Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ “gender neutral” character creator is not neutral at all. Nintendo’s woke approach of not labeling bodies, but only presenting a binary of them in character creation, is better named gender agnostic. And in a world where transphobia is institutionalized, taught, hegemonic, and electable, gender agnosticism is akin to centrism.
The very first step of this new character creator belies any claim to neutrality. Nintendo makes the rhetorical choice to not explicitly say something about gender, instead relying on representations of binary genders. Pick a “style,” any “style”: a short haired face or a ponytailed face. Employing cultural codes of cisnormativity here, a discourse of gender lets hair speak for Nintendo. It says, in the publishers stead: this is what we think all boys and all girls look like, and there is no one else. So while the dynamic expression of body parts that remains unencumbered by your choice of gender has been praised by most press, this entirely unnecessary step feels like a violent act of erasure as I try to decide which made-up binary body to impose upon myself. While the binary in our world constructs and maintains institutional power (I’d suggest reading chapter one of Gender by Jennifer Germon for more on that), New Horizons’ is entirely useless. I’ve looked at a dozen different videos trying to pick up the bodily differences between the two styles and...I’m not sure there are any. Instead, this screen was included to protect the facade of a gender binary for all the prospective tourists to the deserted island.
I think “my thing” in games writing is turning into writing about gender in games as a gender that is not really present in the discourse (see: this, this, this, and this). There’s a good reason for this: fluidity and androgyny push against the coded intelligibility of a character creator, which is a fancy way of saying that trying to by myself necessitates some friction with norms IRL and in-game. But the real reason, I think, is that there aren’t a lot of trans games writers, and there are fewer nonbinary ones. So when I write this “as a genderfluid person,” it’s important to remember I’m writing as an individual (Autumn) within a fairly unique identity (genderfluid) that’s part of a narrowed identity (nonbinary) within a minority group (transgender) that’s taking up space in a very non-representative field (games writing). I say this to remind myself as much as you, dear reader, not to make group claims based off my commentary. And to remind us that this perspective, though it probably doesn’t apply to you, reveals something about the games we both play.