Animal Crossing: New Horizon's Customization Options Prove Representation Can Be Simple

Animal Crossing: New Horizon's Customization Options Prove Representation Can Be Simple

Sometimes it just comes down to letting people play as themselves.

All video games offer some form of escapism, but for years, the Animal Crossing series' form of escapism has gradually become more enviable. Animal Crossing games let you get a fresh start in fresh town, where you're hooked up with your very own house and a mortgage that's such a pittance, it can be paid off after a few months of picking fruit. Your days are filled with fishing, treasure hunting, and running occasional errands for good friends. Everybody wants to live in Animal Crossing.

Indeed, few game series enjoy an audience as varied as Animal Crossing. Everyone loves it: Adults, kids, men, women, straight people, gay people, trans people, non-binary people. However old we are, whatever we identify as, Tom Nook plays a tune and we all dance behind him.

A recently announced feature for Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch suggests Nintendo understands Animal Crossing means a lot to so many kinds of people. An interview Polygon conducted with the New Horizons team at E3 2019 reveals you can design your Villager pretty much however you want thanks to skin tone customization, gender neutral hairstyles, selectable facial features, and clothing that's not gender-gated. Better still, you can change your Villager's characteristics any time.

"Right from the start, you’ll be able to choose the way you want to look. All the facial parts or hairstyles are all gender-free," New Horizons director Aya Kyogoku tells Polygon. "So you can select from a pool of hairstyles and facial features and then they’re also changeable at any point in the game. So, if you feel like a certain way one day, then you can make that change pretty easily."

Video games still aren't great at representing races and orientations that aren't straight, white, and male, but some developers are trying to do better. Unfortunately, as the recent Cyberpunk 2077 controversy demonstrates, having good intentions doesn't always mean you'll telegraph your message without hurting the minorities you're trying to help.

Developers might be tempted to throw up their arms and say, "Well what can I do if I’m just going to piss someone off?" I think a good start is to make sure you follow New Horizons' lead: Let people play through your game as themselves whenever possible. If a developer goes on-stage at a press conference and talks about how "you" can play through Adventure X, people expect to be able to play as themselves, even if they identify in a way that can't be neatly categorized.

Thanks, I hate it. | Nintendo

Going by Polygon's interview with Kyogoku, New Horizons—a game that's about you and your life on Tom Nook's Hunger Games Island (whoops, that was embargoed information)—actually lets you put yourself the Villager's haunted ragdoll shoes. You can wear your hair however you want. You can set whatever skin tone suits you. You can dress yourself however you want, keeping in mind that Animal Crossing: New Leaf already lets you wear dresses if you play as a boy, and none of your neighbors shame you for it. You can shape your face on the fly instead of having it chiselled into stone by Rover's quiz at the start of the game. And then you can change everything whenever you want, because new days bring on new feelings.

As someone who largely identifies as cis, but still describes her relationship with her gender as "a little distant," there's only so much I'm qualified to say about what games can do to make its LBGTQ+ players feel more welcome. But what I hear from my LBGTQ+ friends is mostly, "I want to see myself in more games." Character customization options that aren't gated behind gender makes a big difference in that regard. Animal Crossing is a game you live in for weeks, months, even years: You'd damn well better have options that make you feel welcome and comfortable, even if you look like a marionette with murder on their mind.

Now we just need customization options that let us live in Animal Crossing as actual animals, and we'll be all set. I want to run around with antlers, Nintendo.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

Animal Crossing New Horizons Release Date, Gameplay, Trailer - Everything We Know

Here's our guide to Animal Crossing New Horizons for the Switch, including the release date, gameplay trailer, and more.

Nintendo Direct Recap: A Deluge of Ports From September 2019 Onward

From Overwatch to Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, here's a recap of all the announcements.

Mr. Resetti Will Be on the Job Hunt in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossings' angriest mole won't be tunneling through your front yard anymore.

We've Learned a Lot About Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Including Why It Was Delayed

Here's what we learned about Animal Crossing: New Horizons from E3.

Half-Life 2 Celebrates its 15th Anniversary Today. Here's Why its Rushed Ending is Now its Biggest Strength

It had an annoying cliffhanger, no doubt. Then, Valve made things worse.

More Opinions

Half-Life 2 Celebrates its 15th Anniversary Today. Here's Why its Rushed Ending is Now its Biggest Strength

It had an annoying cliffhanger, no doubt. Then, Valve made things worse.

Pokemon Sword and Shield's Endgame Has a Heartfelt Sidestory

Catchin' the love alongside the Legendaries.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Has Proof Pokemon Are Our Friends, Not Just Servants

Are you worthy of being a Pokemon's friend? Probably not, but at least Sword and Shield lets you try.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Online Deep Dive: What it's Like to Battle, Trade, and Explore the Vibrant Wild Area

The servers are on, and the players are trickling in. Here's what it's like to interact with them.

More on Switch

"The Biggest Concern with Stadia is That It Might Not Exist"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | As Google streaming service preps for a bare bones launch, Microsoft positions Project xCloud as a compelling alternative

Pokemon Sword and Shield Has Proof Pokemon Are Our Friends, Not Just Servants

Are you worthy of being a Pokemon's friend? Probably not, but at least Sword and Shield lets you try.

NPD: 2019 Is a Record Year for Fighting Game Sales

Still, Modern Warfare dominated October and the year.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Evolutions - New Galar Pokemon Evolutions

This is our guide focusing on the new Pokemon Sword and Shield evolutions, specifically the new Galar-related Pokemon.

Pokemon Sword Sirfetch'd - How to Evolve Farfetch'd Into Sirfetch'd

Here's our guide on how to evolve Farfetch'd into Sirfetch'd in Pokemon Sword.

More Simulation Games

A Massive Stardew Valley Update is Dropping Very Soon

The free 1.4 update is just around the corner for PC players.

Planet Zoo: Is It Coming to Xbox One?

Planet Zoo is out now for PC. But is it coming to Xbox One anytime soon?

Planet Zoo: How to Build Hard Shelters

Some animals will require a Hard Shelter in Planet Zoo. Here’s how to build them using the Terrain tools.

Planet Zoo Animals List

Planet Zoo features a wide array of animals to look after as part of your very own zoo. Here’s a full list.