This article, originally posted on March 20, 2020, has been republished to amplify black voices in GameSpot’s support of Black Lives Matter. Donate to the effort to fight systemic racism here.
I’m happy that Animal Crossing: New Horizons includes the option to play as a black character. I’m overjoyed the game actually gives you a decent option when it comes to giving your character a traditionally black hairstyle.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not really angry anymore whenever I see a video game character creator think that good diversity is making sure to include options for an afro or cornrows. I’m just tired of yelling about it.
All of which isn’t to say that black people don’t have those hairstyles–we do. We just happen to wear our hair in a lot more than that. And frankly, when all you’ve included in terms of diversity is an afro or cornrows, you’re feeding into long-running video game stereotypes. Go ahead, take a look back at video games before 2010. See just how many games don’t use afros to market a black character as a goofy jokester or cornrows to help label a black character as dangerous.
Or, my absolute favorite, when they are too lazy to try to do black hair at all and just make the character bald or something. Oh yeah, I just love to see that. 🙃
Regardless, my point is that it’s rare for a developer to give a black video game character non-stereotypical hair. It’s even less likely you’ll get a non-stereotypical option in a game where you’re creating your own character. So when Kallie first got back from an Animal Crossing: New Horizons preview event back in February and told me that Nintendo had actually gone ahead and put some good black hair options into the latest iteration of my favorite social simulation franchise, I didn’t really believe her.
Sorry, Kallie, if you’re reading this–like, I was happy about it (I was!), but in that way where I’m not super hopeful because I assume I’m ultimately going to be disappointed again because, ya know, video games don’t exactly have a winning track record when it comes to black representation.
Anyway, she sent me pictures of what she was talking about the very next day and I subsequently almost cried with joy at my desk.
Now, it’s a month later and I’m flipping through all the hair options for myself and I’m just so goddamn happy. Afro twists y’all. They gave us the option to twist our hair.
It’s a small gesture, I know, but it means a lot to me. Between Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Pokemon Sword and Shield (which also has a few fabulous black hairstyle options), Nintendo’s major franchises seem to be making a concentrated effort to help people who look like me feel more included.
Like, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the previous Animal Crossing games–my younger sister and I sunk an uncomfortable amount of hours into the original GameCube one when we were younger–but it also always irked me just a little that I had to play as someone who was white. Who does it affect to give me the option to play as someone who’s black? It doesn’t actually change anything about Animal Crossing’s gameplay loop to make my character look like me. C’mon early 2000s Nintendo, help me imagine that the me inside the game is actually me. Today’s Nintendo knows what’s up.
Again, this is small, but it is important. Providing the option for brown skin is only a part of diversity. Not everyone has straight hair. Sometimes it’s aggressively curly and so it needs to be styled in a unique way because you cannot leave it to its own devices. Those unique ways extend beyond afros, cornrows, dreads, and buzzcuts. And even if you do style it in the exact way you would straight hair, it’s going to turn out different–curly and straight do not look the same.
The way I see it, some black kid is going to pick up New Horizons as their first Animal Crossing game and the inclusion of a hairstyle that more closely resembles theirs is going to make their world. It has certainly made mine, and helped me fall in love with New Horizons before I even step foot on the island and sell my soul to Tom.
Still on the fence about whether to pick up New Horizons? Why? It’s a great Nintendo Switch game–especially if you’re under social quarantine and looking for something to play, whether on your own or with friends. In GameSpot’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons review in progress, Kallie Plagge writes, “I’ve crafted tons of furniture, upgraded my house seven times, picked thousands of weeds, and done far too many drastic outfit changes. I’m as excited to see what random events await me each morning as I am to decorate my island and make it my own, and that’s sure to keep me coming back for the foreseeable future.”
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