Dropping just as most countries started going into serious lockdown, Animal Crossing: New Horizons could not have come out a better time. The franchise’s latest version, made available for Nintendo Switch players worldwide on March 20th, quickly became a quarantine favorite as players around the world traded in visiting their friends in real life for visiting each others’ islands. The idyllic vibes, amplified by a light, soothing soundtrack and family-friendly animation, served as the perfect escape for existential dread.
But as quarantine becomes the new norm, we can’t just escape reality anymore. And even Animal Crossing knows it.
As the mass uprisings against police brutality began in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Animal Crossing fans who could not physically join protests found ways to support the movement through the game. Players painted “Black Lives Matter” signs to spread across their islands, and even held virtual protests with other players.
Fanpages such “Animal Crossing struggles” on Twitter halted all game-related content for two weeks to amplify Black voices and organizations, and has continued to intersperse protest and donation information after resuming its usual content flow. Accounts like animarx.crossing on Instagram, which usually focuses on humorous commentary on capitalism through screencaps from the game, have also switched up their focus and created Black Lives Matter resources highlights on their profiles.
As the game likes to remind us, though, money speaks the loudest – Animal Crossing is definitely a great example of the predatory nature of capitalism, to be discussed at another point. As protest discussions and conversations about Black Lives Matter and abolishing the police started picking up steam in Animal Crossing fandoms, this was a lesson the popular “Nookazon” fan shop learned the hard way. Nookazon, the largest player-driven marketplace for items in the game, faced strong backlash for banning posts with “BLM” or “ACAB” (“All Cops Are Bastards”) from its central Discord server. While the site later apologized and issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, players have left the group en masse for other sites, like nook.market. The site, which made their support for Black liberation clear from the start, continues to have a banner at the top of their homepage calling for donations to community organizations.
This isn’t actually the first time that players have used the game to get political – Animal Crossing was actually removed from Nintendo’s e-Store in China in April, after Hong Kong protesters started using the custom design and artwork features to bring their democracy protests in-game. It’s another example of the ingenious ways organizers have adapted to keep their movements going in the middle of the pandemic.
It’s also not terribly surprising. At the end of the day, part of Animal Crossing’s appeal is the fact that it’s meant to be as inclusive as possible. There are virtually no social rules in Animal Crossing, except looking out for your neighbor. The game’s completely customizable elements make it a haven for self-expression, to the fullest degree.
If you can’t be yourself in Animal Crossing, where can you be?
Alas, the Animal Crossing fandom is likely not going to end up dramatically radicalizing most of its community members – as much as I wish it were the case, you can’t just gather resources to craft an anti-racist at your DIY bench. That said, movements are most sustainable when we start to ingrain their practices and principles into the little things in our everyday lives. So whether that’s setting up recurring donations to your local mutual aid and bail funds, switching up your fitness gear purchases to support Black designers, diversifying your Spotify playlists, or yes, even just engaging in conversations about systemic racism in an Animal Crossing Discord server, keep up the momentum, and don’t forget that even on your fantasy island, Black lives matter.