Gender in gaming has always been binary. You’d pick from a masculine male or a girly female with the muscles and frilly dresses you’d expect from both when viewed with a traditional mindset. It’s a tiresome stereotype and one that doesn’t belong in the 21st century where people are expressing themselves in more diverse ways than ever.
So, it’s wonderful to see Animal Crossing: New Horizons reflect our changing society with its excellent character creator. Boys can wear dresses. Girls can wear suits. You’re not a gender, you’re an experience, and Nintendo is keen to let every player know that from the game’s opening moments. When creating your islander, you don’t choose a sex; you select a style – both of which represent regular gendered appearances.
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But after this, you’re free to dress and present however you please. In previous games such as Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you’d be gendered and arguably mocked for trying anything outside of the norms expected of you. Viewing skirts and dresses as a male character in The Able Sisters’ shop would lead to rude comments from the game’s characters like “you’re experimenting with something unnatural”.
It’s not overtly offensive or anything, but went against the wholesome tone Animal Crossing is all about, especially if it felt like the game wasn’t catering to your chosen identity. Now you’ll find a fitting room inside the establishment which you can use to try on a variety of different outfits across the spectrum. It’s adorable, and undeniably fabulous as you’re free to find a style that suits you. If you’re a guy and think you look stunning in a dress, go for it!
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This embracement of freeform identity permeates the entire game, and it’s a delight. There are no pronouns to speak of, with dialogue and tutorials taking a stance of neutrality that honestly fits Animal Crossing perfectly. It also showcases how needless these restrictions were in the first place, especially in something kids will be flocking to in their millions hoping to express themselves.
I hope that future updates continue to introduce clothing that remains neutral, available to all players no matter how they identity. I can see people coming to terms with their identity booting up New Horizons and smiling as they realise that, even if indirectly, this is an experience that understands them, and wants them to be comfortable with no restrictions. Tom Nook is still a wasteman though, ain’t nothing neutral about him.