For context, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a life simulation game for the 3DS and was developed and published by Nintendo – in the game, the player takes the role of the mayor of a town that is populated by animals. It is the fourth main title for the Animal Crossing series, and was first released in Japan in November 2012, and was later released in Australia, Europe, and the U.S. in June 2013. It revived positive reviews from game critics – but I want to talk about how gender expression is explored in Animal Crossing (New Leaf specifically), and how the LGBTQ+ community is represented.
In Animal Crossing for the 3DS, all clothing items are gender neutral, and the player can wear any outfit regardless of the gender they choose at the start of the game – in addition, after enough visit to Shampoodle (the local hair salon), the player can choose to have any hair style regardless of gender. However, you still have to choose a character based on the binary genders (male and female) – but overall, the Animal Crossing games have been generally be quite progressive regarding gender compared to other franchise. Personally, this feature thrills me because in a game that in a game that emphasizes customizability – and so by allowing the player to wear clothing of the opposite binary gender, it allows for the player can have a sense of how they would like to express their gender.
Furthermore, the players body is neutral as well (no real secondary sex characteristics unless you count eyelashes — and some of the male eyes have eyelashes too). This means that the distinction between the male and female player option can be blurred, which can create some androgynous looking characters. But unfortunately, the speech bubbles are either pink or blue based on which gender the NCPs (non playable characters) are (excluding some characters at this) – So close! However, its just that nice having more gender expression options are aviable, so its a step in a right direction.
In terms of LGBTQ+ representation in the game, here is a list of the list of all the LGBTQ+ characters that are in the game:
- Saharah: A recurring camel character that specializes in providing with the character with rare walls and floors. However, in the Japanese version, she is called “Ronald”, and is identified as male by the official Japanese website. She talks in a typically feminine and refers to herself using feminine pronouns – but like Gracie, in the English version of the game, Saharah is female with no mention of previous male name or gender identity – and again, like Gracie, some fans have speculated that she could be a transgender woman.
- Gracie: A recurring giraffe character who works as a high end fashion designer. Specifically, in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Gracie is given the name “Grace” in the Japanese version, and identifies as a gay man by the official Japanese website. In the Japan version of the game, it notes that, “Oh, and just so you know, Grace is a he!” in the description. However, in the English localisation of the game, and similarly to Saharah (another recurring character), Grace is a female character with no mention of “male” pronouns or a more masculine name – this is a shame However, some fans have mention have read this to mean that she is a trans women in non-Japanese versions of the game, or a very feminine gay man in the Japanese release.
- Isabelle: A new character to the Animal Crossing series, Isabelle is a dog character who is the secretary and personal assistant to the player-character, and assures that the town is running smoothly. She is concerned with the improvement of the quality of life in the town – but she does show affection towards the player. This is shown on Valentines Day, where she is more overt with feelings than usual – so maybe she bi? pan? queer? Who knows.
- Pavé: Is a peacock character who appears in City Folk and New Leaf. He appears during the Festivale event. I mention Pavé because in New Leaf, he has has the voice of a peppy villager, despite being a male character. This could imply that he’s gay -but the the problem with the implication that gay men are stereotypically more feminine (which is fine, but I point it out because it is a stereotype none the less).
Another thing about New Leaf is the flirting – yes, flirting. NPCs may flirt with the player regardless of gender – some fans have observed that smug villagers are more flirtatious than other personality types. However, the smug villager has been been criticized for playing into negative stereotypes, and there is some debate as to whether or not these feeling are romantic or brotherly. Other fans have speculated that some of the villagers have randomized sexualities that determine their flirtatious advances.