2020 has been a tricky year for the people of Victoria, who faced the unique challenge of one of the hardest lockdowns in the world to stop the spread of COVID-19 through their home.
Normally at this time of year, the city would be a abuzz with artistic activity as part of the Melbourne Fringe , but not everything is back to normal yet and the hundreds of events that would be entertaining, challenging and delighting audiences still mostly aren’t possible.
For performance artist Creatrix Tiara who was unable to perform on stage this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, a safe alternative performance space appeared in their hands, Animal Crossing New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.
Throughout this year as we kept safe inside millions of players around the world found solace in the calm creative islands built within Animal Crossing New Horizons, a multiplayer sandbox game for the Nintendo Switch that has broken sales records around the world.
“So I first got into Animal Crossing: New Horizons after mandatory quarantine in March due to travel, I couldn't leave my front door and saw all my friends & other people make all kinds of social and creative projects on ACNH and wanted to join in!” said Tiara.
“The first thing I bought after I was done with quarantine was a Nintendo Switch Lite and a copy of ACNH. After some time playing the game, I wondered if it was possible to at least do a show in Animal Crossing - I've been involved in performance art for over a decade & so many of us weren't able to perform on stage anymore due to COVID-19, so I thought this might be a good option.”
An official part of Melbourne Fringe, ACNH Fringe will play host to live readings, musical, cabaret and cosplay performances, interviews and talks streamed live on Twitch by musician and performer Maize Wallin inside a bespoke festival island built for the event.
The event includes a conversation with Taneisha Bracken-Hucks who successfully petitioned Nintendo to include more hair style options for player characters in New Horizons, that were more representative of Black players.
“We have been doing warm up streams in anticipation… scaling the stream complexity. Starting with just a couple overlays in OBS, then slowly making little set ups and nested scenes, so that I can keep track of guest artists. Now I even put a chatbot in the stream. I think I've been careful to pace myself, and not make things too complicated,” says Wallin.
“But still, it is all live, so there's only so much control you can hope to hold onto. Things go wrong all the time, you can't care too much. As we say - ‘panic is futile’”
Tiara says they hope that this video game version of Melbourne Fringe introduces new people to the experience of online events hosted in video games and encourages some more cross collaboration.
“It's all a big experiment really - can we make a virtual performance and arts venue out of a video game? I've always wished that the arts and digital worlds would better interact and collaborate with each other, and the lockdowns forcing everyone to rethink their creative practice makes projects like these an opportunity worth pursuing,” said Tiara.
“I'd love to see this be the start of more explorations into video games as artistic hubs - especially for artists that may not have felt like they were "gamer" enough or games people that may not have engaged with the arts previously”
The twelve hour live stream of ACNH Fringe starts at 10:00AM AEDT on Saturday November 28th on twitch.tv/acnh_fringe or you can head to the island right now using the Dream Address: DA-6428-7662-0260 on your copy of Animal Crossing.