Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Those in lockdown seek New Horizons



Those in lockdown seek New Horizons

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Australian high school teacher Dante Gabriele plays Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons at home in Melbourne during the country’s enforced Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown. AFP

Those in lockdown seek New Horizons

Millions of people are skirting global coronavirus lockdowns to stroll through public spaces, fly overseas and watch idyllic sunsets . . . in the virtual world of smash-hit video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

The leisurely land of Nintendo’s latest release has struck a chord with gamers around the world, many of them yearning for a virtual escape from the onerous restrictions on movement and social activity imposed to contain the infection.

The game sees players guide their digital personas around an uninhabited island, slowly transforming the landscape with a house, garden and eventually a thriving community of adorable cartoon animal neighbours.

“Right now, watching news on TV can really be scary, but in this game, it’s just as if nothing is happening, it’s all quiet and peaceful,” said 28-year-old Kanae Miya, a Tokyo-based illustrator.

Australian high school teacher Dante Gabriele said he bought the game the day after its March release and had played it for more than 30 hours each week since, with social distancing rules keeping him housebound.

“You can just play for an hour, or nine in a row, and that’s why it fits so well with the lockdown – you can fit it between meetings or play all day,” he said.

Chopping wood, harvesting turnips and fishing in the ocean give players the resources they need to build their own fantasy paradise.

Real-life friends can drop in to admire the day’s labours by booking an online plane ticket for their own characters, a welcome chance for social interaction at a time when regular human contact is often prohibited.

Some users say they have even adopted the game’s virtual island setting to stage dates organised through online dating platform Tinder, with the possibility of real-life romance stalled for now.

And with the virus prompting bans on public gatherings in Hong Kong, local pro-democracy activists sought to keep their movement’s momentum alive by staging a rally in the virtual world of the game.

Players directed their cartoon avatars to kick dirt onto images of the city’s unpopular political chief Carrie Lam, in a move that appears to have prompted digital stores in mainland China to stop selling copies of the game.

Experts say the game has become something of a poster-child for a period when people feel the need to connect more than ever.

“There is a synthesis between this game and this time in history that will leave the two forever connected in the world of video games,” wrote Mat Piscatella of US market research firm The NPD Group Inc.

“A game designed around developing communities and forging connections was certainly the right game at the right time.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The game sees players guide their digital personas around an uninhabited island, slowly transforming the landscape. AFP

New sales records

New Horizons, the fourth title in the 19-year-old Animal Crossing franchise and the first to be released on Nintendo’s handheld Switch console, has smashed digital sales records in the weeks since its release.

It even displaced the latest instalment of Call of Duty – the blood-spattered combat simulation series that has topped Fortune magazine’s global sales lists for eight of the last 11 years – becoming the best-selling game in the US market, NPD data shows.

The title had been hotly anticipated by gaming fans but sales exceeded expectations at a time when industry revenue has slowed, with consumers eagerly awaiting the next generation of rival Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox consoles on sale later this year.

The success has echoes of earlier triumphs by Nintendo, which has struggled to maintain market share against its competitors in recent years but still has a reputation for occasionally delivering tectonic shake-ups of the digital landscape.

Four years ago it was with Pokemon Go, a smartphone-based game that became a worldwide phenomenon when it lured millions of people onto the streets for a virtual monster hunt.

Laurent Michaud of French think-tank IDATE DigiWorld said New Horizons was testament to the game giant’s commercial strategy, which is built around in-house development and appealing to the better natures of its audience.

“They chose to think outside the box with innovation . . . but also by appealing to the child within us,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer