn off art, which could then be added to Blathers’ museum.

From there, Nintendo announced more, smaller events: May Day Tour, International Museum Day, and Wedding Season.

April 23 — Elijah Wood asks to pick some fruit

Actor Elijah Wood delighted the internet when he responded to another New Horizons player’s offer to sell turnips for a desirable price of 599 bells. Wood DMed the player and visited the island to sell off his turnips. As it turns out, Elijah Wood was the most courteous visitor an island could have. Truly, he was an example for all of us. Not long after, Elijah Wood appeared as a guest on Animal Talking, an in-game talk show hosted by screenwriter Gary Whitta, which ran until December 2020 and featured tons of other celebrity guests, including Brie Larson, Selena Gomez, Josh Gad, Sting, and Danny Trejo.

Animal Crossing character with brown hair wearing an all yellow outfit and holding a fishing pole, standing in front of a mole statue (Resetti) Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Democratic House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on May 7 that she’d also started playing New Horizons, and that she’d like to visit people’s islands. She first visited a family with their own island, exchanged fruit with them, and took some photos — all while wearing a customized campaign T-shirt in-game.

A beaver gets very excited for fishing Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

There is nothing like pulling a shark out of the water in New Horizons, the massive fish nearly four times the size of your New Horizons character. Players in the Northern Hemisphere were able to experience it for the first time on June 1.

July 3 — Summer updates add swimming and more

Swimming in Animal Crossing New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Nintendo released two summer updates for New Horizons, the first of which arrived on July 3. (The rest came on July 30.) Gulliver changed clothes, Pascal visited the island, and players learned to swim, which opened up a lot of opportunities on the islands. For the summer, players created diving spots and collected lots more sea life for their museums.

July 5 — Black Lives Matter

Molly the duck in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

As Black Lives Matter protests were happening in real-life streets following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, some players began protesting in New Horizons, too. People used all platforms available — including Animal Crossing marketplaces and Discords — to spread the fight for justice.

July 9 — Swimming goes wrong

An Animal Crossing character carrying a ladder stands in front of a flower-filled cliff Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

Shortly after the summer update, players realized that the new swimming mechanic — specifically, the ability to jump off the dock — allowed swimmers to get around island barriers. Unfortunately, this made players vulnerable to sea robbers. Folks who had set up blockades on their islands during turnip-selling sessions found that bad actors were able to get around their fences by jumping off the pier. Some players active in the Stalk Market got scammed.

August — The brands get involved

Animal Crossing character standing in a very cool room wearing a surgical mask Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

By summer, brands had eagerly accepted the popularity of New Horizons as a way to reach more customers. Fashion brands could serve as a natural extension of the game, adding customizable clothing lines for players to wear. But it went beyond just that: Luxury resorts made islands. So did mayo-maker Hellmann’s. A bank got involved to promote its services to a new market.

screenshot from inside the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign headquarters in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Biden-Harris 2020

Then-presidential hopeful Joe Biden launched a New Horizons political campaign on Sept. 1, bringing a suite of campaign T-shirts and yard signs. It was yet another part of Biden’s attempt to move his campaign efforts online during the pandemic.

Sept. 14 — Nintendo starts the guilt trip

a brown-haired woman in a blue-and-white striped shirt and blue jeans stands on a stone platform on a beach in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

On Sept. 14, I received an email from Nintendo urging me to go back to my island, which I had abandoned for a few months. I was not alone. People on social media also reported getting the email, and we all felt sorta bad about it.

You see, we all played New Horizons very intensely for its first few months. Maybe too intensely. A lot of players got burnt out and hadn’t visited since. I was one of those players, and the thought of my villagers roasting me upon my return just wasn’t something I felt ready for yet. But even still, this guilt feels a little bit comforting; it’s something I’ve experienced around most Animal Crossing games.

An Animal Crossing human watching a pumpkin patch Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

On Sept. 25, Nintendo announced New Horizons’ fall event, and on Sept. 30, it kicked off. As it turned out, pumpkin farming was exactly the thing that would get a lot of us to forget our guilt and get back to our islands. Islands were now decorated all fall-like, and players could create gardens full of pumpkins, purchasable from Leif or at Nook’s Cranny.

screenshot of Joe Biden’s Animal Crossing avatar on a streetscape including an ice cream truck and campaign signs Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Biden-Harris 2020

As it turned out, Joe Biden’s yard signs were just the first step. On Oct. 16, Joe Biden debuted Biden Island, where players could do island things with recreations of the presidential and VP candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Oct. 31 — Halloween event

An Animal Crossing character with horns and wings smirks near a scared jack-o-lantern Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

While dressed up in costumes, players collected candy for the Halloween event for most of the month. On Oct. 31, all that candy got put to good use — handed out to villagers all across the island, many of whom were adorably dressed up in the Halloween spirit. Jack, the Halloween czar, also visited the island to celebrate the season.

A lot of folks also used New Horizons to recreate the typical experience of Halloween — the one we couldn’t really engage with in real life due to the pandemic. It was a way to celebrate the holiday together, without having to create a candy chute for socially distanced trick-or-treating.

Nov. 19 — Animal Crossing characters can finally sit down

An island resident and bunny sit by a river in a screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Those legs must’ve been tired! Though New Horizons villagers could always sit down, players’ avatars couldn’t. At least, not on the floor. They could sit in chairs. The November update finally added sitting as an emote. But it turned out to be a painful addition. Many of us found that other villagers would simply get up as soon as we sat down next to them to vibe.

Painful.

Nov. 20 — Nintendo says ‘no politics!’

An animal crossing character standing under a dinosaur bones statue Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

A couple weeks after the United States presidential election, Nintendo issued some rules regarding how businesses and organizations could use New Horizons. One of the rules asked organizations to “refrain from bringing politics into the game,” which ostensibly made Joe Biden’s island against the rules.

A turkey cooks a meal in a screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo

Franklin the turkey showed up on islands across the globe to cook an elaborate feast for Turkey Day. There was a lot of stuff on the menu, some of which meant using the pumpkins you should have been growing since October.

A New Horizons character hands a gift to a blue goat, Sherb Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Gift-giving commenced, with Jingle the reindeer on hand to assist. The pandemic was still a thing, and so New Horizons remained a place where people could safely “visit” with their friends and family for a celebration.

Feb. 15 — Festivale update

Four villagers dance in lights wearing Festivale costumes in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo

Pavé the peacock showed up on Feb. 15, the day before Mardi Gras, to celebrate Festivale. This update, which dropped on Jan. 28, also added some Valentine’s Day treats and some Super Bowl … err, “Big Game”-themed items.

The Mario update for Animal Crossing New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

It’s been a tradition for Super Mario Bros. crossover items to appear in Animal Crossing games, so it’s no surprise that they showed up in New Horizons, too. The items added the ability for players to create all sorts of interesting Mario-themed levels on their New Horizons islands. And as always, players were very creative.

The warp pipes were really a standout item — players used them in all sorts of ways, from convenience items to designing games.

A villager smirks as another villager sits on a whoopee cushion in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo

On March 16, Nintendo announced a whole bunch of additions to New Horizons, the most exciting of which is farts. Whoopee cushions were added in anticipation of April Fool’s Day; they’re purchasable from Nook Shopping.

OK, and other stuff is coming too: Prom decorations and 50 more design slots for hardcore designers.

The future

Animal Crossing characters celebrate its anniversary on March 18. Image: Nintendo

On March 16, Nintendo announced that Bunny Day is about to roll around again. It feels surreal that an entire year has passed since the last one. Things are so different but also still very much the same. So many people are still processing March 2020, the beginning of a pandemic that’s still going, and so this loop doesn’t feel like it should be real. And yet, here we are. We’re back to New Horizons’ launch date — 365 days later. And who is here to greet us? Zipper T. Bunny.