Behind the Rainbow Screen – Animal Crossing: New Leaf

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a judgment-free zone encouraging self-expression that blurs gender lines.

The Animal Crossing series has always been about self expression. As the game has evolved from Gamecube to DS to Wii and now to 3DS, the methods of self expression have also evolved.

New Leaf is the subtitle given to the 3DS version, and, from what little I’ve seen, it’s quite a step beyond the Wii version in terms of what you can do. You can buy fortune cookies with humorous, often Nintendo-related, fortunes. As Mayor you have more control over your town. For the first time, you can customize your house beyond just the roof color. You spend the entire game staring at your own endlessly happy little avatar, and the customization options have exploded: you can change your pants, socks, shoes, and over accessorize yourself until you look an Olsen twin. Or both Olsen twins.

As Nintendo takes its own small steps toward the online environment, they encourage players to connect to the Nintendo network to download a new item each month. June’s item is the Rainbow Screen.

Rainbow Screen

That’s me behind the screen, in my teeny tiny butterfly-wallpapered house.

There’s not much of a screen to it. A screen implies something to hide behind. This is a transparent rainbow arching between two fluffy clouds.

June is also Gay Pride Month.

This is more than just coincidence, or Nintendo throwing a rainbow-shaped gay bone to its audience. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a judgment-free zone encouraging self-expression that blurs gender lines.

Although your character’s gender is decided by whether you think you’re “cool” (male) or “cute” (female), it stops there. All that does, along with a few other questions, is determine your character’s facial type.

With the current expansion of clothing customization options comes more than just jeans and sneakers. Characters can also wear dresses. (I admit that I cannot remember if dresses were an option in Animal Crossing: City Folk, or if that game still just relied on patterns. However, I do believe it would give you the option to take on a hairstyle normally reserved for the opposite gender.)

The Able Sisters – Mabel, Sable, and Labelle – run the combination clothing and accessory shop on Main Street. Each day they rotate the clothing your character can wear. It can range from the costumey – an Egyptian pharaoh’s robe, a motorcross helmet, viking horns – to the practical – stonewashed jeans, a plaid shirt, wire-frame glasses.

Your character can purchase any item clothing he wishes. Want to try on a dress? Go right ahead. Mabel even encourages it, even if she is a little older and clearly unaccustomed to cross-dressing customers. With the ridiculous costumes she sells, she should be used to a flamboyant queen or two shopping there by this point.

Yodel Dress

My eyes are closed because I’m embarrassed to be seen in Heidi’s hand-me-down dress. Yodel-a-he-hoo.

I have yet to mail dresses to some of my male townsfolk and see if they’ll wear them around town. If I can get Peewee – a butch gorilla – into a micro-mini dress, my life will be complete.

It didn’t click with me how much Animal Crossing is doing to not just ignore the issue of gender expression, but to encourage it, until a conversation I had with Kitty, my neighbor, who is a cat.

Each animal folk has their own personality. Although there are potential hundreds of animals, their personalities are not exactly unique. There are a handful of set personality types – the butch, the athletic, the grumpy, the cute, the cheerful, the scatterbrained, the elderly – and they are assigned to animals, enough that each animal in your town appears to have their own personality. Most animals are more creatively named than Kitty, and many are disturbingly named after a product that would be made from the animal were they to be slaughtered and processed. I’ve encountered a brash hog named Rasher, a duck named Pate, and a horse named Elmer.

Anyway, I expected Kitty to be the snobby type. There is often one in the town, usually a cat, done up in fancy makeup and expensive-looking clothes, and preoccupied with designer labels, frou-frou furniture, and maintaining a classy appearance.

I haven’t yet drawn a bead on Kitty’s personality. She isn’t snobby. She’s amiable. Middle of the line. Nothing struck me as memorable about her until she asked me the question: “Do you wear makeup?”

I had two options, which I don’t remember exactly, but were along the lines of “Yes, sometimes” and “No, never.” I chose “yes, sometimes.” Kitty responded, “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s 2013. Boys wear makeup now. I say deal with it.”

Being new to the game, I had forgotten I could take screenshots at any time. Here are Kitty and I enjoyed each other’s company after our chat.

Kitty likes me for me.

Kitty likes me for me.

I’m not sure if any animal will ask this question, or just the “average” one I’ve deemed Kitty to be. I’m also not sure what the response is if you say no.

However, I’m beyond excited with Kitty’s positive response. I picture a young boy playing this game, confiding honestly, and receiving encouragement from a place where they might not expect it, and at a time when they might not get it from anywhere else. “I say deal with it,” indeed. I appreciate that this response comes from the animal with the most middle-of-the-line personality. It isn’t the brassy flashy one that says this, it’s your normal, next-door average Jane, saying, you know what? It’s okay. Go for it. There is nothing wrong with it.

New Leaf, like all Animal Crossings prior, lets you design your own town flag. Do it. Let your flag fly.

If you like my post, please check out this post on how Animal Crossing encourages sharing, and discourages making the accumulation of money and material possessions your main life goal.

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