Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be proprietary, but it points to a future of open virtual worlds.

The new Animal Crossing is social. It's easy to see who's online and message them directly through the game. You can visit each other's towns over the internet, and you can even send letters to your friends when they're offline.

Traveling to another town in Animal Crossing

As a contributor to decentralized tech, Animal Crossing's online functionality is very interesting to me. Each town is independent, with its own local database, and it broadcasts data about itself to other towns. It also stores data about remote towns, which it updates when events are triggered over the internet.

The internet traffic still goes through Nintendo's servers, which are centralized, but these servers act mainly as relays and could even be replaced. There is no single "source of truth" on the Animal Crossing network; there's only what each town says about itself, and what each other town remembers.

An exception: Mailing letters to offline players is proof Nintendo has some sort of persistent storage. It's the only action I know of that actually works when the other player is offline. I still consider it a relay, it just holds mail in a queue.

Coming from the Fediverse, it's not that different, and it makes me wonder how video games might shape the future of online social networks. The internet often dehumanizes people by hiding our voices and faces, but Animal Crossing's cute characters and expressive controls make it hard to think poorly of another person.

Unlike the Fediverse, Animal Crossing's network is not designed to broadcast a message as far as possible. You can meet friends, and then meet friends of friends. In that way it's actually more similar to Secure Scuttlebutt. Both approaches have pros and cons, but Animal Crossing is more peaceful as a result.

A friend left a drawing in my town. The drawing exists only in my town's save data stored on my physical Switch, but visitors to my town can see it.

The barrier to Animal Crossing is that is costs $60 and requires a $300 console to play. It is also copyrighted by Nintendo, and the source code is withheld.

I believe an open source version of this game could be groundbreaking, especially with online functionality. For better or worse it could become a new style of online communication that people install on all their laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and use to stay connected with friends and family.

Remote player data is stored in my town's save file.

Perhaps if this were to happen, there would be multiple competing Animal Crossing implementations written in C++, Lua, and some obscure language that happens to be the perfect choice.

It might be inevitable, if not scary, that we go deeper and deeper into virtual worlds. We play Animal Crossing to feel a sense of accomplishment, and when real life goals are too hard we turn to Animal Crossing to cope. The game is a fantastic gift, but it's perhaps also a sign we're deprived of basic human needs in society.

A "server room" I built in my house

I am not developing the open source Animal Crossing, but I'd sure play the hell out of it.