Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Animal Crossing usage during the COVID-19 pandemic: A study of players’ socialization and escapism gratifications

Student Researcher(s)

Spencer Bennett (Ph.D Candidate); Adrienne Darrah (Ph.D Candidate); Erika Solis (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Over the last few decades, video games have become a widely popular form of mass media. One of the most popular games of 2020 is Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Released the same time the United States enforced mandatory quarantine regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Animal Crossing flew off the shelves and pushed Nintendo to produce more units of their popular console, the Switch. What made this game so popular? This study explores this question by conducting an online survey of Animal Crossing players in order to measure levels of socialization and escapism gratifications produced by playing the game.

Research Question and Hypothesis

RQ1
For Nintendo Animal Crossing players during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic controlling for gender, age, country of residence during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period, and essential worker status during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period, what is the relationship between in-person social interactions and playing Animal Crossing socialization and escapism gratifications?
H1
Playing Animal Crossing will positively relate to an individual’s socialization and escapism gratifications during the first three months of the COVID-19 quarantine period

Method
A web-based survey with mobile digital device accessibility was constructed in Qualtrics to collect participant data. The survey questionnaire utilized in this study has theoretical underpinnings of uses and gratifications theory and video game effects. The measurement instrument was based on Sherry et al.’s (2006) video game uses and gratifications study questionnaire. Seven-point Likert scales, ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7), allowed participants to express whether they disagreed or agreed with the proposed statements. Questions focused on three periods: the time frame prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the time frame following the quarantine period. The sampled population included 218 participants.

Results
Though there was not a significant relationship between the RQ’s projected independent variable, prior: in-person social-related interactions 2+ week, and its dependent variables, during: social and during: escapism, the independent variable, prior: played, showed a significant relationship with both dependent variables. By applying a multiple regression with a cross construct model utilizing both independent variables, the results of this test for both dependent variables was significant. This confirms that controlling for gender, age, country of residence during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period, and essential worker status during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period, Animal Crossing players during the first three months of the COVID-19 quarantine period had a positive relationship between playing the game and their in-person social interactions prior to the pandemic and their socialization and escapism gratifications gained from playing Animal Crossing during the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period.
Through the dichotomization of the prior: played variable between high and low participant responses, the relationships between the two independent variables and the dependent variables are easily visualized. This visualization indicates that there is a positive relationship between playing Animal Crossing and a respondent’s social interactions of two or more times per week prior to the COVID-19 mandatory quarantine period. Finally, an individual’s social interactions and level of playing Animal Crossing prior to the COVID-19 quarantine period led to a higher level of socialization and escapism gratifications playing the game during the first three months of the COVID-19 quarantine period. 

Conclusion and Discussion
Consistent with previous research, this study found that an individual’s uses and gratifications fulfill their social and psychological needs for media when this media is deemed impactful. Though the results of this study did not fall in line with initial research question expectations, the results of the analysis indicate that an individual’s video game socialization and escapism gratifications are in fact related not only to the individual’s social interactions but also to their previous game play. This is notably true in the face of a hardship, as was imposed on many by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing mandatory quarantine period.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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