Amanda had never played a video game in her life until, in the middle of quarantine, one of her loyal fans purchased her a Nintendo Switch Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The 24-year old, who requested to stay anonymous for this story, lives in Houston, and has worked as a stripper and cammer for most of her time in the adult industry. But the pandemic decimated that pipeline; she can’t dance if the clubs are closed. So, like the many other sex workers who’ve been forced to find work in the midst of an unprecedented stoppage, Amanda resurrected her dormant OnlyFans account — a merchant service that allows anyone to sell their homemade sexual content — and established a brand new marketing venture. For $US20 ($28), you can spend 30 minutes on her bustling Animal Crossing island. She describes these transactions as Animal Crossing dates. All are funded by NookMiles and Paypal; catnip for the many men who wish to be in her orbit.
“This wasn’t the type of sex work I ever thought I’d do,” said Amanda. She advertised on Twitter that she was playing Animal Crossing and started hearing from her customers: “’I’ll pay you to play with me.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK!’” says Amanda. “So we either connect through the Nintendo chat, so we can talk and they can see my character, or we get on my cam service site, where you can have a private room. That’s how it started.”
Amanda has quickly found herself flush with cash from her Animal Crossing rendezvouses. She has about six or seven regulars who routinely pay her island’s entrance fee, which has kept her afloat while the rest of Texas remains under a hotly debated semi-lockdown. (Other randoms continue to flit through her Twitter DMs and Discord messages, hoping to score a one-night-only trip to her abode.) But Amanda is a businesswoman at heart; she knows opportunity when she sees it. Earning her keep in real life is one thing, but she’s got neighbours to feed and gardens to grow on her digital residence. So, naturally, the customers who make landfall all leave a tip of either hard-earned bells or other artifacts sourced from Animal Crossing’s vast repository of doodads. With some clever marketing, Amanda is killing two birds with one stone; making rent money, while paying off her Nook debt at the exact same time.
“I get so many rare items,” says Amanda. “I have a lot of star fragments. I have billions of bells in the bank. It’s ridiculous. The hardest part of the game is locating an island with good turnip prices. But these guys will pay my fee, and do all the work of finding an island for me. … I don’t require them to leave a tip, but normal people give each other everything in Animal Crossing. It’s that kind of game, and that kind of environment.”
An Animal Crossing date with Amanda can be horny if you want it to be. If you opt to play with her while she’s on cam, Amanda will dress up in all the unused stripper gear that has been collecting dust since the government clamped down on strip clubs. She will tap away on her Switch Lite in stilettos, if that is the sort of thing that gets you off. But even within that context, Amanda says she finds her Animal Crossing sex work to be a tad more wholesome than her other ventures in the industry. No matter what she’s wearing, the two characters on-screen are dressed in the chibi cub scout uniforms that define Animal Crossing’s harmless way of life. It’s hard to be overwhelmingly sexy, she says, when the two of you are catching bugs and digging up fossils — like the boy and girl in “We’re Going To Be Friends.”
“They can see me, and we’re talking. But they run around my island and water my flowers, and bring gifts,” explains Amanda. “I invite people when I have a special character on my island. Like when Celeste comes to visit. It’s not un-wholesome. But it’s funny, because the visual on my end is me in my stripper wear. … When you’re on an island together, it bonds you no matter what. You’re doing something together. When I’m on cam in a private session, traditionally, that’s when I’m going to get naked. But in Animal Crossing, we’re literally on a date. A date with a tiny person instead of an actual person.”
Amanda tells me she expects to expand her unique union of sex work and gaming. Already, she describes her Animal Crossing hustle as a strange, bootleg version of Twitch — if she invests in the regular Switch model, which can be docked to a TV, perhaps then she could blow up the momentum she’s accumulated into a genuine streaming career. After all, New Horizons is Amanda’s first game ever. Already, more fans are banging on the door, eager to take her on dates to other corners of the eShop.
“Guys are already messaging me saying, ‘I see that you play Animal Crossing, but are you good at Mario Kart?’” she laughs. “I’m like, ‘OK, that’s one way of asking me.’”
But beyond all of the profits, Amanda is one of the many people who’s found a certain amount of refuge and normalcy in video games as the outside world simply refuses to let up. 2020 has not given any of us much room to collect our thoughts, as all of these various vectors of chaos coalesce into one persistent throb of uncertainty. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time better suited for Animal Crossing dates than a grim pandemic, a roiling, misanthropic police state, and a deeply stressful ultimatum waiting for us all in November. The customers wanted virtual sex work; Amanda happily obliged. In the process, she’s become a gamer for life. It’s the little things that push us through the moment.
“You’re not physically there, but it’s nice to see a representation of someone, rather than a picture,” she finishes. “It’s animated, it’s this small little thing that looks like you. It’s nice.”
Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego, currently living in Brooklyn. In addition to Kotaku, he contributes to Vice, PC Gamer, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and Polygon.