Dating, a talk show and a dominatrix: Animal Crossing gamers explore new horizons during pandemic | Life and style | #tinder | #pof

As shelter in place orders around the world have left many people trapped at home indefinitely, some have found a new place to meet up: inside the digital world of wildly popular Nintendo game Animal Crossing.

Released in late March, Animal Crossing: New Horizons quickly became the top game in the US. In it, users explore a carefree pastel environment, growing fruits and flowers, catching bugs or fish to sell, and making friends with other characters in an open-ended simulation.

Players are not alone in the game – by searching friend codes, an Animal Crossing user can visit others in the virtual world, joining them in their home or garden.

The ability to socialize has led some to use the game for more than its original function – building a personal island and paying off debts – but also as a platform to hang out with friends while we remain unable to do so in the real world.

The dominatrix who accepts bells as payment

When shelter in place was declared in San Francisco, Denali Winter, a hairdresser and sex worker who is non-binary, said they immediately knew their jobs would be severely impacted.



Winter hosts a client who has used the game settings to write ‘Denali’s slave’ on their body. Photograph: Animal Crossing

An avid video gamer, Winter turned to Animal Crossing for solace. But soon, they began to use it for work as well – as a venue to beat, subdue, and order around clients who want to engage with a dominatrix from a safe distance.

Winter, who has worked as a dominatrix for more than seven years, is now forcing clients to water flowers, cross dress, and pay them bells – the currency in Animal Crossing. If the players disobey, Winter can put them in a cage – virtually.

“Sex workers are always adapting, and this is just another layer of adaptation,” Winter said. “I need to connect with my clients somehow.”

Sex workers have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Winter advertises services on Twitter, and shares their friend code with clients who want to come water their flowers or do other chores. The clients most often do not pay Winter real money to engage on the game, they said, but simply help virtually.

Many of the activities Winter did in person as a dominatrix can be replicated within Animal Crossing, they said. They are able to smack fellow users with a net used to catch butterflies or mock them while they cry using different controls on the app, or build a cage for people when they are “bad”.



One of Winter’s clients spends the night in a cage. Photograph: Animal Crossing

As someone who identifies as non-binary, Winter said they attract a lot of clients interested in gender play or cross dressing. Animal Crossing allows for users to easily try on different styles of clothing regardless of gender. Winter said video games make such activities much more accessible.

“Video games have been a way for people to explore their identity for a long time,” they said. “This venue has attracted a lot of young gamers who want to dip their toes into getting dominated. It’s completely safe to submit to someone in an Animal Crossing game – if you don’t like it, you can log off at any moment.”

Dating goes fully digital

Finding a venue for a date can be stressful, and perhaps doubly so during lockdown. But New York-based social media manager Christine Davitt found when connecting with a partner she met on Tinder, Animal Crossing was the perfect low-pressure place to get to know one another.

Davitt said she and her partner had been chatting for hours on Houseparty and other video chat apps when she asked them on a date on Animal Crossing. Despite connecting on other platforms previously, the couple considers it to be their first date.



Christine Davitt, right, and her partner on their first date, which occurred on Animal Crossing. Photograph: Animal Crossing

“It felt liberating to be able to ‘sit’ on a bench together gazing at the moon, to ‘run’ around after each other and chase butterflies, to go ‘fishing’ together behind their house,” she said. “It just felt more real.”

Davitt is not alone – a number of people have been using the platform for dates, one couple used it as a wedding venue, and another user tweeted an Animal Crossing proposal last week.

Now one month after their first date, Davitt and her partner are quarantined together – in real life. They still play Animal Crossing together every day, but now side by side.

Talk show takes to Nintendo

Screenwriter Gary Whitta had been playing Animal Crossing with his wife and daughter for weeks when he decided to recreate a late night talk show set in his game universe.

Whitta set up a desk next to a couch and added a drum set for a live “band”. Now the project, which started as a pretend talk show set in a video game, is attracting real celebrity guests.

Last week he interviewed actress Felicia Day and previously he hosted a live concert with musician Raquel Lily, which 12,000 viewers watched on Twitch, where he streams his shows. He makes the show with the help of his wife Lea Whitta and the show’s video editor Adam Nickerson.



Gary Whitta’s Animal Crossing character sits in the virtual environment he built for his online talk show. Photograph: Animal Crossing

Whitta’s effort to make an in-game talk show comes as actual primetime talk show hosts are being forced to film their own segments at home. “At this point, there’s no difference between what we do and what The Tonight Show does,” Whitta said.

One benefit of Animal Crossing-hosted shows versus the traditional talk show is that guests can participate from anywhere in the world, Whitta said. Recent episodes have hosted guests based in Montpellier, France; New York City; and Canada. Whitta is based in San Francisco.

“Video games are starting to transcend the concept of video games as we understand them,” he said. “They are becoming a part of this idea of the metaverse where they evolve into a place where people go to hang out.”

Gary Whitta
(@garywhitta)

#AnimalTalking keeps evolving and the latest evolution is a new high-fidelity version of our theme music provided by its composer and lead saxophonist, the amazing Kenny Fong, and a HYPE intro by our new announcer, the inimitable @SnowBikeMike! I love it. #AnimalCrossing #ACNH pic.twitter.com/28ubGBpnfm


May 4, 2020

Whitta said the popularity of his show and Animal Crossing in general underscores the need for shared community during the ongoing global crisis – whether in person or online.

“I really think Animal Crossing has come into everyone’s life at exactly the right time,” he said. “Everyone is locked in their houses and looking for some kind of escape or a distraction, and Animal Crossing is a game that allows you to escape to this beautiful tropical island paradise where everyone is your friend – it is just the tonic everyone needs right now.”




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