Tag Archives: video games


Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

One of the most popular video games of quarantine so far is Nintendo’s latest installment of the Animal Crossing franchise, titled Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). Like its predecessors, ACNH is a slow-paced simulation game where players are moved into a new community and tasked with developing it by cultivating relationships with other residents, stimulating the local economy, and enriching cultural institutions. Unlike previous games, ACNG is set on a deserted island in order for the player to “create [their] own paradise” and “escape” the real world, according to the Nintendo official website.

At the beginning of the game, players must take a plane to their island, during which the player is subject to in-flight entertainment courtesy of Nook Inc. This movie consists of scenic videos and snapshots of other players enjoying their own idealized, fully developed islands, as in Image 1 below. These scenes prepare the player to land in an immaculate, tropical landscape.

A picture containing cake, decorated, table, grass

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Image 1 One of the scenes presented to the player before they arrive on their island. Screenshot from game.

However, when the player starts the game, the island they arrive at is far from paradise. It is overrun with weeds, and the town consists of only a handful of small tents, illustrated in Image 2 below. As it turns out, the player is expected to deplete the island’s natural resources in order to literally build their town from the ground up, all while facing debt at the hands of a Nook Inc. executive, Tom Nook. So much for escaping the real world…

A picture containing cake, birthday, decorated, table

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Image 2 The island as it is visible from the airplane for the first time. Screenshot from game.

The tension between the game’s presentation of an idyllic island in the airplane movie and the reality of the undeveloped island is meant to inspire players to complete the game’s tasks. The game promises that if players follow the orders of Tom Nook, then their islands will be just as beautiful as the photos they viewed prior to landing. By presenting this drastic visual tension at the point when the player’s island is at its least appealing (and thus potentially the point when players might feel discouraged at the prospect of having to clean it up), the game motivates its own playthrough.

Motive in academic writing operates similarly, since it can manifest itself as a tension beckoning the reader to follow along in the author’s reasoning. Like in academic writing, ACNH uses this tension to support its premise or thesis of escapism, since the promise of what could be is ultimately what drives the player to escape to the game again and again (that is, if they ever put it down at all).

If you are struggling to motivate your own writing, consider whether there are any tensions, puzzles, or surprises in your sources which might compel your readers to follow your argument. Think to yourself, “What would Tom Nook do?”

— Leina Thurn ’20

Works Cited

Nintendo. “Animal Crossing™: New Horizons.” Nintendo.com. Accessed May 9, 2020. https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/animal-crossing-new-horizons-switch/.


Structure in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Many if not most video games have maps.  They help orient players to the world of the game, illustrating the scale and extent of the world while pinpointing specific areas of interest to the player, such as important cities or sites, checkpoints, or fast travel options.  Games can have one or many maps or even discoverable maps, which only reveal certain information once the player has progressed far enough in the story or world. Along with orienting the player to the world of the game, maps help to structure gameplay so that players can reach the intended conclusions set forth by their developers. In this way, video game maps function much like the structures of essays, which lead readers through their authors’ arguments to their intended conclusions.

Take the map of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as an example.  The game takes place in the world of ancient Greece at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE, and the player can travel from Kephallonia to Lesbos to Crete as they please.  Compared to traditional games, whose maps are more restrictive to directly guide the player through certain levels (think classic Super Mario Bros.) or along certain paths (as in many Pokemon games), AC: Odyssey’s map is navigable to its players nearly without limit.  So long as they have a horse and a ship, the player can go anywhere on the map.  It is part of a growing trend of expansive, open-world games that seemingly lack a map structure and thus allow players to do whatever they want, whenever they want.  

However, while AC: Odyssey’s map feels endlessly explorable, it still contains an interlocking set of structures through its many different map markers and symbols, which are themselves inherently tied to certain conclusions or questlines.  One set of markers are the “Quest” diamonds, which appear on the map wherever there is a task for the player to complete. These markers encourage the player to move through the map in order that they may gain experience and items while also advancing various storylines of the game.  Another set of markers is the “Location” markers, some of which show places where Spartan or Athenian soldiers may be targeted. Following these markers compels the player to advance the Peloponnesian War, which was the conflict of Spartan and Athenian forces for supremacy of Greece set forth in Thucydides’ famous history.  A final set of major map markers are the “Mercenary” markers, which show the locations of mercenaries who are and are not being paid to pursue the player.  By tracking down mercenaries using these markers, the player can improve their own status as a mercenary in order to become the most feared assassin of the Aegean.

Although Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is an open-world game without any obvious paths or levels, its map still contains an implicit structure. Like in any piece of good writing, this structure allows the player to follow the game’s storyline—its argument—to its logical conclusion, whether they notice it or not.

–Leina Thurn ’20