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Lorilei Storm, an American who has lived in Ireland for the last decade, has signs supporting Joe Biden all over her front yard – not in front of her Dublin flat, however, but the one surrounding her home in the wildly popular Nintendo game Animal Crossing.
“Campaign signs aren’t as much of a thing in the UK, so I was really excited to find them in the game – I put up as many as I could,” Storm said.
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has introduced four different official yard signs in Animal Crossing, all of which users can download by scanning QR codes through the Nintendo Switch online app.
Animal Crossing has been used for everything from weddings to talk shows and virtual dates as it gained popularity amid global lockdowns due to Covid-19. The addition of campaign material marks a new frontier for the game, and for America’s presidential race.
The banners are the latest attempt by the Biden campaign to make virtual inroads with voters at a time when many traditional campaign events are considered unsafe due to Covid-19.
While Biden has relied heavily on digital outreach this year, Donald Trump continues to hold in-person rallies, insisting doing so is “very safe” and mocking his opponents for “hiding indoors”. For that same reason, Trump will not be using Animal Crossing to get out the vote, said Samantha Zager, a spokeswoman for his campaign.
“This explains everything: Joe Biden thinks he’s campaigning for president of Animal Crossing from his basement,” she said. “The Trump campaign will continue to spend its resources campaigning in the real world with real Americans.”
Animal Crossing does not currently feature any Trump-approved signs, but users can theoretically make their own using customization tools in the app. Nintendo did not respond to request for comment.
Though many players were thrilled to deck out their lawns in Biden signs, others were upset at Nintendo for allowing politics to enter the escapist bubble that is Animal Crossing, Storm said.
“I can totally see where people are coming from and I don’t want to take away from the escapism, but I also respect that some people say these issues are so important they need to cross over to the digital realm,” Storm said.
For others, even Biden supporters, the move felt inauthentic. Eran del Castillo, a 25-year-old Animal Crossing player who has spent more than 350 hours on the game, likened the choice to Hillary Clinton’s infamous line in 2016 encouraging people to “Pokemon-Go-to the polls”, which was mocked as an example of the candidate awkwardly attempting to pander to younger voters.
“I think right now, a lot of young people who play Animal Crossing have a perception of Biden and Harris as candidates that don’t address a lot of platforms young people care about, like student debt or the federal minimum wage,” del Castillo said. “So it felt like, ‘Hey we aren’t going to address these concerns but here is a code to use in Animal Crossing.’”