SMT-V 9.4, “Variations on a Theme by K. K. Slider: Memory and Play in Animal Crossing: New Horizons” by Nathaniel Mitchell, is now available at SMT-V.org.
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020), players socialize, build, and explore an infectiously cartoony island community against a backdrop of equally infectious music. This backdrop consists of continuously looping tracks that change every hour, on the hour; producing a daily cycle of 24 compositions bound together through motivic cross-reference. In this video, I analyze the sonic materials of New Horizons’s hourly cycle against the compositional ethic of its music team, who “strove to create music that allows the listener’s own emotions and imagination to fill in the space between the sounds” (Ginsberg 2020). Motivic and topical references, I argue, act as triggers for space filling, inviting players to mentally link the sounds they are currently hearing to a network of meaning-laden memories. The musical cycle thereby becomes an open-ended musical sandbox, presenting players with a wealth of sonic materials to build into rich experiences.