The popular Nintendo Switch game allows players to customize colorful islands filled with adorable creatures and original designs and hop between other players’ islands to trade goods or say “hello.” It’s become a virtual escape for millions of players during the coronavirus pandemic, when seeing friends in real life or traveling to exotic places has become fraught with risk. And just like in the real world, some players use their virtual homes to express their views on the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ rights, and presidential candidates.
A basic tenet of any online strategy — whether for campaigns, newsrooms, or marketers — is that you have to go where your audience is. That’s no easy task during a 2020 election that has upended in-person rallies, door knocking, and other tried-and-true techniques for getting out the vote.
For the Biden campaign, a ready-made audience seemed to be waiting on “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” which had sold 22 million copies as of June. Even before the Democratic nominee showed up there, his supporters had already used the game’s design tools to create their own signs, shirts, and slogans.
Then they could incorporate the designs to make lawn signs or place them elsewhere on their islands.
Christian Tom, the campaign’s director of digital partnerships, said in a statement that they were “new creative and innovative ways to meet voters where they are and bring our supporters together.”
Pro-Biden players could already pick up user-made decorations — known as custom designs — from the Able Sisters’ Custom Designs Kiosk, a virtual shop within the game. Designers also posted codes for their own creations on external websites and Twitter, free for the taking to anyone who wanted to incorporate them into their island.
“The whole fun of the game is taking normal everyday items and customizing them and using them in creative ways to express yourself,” Kacie Pickton, a 36-year-old “Animal Crossing” player in California, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I think this election is too important not to have some kind of expression of something that’s important to me.”
Pickton placed a voting booth on her island and decorated her avatar’s dress with the words “vote” and “Biden.”
None of the “Animal Crossing” players interviewed by Insider said they thought Biden lawn signs would sway the election for the Democratic White House hopeful. But they could help replace some of the communal campaign activities lost to the coronavirus.
If a voter is “on the fence, a sign on ‘Animal Crossing’ isn’t going to be the game changer,” Pickton said. “But I think it creates a level of community because we can’t go to rallies or knock on doors and canvas like we used to.”
Jennifer Rouch bought a Nintendo Switch for her politically savvy 9-year-old daughter, and together they created a virtual voting booth on their island’s town square. So far, a few critters have stopped by.
Rouch, who declined to share her voting preferences, said that rather than push for a particular candidate, she wanted to remind people to participate in the upcoming election.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to sway anybody’s vote one way or the other,” Rouch said. “What I think is more important in this election is getting people to vote, getting people out to the polls, getting people engaged enough.”