RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Stay-at-home orders and the coronavirus have brought the tourism industry to a halt — it’s hard to attract visitors when no one can travel. However, museums and island destinations alike are reaching out to visitors through a well-known digital gaming platform
While virtual tours have become the norm, many attractions have begun using the video game Animal Crossing New Horizons to reach out to guests stuck at home.
In the game, players turn their desert island into a tropical oasis by planting flowers, adding amenities and inviting cute animal villagers to come and live there. Gamers can also invite other players to come and visit their island as well.
Lindsay Benkel, store manager of the Richmond video game store Bits and Pixels, said the game has risen in popularity because of its relaxing nature and how it allows people to socialize.
“There’s a lot of things to do but you personally get to select what you’re doing, which right now when everything is kind of crazy, is really nice to just sit down and be like ‘Oh okay I’m going to water some plants right now,'” she said.
Benkel said that for a long time museums have been giving virtual tours of their museums and Animal Crossing is just the newest platform. For instance, the Monterey Bay Aquarium streams the game through social media and teaches viewers facts about fish in the game — which actually live in our ocean.
Colonial Williamsburg is another museum using the game to engage visitors. Valerie Eppolito, a graphic designer at CW, said Animal Crossing New Horizons dropped right when quarantine orders started and many people in her department were playing it and talking about how it was going at work.
After they saw other museums posting their artwork in the game, Eppolito said they decided to try it out for Colonial Williamsburg as well.
“We thought it was a great cross section between our guests and a population that might not normally reach out to us,” she said.
Jessica Fisher, another graphic designer at Colonial Williamsburg, worked to re-create these pieces in the game. She said depending on how detailed a costume was, it took her one to three hours to make. She said one of the challenges is using a simple grid to try and re-create detailed patterns.
“We’re about to come out with one that’s a beautiful dress with a floral print on it,” Fisher said. “The original has very elegant, delicate, intricate details, and I kind of had to size them up and select certain colors to simplify it.”
Eppolito said they have another post planned for the future with even more codes and outfits.
Sentosa, a resort in Singapore, re-created their destination so people stuck at home can come and visit. They created attractions like the island’s butterfly garden, nature trails, night clubs and hotels.
Christine de Silva, spokeswoman for Sentosa Development Corporation, said it took a creative team 12 days and eight Nintendo Switch devices to get it ready for visitors.
“So it was a lot of hard work,” she said.
In addition to some of the major attractions, the design team wanted to capture the island’s details from the bubble tea stand near the entrance, to a gym room in the hotel.
Benkel, from Bits and Pixils, said these kinds of details allow virtual visitors to get a feel for what the resort is like and help people determine what they’d like to do if they actually visit.
“That’s incredibly useful right now, I’m sure a lot of people are thinking about where they might be able to go once we can all travel again so being able to actually see it in a three-dimensional space … would definitely be enticing and get those wheels turning,” Benkel said.
Silva, from Sentosa, said this Animal Crossing destination isn’t just popular among tourists, but Singaporeans as well. She said many in the country are missing the beach, and this gives them a way to visit it — even if they can’t do so in real life.
“I think everyone has been suffering from inside so long that everyone want to escape to the beach so we’ve had a great response from locals,” Silva said. “As far as I understand it’s currently very difficult to get a slot right now.”
Silva said they haven’t had any issues with people being disruptive on the island, and some have even brought bells, the in-game currency, and gifts to give other players.
“We actually have just complete strangers hanging out with each other getting to know one another,” Silvia said.
Want to play?
You can see all of Colonial Williamsburg’s special QR codes on its website.