What is Animal Crossing?
Animal Crossing is a social simulation video game series developed by Nintendo and created by Katsuya Eguchi and Hisashi Nogami. This is an open map type game that doesn’t have an end goal. It is designed for continuous play; there is no way to “win” or “complete” it. You are a villager who has stumbled upon a village (in older games) or island (in New Horizon) and is asked to develop and build features of the island for its villagers. You receive a loan from Tom Nook to get a tent and as you pay off your debt, you will have the option to get another loan and upgrade your home. Other than that, the rest of the game play is up to you! You can wander around, talk with villagers, pick and plant flowers, grow trees, go fishing, catch bugs, swim, dance, have a blast! Typing this out does not do the game justice. It is an experience, and it is difficult to capture the calm and fun of this game in a few words. Check out https://animal-crossing.com/ for videos, images, and more details about the game, OR purchase and play it for yourself.
Why Animal Crossing?
With over a year into social distancing and quarantine, most people are struggling to keep things new and interesting, especially if they have children at home. I am not a parent, but I have been a teacher for over a decade. More importantly, I am an avid Animal Crossing player since the game series first came out in 2001. I, like many, have been playing Animal Crossing New Horizons every day since the newest game in the series was released on March 20, 2020.
This is a creative approach to using video games to cross-align concepts children are learning in school at various grades and stages. Using creativity and exploration of these concepts in an engaging way will support learning by providing concrete examples in a familiar way.
With parents homeschooling their children and trying to make all moments productive and filled with learning, I thought “why not use video games to help students engage in learning?” During this time we all, especially children, need time to unwind and do something fun. Video games are perfect for that! Nevertheless, I am sure many parents have set limits on screen time for obvious reasons. This article presents background information on the features of Animal Crossing and how you can be the coolest parent ever (while also being the best home teacher)!
Animal Crossing has a ton of new features as well as features that have been in every version of the Animal Crossing series. Below, I will briefly mention a few of these features; hopefully enough that you will feel comfortable with the game and gain a quick understanding of it (although I highly recommend playing it for yourself if you also need some downtime).
ELA Based Features
This game is full of reading! It can be played by beginning readers, and it is also great for middle school age students as well! The entire game is based on conversations that your character has with the people of your island, visitors to your island, and when you visit another island. If you have online access setup you can also message real-world friends that have your friend code. Many times you can choose your response from a list of options, and depending on what you say and even how you respond, it will change how the person responds to it. This is a great way to discuss tone and respectful conversations with your kids and how others may perceive what you say differently than how you may have meant it.
Snail mail may be less prevalent in our world than it used to be, but in Animal Crossing it is an everyday moment of happiness! For example, you get letters when you order furniture and clothing, you get letters from visitors to your island thanking you for your hospitality, you get letters from townsfolk sending you happy messages and possibly presents, and your “mom” in the game often sends you letters with cool free stuff. Again, if you have online access setup, you can also receive letters from friends who have your friend code. If you stop in at the airport there is a stand next to Wilbur’s desk that has postcards on it with fun different stationery. You can send letters to any villager in your town or any friend you’ve added as a “best friend.” Letter writing is a very important skill for students to learn as it sets them up for writing professional emails in the future. This could be a useful tool to discuss how to structure a formal letter in a fun way!
Other ELA Concepts for Discussion:
- Identifying themes of characters, items, clothing
- Tone and style of text and speech
- Point of view
- Character traits and attributes
MATH Based Features
As previously mentioned, a big part of the game is paying off your debt to Tom Nook for your home. Money in Animal Crossing is called “bells” and comes in little satchels with a star on it. The way you get bells and pay off your debt is by selling items around the town such as fruit, fish, bugs, and items. You can go to shop in your village and sell these items to Timmy and Tommy Nook, then go to your loan account and pay down your debt. This game is full of financial literacy lessons, but lessons that are fun and easy to understand. As an adult who is familiar with debt and income, it is extremely relaxing and fulfilling to see your game debt go down (especially when your character cheers and does a dance once you pay it down each time). It is never too early to teach your children about financial literacy and Animal Crossing is a great, relatable way to do so.
Other Math Concepts for Discussion:
- Multiplying (10, 100, etc.)
- Subtracting down to 0
- capital: supply/demand
- stock market (Stalk Market, Buying Turnips)
- debt, savings, interest
Science Based Features
As a former STEAM teacher and Science Coordinator, this is my favorite article section! The level of science references casually mentioned throughout Animal Crossing are simply amazing. The fact that your island will have the opportunity to develop a museum—once you’ve caught enough insects and fish and spoken to Tom Nook about donating them—is the coolest. Once the museum is built you can actually wander around the exhibits and view the fish, bugs and fossil donations. You can also bring something to Blathers, the manager of the museum, and he can give you information about the specimens. All fossils, fish, bugs, and sea creatures are real specimens and lived at some time (some may be extinct). The creatures you can catch and see will come at specific seasons as well as specific times of the day. This will lead to great discussions about ecosystems and living things!
Other Science Concepts for Discussion:
- Fish, bugs, sea creatures, fossils
- Plants/trees, fruit
- Astrology (Celeste)
Social Studies Based Features
As you may have noticed in the Science and Math sections, there is a ton of social studies based content in Animal Crossing. The museum relates perfectly to geography, history, culture and society as you collect art, creatures, and fossils. The business components of your island relate to Economics. The interactions with the villagers relate to Civics and Government. In the original versions of Animal Crossing, there was a Mayor who discussed more the government aspect, but this character has been removed from the newer versions, such as New Horizons.
As you continue to play the game, you will experience a variety of world holidays and traditions. This includes actual celebrations on some of the days like “Bunny Day,” “Turkey Day,” “Toy Day,” “Festivale” and more. These celebrations include fun activities based on the holidays, themed clothing, items, and the presence of special characters. These holidays share the essence of the traditions without leaving out the diversity of the people and cultures who may or may not celebrate them. This can be a great opportunity to discuss what may be the same and different between how your family celebrates (or doesn’t) these holidays, from the traditions in the game.
Other Social Studies Concepts for Discussion:
- Municipalities/business/community (town life)
- capital: supply/demand
- Culture and traditions around the world
Arts Based Features
I know we’ve discussed the museum a lot, but it definitely is one of my favorite features of the game! Once you meet Redd, you can purchase art, which is based off of famous pieces of art from artists like Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Michelangelo to name a few. But watch out, because some of Redd’s paintings are forgeries of the original! Each time he visits, you can purchase only one piece of art, so make sure you zoom in and check all the details and purchase the true painting.
Music is consistent throughout Animal Crossing, thanks to K.K. Slider, a traveling singer-songwriter. He visits every Saturday and plays a concert where you can get records of his songs. These can be played on various radios you can buy from the shop or craft with a DIY recipe. You can design your own town song, so at the top of the hour it will play and it will be modified to fit the personalities of each villager in your town when you talk to them. Another cool feature allows your character to purchase an instrument from the shop and place it in your town, and if you walk up to the instrument and interact with it, it will play! If villagers see these instruments, they, too, can walk up and play some of them.
I could go on and on about the artistic elements, but you may be waiting for this blog to end so you can just go play it for yourself already! I will wrap up with a very brief mention of the vast design opportunities available throughout the game:
- You can design your own clothing that you and your villagers can wear
- You can design patterns and images that can be placed around your village or on items
- You can craft items using natural resources found on your island
- You can change and design the landscape of your island with terraforming
- You can design your home with furniture and items which will get scored every Sunday by the Happy Home Academy
Almost everything can be designed or customized in some way, shape, or form! You can spend hours a day doing this and not run out of things to design. Let your creativity take you on a design journey!
Other Art Concepts for Discussion:
- Music (themes, instruments, singing, composing/town song, KK Slider)
- Art (museum, Redd)
- Fashion/textiles (Able Sisters, Labelle)
- Crafting (DIY)
- Interior design, decorating
- Landscape design
There are so many wonderful features to Animal Crossing and all of its versions. This may seem like a long blog, but I barely scratched the surface of what you could uncover when you actually play it (as well as all of the topics you can discuss with your children while they play it!).
The next time they (or you) play, ask them some questions about the topics we’ve discussed:
- What season is it on your island now? How do you know?
- What animals are present during that season?
- What holidays are coming up soon? How are they celebrated? What do the clothes and items look like during that holiday?
- What new things have you donated to the museum? Have we seen any of these when we’ve been to a museum? Want to check out a museum website and get more information about these bugs, fish, fossils, art?
- How much debt do you have left to pay Tom Nook? What was your starting debt? How much have you paid off?
- What song did K.K. Slider give you this week? What did it sound like? What did the music make you think of? Does it remind you of another song you’ve heard outside of the game?
Feel free to visit my island via Dream Address: DA-0635-3824-6709
Or check out some of my custom designs: MA-1849-9082-1823
Nintendo. (2020). Animal Crossing (New Horizons) [Video game]
Jennifer Babcock is an academic specialist who has been teaching students from pre-K through adulthood. She has been teaching and training across New York State from Buffalo to New York City. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance, a Bachelor of Science in Childhood Education, and a Master of Science in Creativity and Change Leadership. She plans to use her experience to train and coach future teachers to be effective leaders for their students.