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  • 作家相片Yuyu Liu

Young adults’ social-emotional engagement with Animal Crossing (Switch)


Overview: Conducted ethnographic research, in-depth interviews, and public discourse analysis to find out users behavioral trends


Researcher: Yunshu Jiang & Yuyu Liu

Research Focus: This research focuses on media practices of young adults aged 19-24 in relation to the video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (hereinafter referred to “AC”), to analyze how their social-emotional engagement is developed through in-game and relevant external social behaviors mainly with the theoretical framework provided by Jenkins’ notion of participatory culture in transmedia practice and cognitive approach which stems from literary studies.

Research Background:

The release of AC, this social life simulation video game produced by Nintendo coincided with social distancing due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and gained overwhelming popularity. This research explores how media practices offer the potential for adolescents during social distancing to maintain social connections and develop social-emotional engagement since they are more sensitive to the isolating influences because of their specific psychological characteristics. This research also contributes to filling the void of research on the relationship between adolescents' social-emotional engagement and video game practices from a participatory and transmedia perspective, especially in the context of social distancing.


We mainly employ ethnographic research, in-depth interviews, and public discourse analysis to analyze young adults’ social behaviors and emotional engagement inside and outside of the game. More specifically, we conducted interviews with adolescent players aged 19-24, and observed transmedia practices of adolescents aged 19-24 and their online communities related to AC.

With regard to public discourse analysis, we studied the news regarding AC , the adolescents’ diary-like public accounts of AC on Instagram, and an AC community with more than 90,000 members on Facebook.


IN-GAME BEHAVIORS “This World is Alive”

The sophisticated world-building in AC encourages young adults’ social-emotional engagements and communications, and thus provides social-emotional support and compensates for the lack of face-to-face social communication during social distancing. AC facilitates the social interaction with the in-game fictional characters, the reinforcement of existing relationships, and the extension of social networking.

“My Island is My Artwork” The high level of customization of AC fosters players’ social-emotional engagement to create in-game individualized content and the implicated self-presentation. The features of customizing personal items and creating art pieces through drawing coloured pixels encourage a participatory game culture and empower players to become co-producers of in-game content. It strengthens players’ emotional attachment to the virtual social events, and motivates players to share and comment.


Transmedia Practices

AC anchors transmedia expression in terms of life writing, remediation, and cultural references, which builds a sense of position and belonging through mutual understanding among players. Players can not merely simulate their offline social life in AC, but also bring the contents created in AC into social activities through various media channels. Therefore, the in-game social life has ongoing two-way interactions and co-constructions with external social activities, thereby enhancing players’ social-emotional engagement.

Community Engagement

AC communities provide adolescent players with affinity spaces and virtual hangout spaces, where they enjoy the pleasure of playing and exchange gameplay information, and further extends the carnivalesque ambiance of play to non-players through identity affirmation. Young adults express their political viewpoints, cultural identities, and other voices through AC creation and share it to their community. By transporting like-minded people with similar concepts and interests together, AC communities facilitate social-emotional support.


Young adults can proactively and comprehensively choose appropriate media platforms to make the best use of the strength of each medium in order to extend their social networks and strengthen social-emotional ties with others. Adolescent players actively participate in content creation and sharing through multiple social media channels, which has generated social interaction and built emotional connections. These findings can contribute useful insights to the process of product development. It helps design teams to understand target users' social-emotional behaviours.

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