Families turn to ‘Animal Crossing’ for trick-or-treating amid covid-19 fears

The answer? Spend it in “Animal Crossing,” Nintendo’s ultra-popular simulation game.

We were feeling a little down because we weren’t going to have that opportunity this year,” Blackmon said. “So we had to figure out what we were going to do instead.”

Blackmon’s neighborhood hasn’t canceled Halloween, she says, but many are “in denial about how much the virus has spread.” Because she feels people aren’t being safe, or taking necessary precautions, she’s deciding to stay home with her daughter and boot up the Nintendo Switch instead.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has been a popular destination as a digital proxy for canceled events during the pandemic, including weddings, graduations and even gatherings on religious holidays like Ramadan. Now, families are turning to the game to trick-or-treat. In late September, Nintendo rolled out an update that added a collection of spooky-themed content to the game, all in preparation for a big event that occurs Halloween night.

Players dress their characters in costumes, craft spooky items to decorate their spaces and gather candy leading up to Oct. 31. By Halloween, users can trick-or-treat at their virtual villagers’ homes to gather more sugary goods that can later be swapped for in-game rewards.

Blackmon and her daughter have been playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” together since the game released in March. Sometimes, Blackmon’s 80-year-old mother joins them.

“We’re just a family of gamers,” Blackmon said.

Every Saturday, Blackmon and her daughter stream co-op games together on Blackmon’s Twitch channel, with her daughter remaining off-screen as Blackmon’s not comfortable having her on camera due to her age. Halloween falls perfectly on one of those regular streaming days this year. They’re planning a full trick-or-treating event with other parents and children they know personally — all of which will be streamed this weekend.

“We’re gonna be sitting at home in our Halloween pajamas, touring people’s Halloween islands and letting people on ours and giving candy,” Blackmon said. “So we’re going to do trick-or-treating in ‘Animal Crossing.’”

Even those without kids are joining in on the “Animal Crossing” Halloween fun. Emiliy Marino, a 39-year-old from Long Beach, California, is offering her island as a space where her friends’ children can come enjoy a Halloween when they can’t experience traditional trick-or-treating in the real world. In the game, she set up a large hay-bale maze, a zoo with turtles and fossils and an area filled with wrapped gifts for anyone to claim.

“A lot of my friends were talking about different things that they could do to make it fun for their kids,” Marino said. “So that’s how I got the idea.”

She’s hosting this area on her island all the way through to Halloween. On the evening of the 31st, she’s joining her friends for virtual trick-or-treating across several islands in the game.

For Neha Joshi, 35, and her husband Gautam, 36, in San Francisco, “Animal Crossing” has been an essential tether to family, and will again serve in that capacity on Halloween when they join their young relatives to celebrate the holiday. The two play the simulation game regularly, with their 20-month old son watching since it’s “just like a cartoon,” Gautam said.

Halloween is often spent with their nieces who live down the street but because their father works in an ICU, Neha and Gautam feel safer staying home. This year, they’re meeting up in “Animal Crossing” with other relatives, who live in Massachusetts.

The couple, as well as their niece and nephew, are already stocking up on virtual candy and decorating their respective islands in anticipation for trick-or-treating.

“We’ve never really been able to spend Halloween with our niece and nephew on the East Coast since we’re out here,” Neha said. “For the first time, we’re actually able to celebrate Halloween together.”

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