What the Geology of Animal Crossing Reveals

By Allison Kubo Hutchison

As a scientist principally trained in geology, when I travel I always find myself curious about the geology of the region. I have been doing a lot of traveling and plane flights recently…in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

For those unaware, Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems like a world largely free of the concerns we suffer from today. One spends time digging up fossils, hunting bugs, fishing, and eating fruits. The setting, which this article deals with, is your very own small island around which are many small uninhabited islands. Mystery Islands as they are called in the game appear to be endless and the Dodo pilot Wilbur tells you that after leaving the island the “flight plans are burned”.
The geology mystery islands and your own island paradise reveal a disturbing reality about the world of Animal Crossing. We first must ask where these many islands come from? 

A first guess would be basaltic ocean islands. In the Pacific Ocean alone there are approximately 25,000 small ocean islands. These islands form by the accumulation of basalt from volcanoes in the oceanic crust. They are mainly formed of basalt, a dark volcanic rock. These ocean islands are havens for life and often host high amounts of biodiversity compared to the mainland. Enough biodiversity to attract the scholar owl Blathers to the island, in fact, he follows a prestigious line of natural scientists interested in ocean islands. The biodiversity and the generation of the small islands appear to be a plausible explanation for these islands until you consider fossils.
Being made of basalt which is erupted by seamounts until they breach the surface, ocean islands we see today have very few fossils. Fossils are preserved in layers of sedimentary rocks over many millions of years. The oldest island in the Pacific is only 18 million years old however the oldest fossils, the trilobite, anomalocaris, and Myllokunmingia, date back to the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Ocean island produced by basalt cannot record any history older than their creation and would likely destroy any fossils by volcanism.
This leaves a second interpretation of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a world with many small uninhabited islands NOT volcanic in origin: massive sea-level rise. Extreme (emphasis on extreme) sea-level rise would create small islands from high portions within the continents. These islands would still host fossils and overtime would have high amounts of biodiversity. Many small islands would be within sight as in the game and of many varying sizes.

Extreme runaway climate change may also supply insights about the other pressing questions I ask myself as I shake trees. Why is fruit so valuable? Why does Blathers want to study the island? Why are there talking animals? And why so few humans? Global climate disaster could be the answer to all of these. And although I wanted ACNH to represent an escape from the pressing concerns of our real-world which suffers from climate change, it seems that the truth of ACNH might be our worst nightmare.

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