One woman’s quest to make Animal Crossing better for Black players

Genevieve Poblano/Digital Trends Graphic

In Nintendo’s 2020 smash Switch success, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you can customize your own tropical island to your heart’s content, attend gigs played by a famous rockstar dog, and catch hammerhead sharks using a flimsy twig fishing rod. One thing you absolutely can’t do, though, is have curly hair.

Twenty-six-year-old animal shelter worker Taniesha Bracken-Hucks had enough of this one evening, as she was playing on her island, the rose-tinted paradise, PinkyLand.

“I was on my couch playing Animal Crossing, and thinking about how much more fun it would be if my avatar looked more like me,” the Denver resident told Digital Trends. She snapped a photo of her villager on her phone and doodled some curly hair on her, “I was so much happier with how she looked and wanted to share that feeling.”

Bracken-Hucks posted the picture of her better likeness on Facebook, edited to include naturally curly Black hair. Shortly thereafter, it went viral. “I was so shocked when my Facebook post started getting thousands of likes,” she said. “People kept commenting asking for a petition, so I started one. I had no idea it would get this big.”

Taniesha Bracken-Hucks

The petition, “Create more inclusive hairstyles for Animal Crossing” took off immediately, earning more than 15,000 signatures in less than three days. Now, the petition has surpassed 30,000 and has nearly hit its goal of having 35,000 gamers lend their names to the cause for Nintendo to add curly hair options to the game.

The petition asks developer Nintendo for more inclusive hair choices for in-game avatars, which can currently be customized in hundreds of creative ways — but not with beautiful, bouncy curls. “Every person should feel represented when playing a game they love and making their avatar. Ethnic hairstyles are often forgotten,” Bracken-Hucks wrote on the petition’s page. “In light of what is happening in America concerning Black rights, it would be amazing to have gamers of all races represented on all gaming platforms.”

As Bracken-Hucks explained to Digital Trends, “An entire hair type has been left out in a game with such a diverse community. My hope is to make everyone feel represented,”

Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold 5 million digital copies in its first month of release, more than any game in history — a huge number for any franchise, let alone one that is a Switch-exclusive, and at that, a lesser household name than Nintendo’s other properties, like Super Mario and Pokémon.

As isolation suddenly became the norm across the globe, the charming sim has provided perfect escapism: A literal island getaway offering comfort and socialization in a real world often lacking in both.

Considering that Animal Crossing delivers regular updates to the game, new hair options should be a no-brainer addition. Nintendo officially published its desire to be inclusive. In June, in a post in support of Black Lives Matter on the official Nintendo America Twitter account, the company stated, “We are committed to fostering equity, inclusion and diversity in all aspects of our business and the work we do.”

“I think Nintendo has come a long way in racial inclusion,” reflects Bracken-Hucks, on the fact that this is the first game in the long-running franchise, launched on Gamecube in 2001, where players have been able to select their skin tone. “Creating a few more hairstyles for different hair types could show that Nintendo accepts Black lives as they are, not as society sees them.”

Nintendo has been approached for comment on the petition’s proposed hairstyle update.

Hair is something Bracken-Hucks has always had no choice to be aware of. “Black hair has always been viewed as ‘unprofessional’, ‘ghetto’, and ‘unkept’. All my life I have been taught to straighten my hair to make it more presentable,” Bracken-Hucks said, “When I started college, I went on a hair journey to embrace, accept, and love my natural hair. This is the hair I was born with.”

“Millions of black people feel like they need to change the way they look to make others feel more comfortable about their bias. This is the way we were born, and we are beautiful as we are,” she adds.

For Bracken-Hucks, seeing her hair type represented in the game would mean acceptance: “Acceptance for who I am and who millions of Animal Crossing players are,” she says.

“I love the idea of a kid playing this game and getting to choose a hairstyle that looks like theirs, knowing it is OK to be who they are.”

At the rate the petition is progressing, it is likely to hit its signature target soon. But will Nintendo put the demands into action? Change.org is home to hundreds of Nintendo-specific video game petitions: a recent Animal Crossing one, to fix a typo in the menu of the game, also garnered more than 30,000 signatures. That one was quietly fixed with an update by Nintendo, without an official response. While they didn’t comment, it shows that the company might well be watching fans requests on the petition site.

This past weekend, the game’s latest update hit player’s islands: we can now dream, visiting fantasy islands via a new character, Luna, who you can meet when you’re tucked up in bed. The new function allows you to wander around islands created across the world – including PinkyLand (Dream Address: DA-0292-4918-9262).

The latest update also brings much-anticipated cloud saves and island recovery options to the game, a big undertaking which players have been calling for since launch. Though presumably easier to develop, a hair update was nowhere to be seen. But, given their petition history, and the fact that it’s been made aware of fans’ demand by Digital Trends, it seems likely that Nintendo already knows about players’ calls for the added inclusivity.

Until an update appears, it’ll remain in our wildest dreams. But not in our Animal Crossing ones, yet. Luna…?

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