IS FASHION ADDRESSING EXPERIENCE AND MEANING IN NEW WAYS?
For the past months, I’ve been obsessing over the gaming world and its implications in the fashion industry. I know, as geek as it gets, right? But bear with me, you might get obsessed with it too.
The pandemic has seen a boom in social simulation games: a species of video game that asks players to control the life of a character inside a simulated world. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become one of the most popular ones during this boom, but there have been other games succeeding out there too, such as the now-iconic The Sims.
The fact that these games are so popular right now is no great surprise for two reasons. First, people had more time on their hands during the lockdown, and numbers for video games of all kinds have been up. Second, there’s something about these games in particular that make them right for the pandemic. Think about it for a second: to play a game is to escape to an alternative reality (escapism – mentioned on #GEENSNACKS Ep 2) where life is governed by predictable and soothing routines in which you cultivate the land, water your garden, go to the beach. And, of course, there’s the social aspect, one that we were missing during the quarantine. These games allow for multiple human players to play simultaneously, meaning some were also using it as a way to hang out with friends without leaving their homes.
But you might still be wondering why – in my opinion – we should be paying attention to these games right now?
The reason is simple and complicated at the same time. I think that in the decades ahead, simulated worlds will become even more than just games. I’m intrigued by how these worlds will become – or maybe they are becoming already? – domains of experience and meaning.
Right now, everything revolves about providing an experience to our consumers. Well, these games allow each player to create their own experience; however, they want it to be. You are not just playing, but you’re designing an experience for yourself and other people, too, as it’s all community-based.
They also might help players find meaning, as this will become harder than ever before in the decades ahead as a result of the automatization of nearly everything around us. I’m fascinated by how these alternative worlds might help us find at least a share of it.
What about fashion?
The ability to create custom clothing for avatars has turned the latest Animal Crossing: New Horizons into the fashion enthusiasts favorite, and it’s having a moment. Quarantined players who were not in the mood to buy clothes for themselves, jumped at the chance to pimp their in-game representations in designer labels, which they create by importing images or designing them pixel by pixel.
You might think: “Ok, but virtual products have been popular in the gaming world for a while, though.” Yes, it’s true. But now they are becoming more popular than ever before. Players of games like League of Legends and Overwatch gladly drop extra cash on “skins” – outfits and accessories for their digital representations. Epic Games Fortnite, the wildly popular online game that has over 250 million global users, reportedly earns $300 million a month selling skins. And brands are smartly using these platforms to launch new products. Nike, for example, debuted two skins for Epic Games Fortnite that featured Air Jordan 1 sneakers only available to be worn in the game.
Brands like Marc Jacobs, Valentino, and Sandy Liang were among the pioneers to experiment with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. These experimentations included fashion shows and the offering of custom virtual looks. Any of the estimated 11 million people worldwide who play the game can dress their virtual persona in these labels for free.
These high-profile designer collabs are an example of how the fashion industry is being disrupted by the pandemic. Brands are casting a wider net of creatives who can produce innovative digital projects that resonate online. Platforms like Animal Crossing, in a way, offer the chance for designers to showcase new clothes and ideas as and when they want, without adhering to any schedule and assuming the risks a second wave and lockdown could present to their investment in producing IRL experiences. Of course, I’m aware that these presentations are far from what an in-person fashion show represents and feels like, but I know this is just the beginning fort these platforms’ relationship with fashion.
But why is it that ‘Animal Crossing’ is trending in fashion circles?
From gaming platforms, it’s just a small step to connect with social media platforms, another virtual world where people spend an ever-growing share of their time. Animal Crossing is currently at the center of an online hype because it allows players to share screenshots from the game on social media (including their customized looks) — something which has turned Instagram accounts like @NookStreetMarket, @CrossingTheRunway, and @AnimalCrossingFashionArchive into rising social-media stars.
The ability to customize characters and interior design is one of the reasons why the game is so prevalent in fashion circles. Players enjoy expressing their tastes and individuality – just like IRL. The ability to share those personal choices offers a point for users to connect (connection is a basic human need and something we’ve been craving during these ‘rona time) and showcase their style. Probably Animal Crossing’s cult social media networks were part of the game plan all along!
So you might be wondering, “what should I see here?”
We know that mobile gaming and social media platforms have been surging in popularity in the last months due to the government confining people to their homes because of the coronavirus outbreak. But let’s see beyond this!
Remember that on #GEEKSNACKS Ep 3, I explained the most crucial underlying truth when it comes to trends? That is that all meaningful trends have their basis in a fundamental human need or want. During the past months, it felt like everyone was trying to make sense of what our combined future might look like post-COVID-19. And, while doing so, people often got hung up on the change they saw around them – typically a brand new technology emerging on the West Coast such as AI innovations.
But, when thinking about emerging trends that will reshape our lives in the future, an ever-changing world only represents a share of the picture. If we think about new technologies in isolation, those will represent little about our shared future, how it will feel like or how it will operate. What we need to do to understand better what’s next is: to look at new technologies or innovations, like Animal Crossing: New Horizons fashion moment, through the lens of fundamental human needs.
People are always moved by a set of core human needs – think connection, security, convenience, and others – that at their most fundamental are met and stable over time. Unlike the world around us, that it’s in constant change, they don’t change. The magic happens when new technologies reveal new ways to serve those fundamental human needs. That’s when meaningful and lasting new trends emerge!
When new technologies and a cluster of fundamental human needs collide, a fruitful space for the emergence of new trends is created. We are seeing how virtual fashion shows, virtual showrooms, launching collections in video games, and dressing our virtual representations in designer clothes are practices now emerging into the mainstream. And it’s clear, as the technology thinker Benedict Evans has observed, that when it comes to many trends, the lockdown has been a period of extensive, forced experimentation.
It’s easy for the fashion industry sometimes to dismiss these ideas as they feel too Black Mirror, as bizarre, fictional. But, my dear fashion industry, don’t forget that when an emerging technology unlocks new ways to serve fundamental human needs, it’s always worth paying attention. So please keep your eyes, and your mind open while we try to make sense of how our combined future may look like!