Animal Crossing, a whimsical life-simulation game that became a phenomenon on the Switch during the coronavirus pandemic, has been around since 2001. In August, Nintendo reported more than 22 million sales of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, making it the most popular version of the game yet. Its players are essentially the rulers of their own worlds, changing and customizing the landscape, their homes and other villagers as they see fit (or as much as allowed by the rules of Tom Nook, who doles out loans and charges hefty construction fees). The game’s appeal comes in part from cute, catchphrase-spouting animals dressed in a variety of fashions as well as the relentlessly cheerful illusion that there is nothing going on, no reason to rush, no crisis, no news at all.
Political messaging is not new to this version of the game, which was released on March 20, days after a pandemic was announced.
During the protests in Hong Kong earlier this year, activists took to their Animal Crossing islands to share virtual slogans. In May, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested a fish museum in the game. More recently, Black Lives Matter activists have used it to raise awareness of their cause, even holding demonstrations in-game, The Guardian reported.
Nintendo did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Not all efforts to appeal to gamers have gone well. The mobile Pokémon Go game was at the height of its popularity in 2016 when Mrs. Clinton was mocked for urging people at a rally to “Pokémon Go to the polls!”
In 2007 and 2008, the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton John Edwards and John McCain engaged with players in Second Life, an online virtual world. But there isn’t is much data on whether those efforts were successful, said Daniel Kreiss, a professor of political communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
With fewer people watching television, “the traditional 30-second ad pitch is much less relevant than it used to be,” said Dennis Plane, a politics professor at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Penn., especially when ads can be easily skipped.
Campaigns in “video games are a little peculiar because they target a younger market, but people can vote at 18,” he said, adding that “campaigns that are successfully able to woo 18- to 25-year-olds are often able to keep voters with the same party for their entire lives.”