When you’re queer, you most likely know the feeling of not feeling like you belong in a space, not having a space of your own. It’s because we’re outliers in a world that caters to the heteronormative. We often must carve out our own spaces and claim our own families, places we belong and people we belong with. Even as we’re intimately familiar with not belonging, we still yearn for it, which is why the prospect of Animal Crossing is so attractive to queer people: It lets us carve out a space for us to belong, and lets us bring who values us along for the ride.
In Animal Crossing, you’re given a plot of land to make a home in, and encouraged to make it your own. You can build a house, decorate it, go fishing, catch bugs, talk to your neighbors, or whatever else tickles your fancy. The fact that you’re given so much agency as a player is already incredibly refreshing if you’re a queer person. After all, the limits society put on us make us feel like we can’t be who we truly are at any given time or do what we want, so giving us a game where those limits are obliterated already resonates with the queer community.
It’s thanks to the fact that the game ultimately doesn’t have a true win state, or even firms goals the game tells you that you need to prioritize. It communicates how to do certain things and what’s required to execute them, but other than that, Animal Crossing is what you make of it. Even the latest entry, New Horizons, gives you free rein to do whatever you want while giving you small and bigger goals that, rather than giving you traditional progression, serve as a tutorial for how everything works, letting you choose what you want to interact with in the game. This leads to players treating the island that they’re given as a sort of home away from home, one you’re in complete control of with no pressure to do any one thing.
The openness of Animal Crossing is appealing to the queer community, but it’s because the act of playing the game is so tied to a space that really drives home the point that yes, you can carve out a space in the clay that Animal Crossing provides and really make it your own. You can decorate your house however you want, plant flowers, dress your character up, change your look, and even contribute to a museum that you can visit. Everything you do in Animal Crossing has an impact, and none of it matters in the traditional video game sense. What you do in the game gives it meaning, not what the game tells you has meaning. There’s power in that that a lot of queer people need.
But it would mean less if it wasn’t for Animal Crossing’s multiplayer engendering a sense of community amongst players. The ability to let your friends come to your island and explore is such a huge part of the New Horizons experience. It lets you share a piece of yourself with those you care about most. And the comradery felt while playing the game cannot be overstated, as you’ll find so many people willing to give you some fruit that you’re missing, some iron you need, or just give you a nice gift they made. Sure, you can get the odd person who just wants to destroy everything in your space, but thanks to the ability to curate who you trust most with the most destructive tools people can use, that’s hardly ever a worry. What your Animal Crossing community becomes is a space wholly your own, with a family hand picked by you. In other words, it’s exactly what so many queer people are missing in their lives.
That Animal Crossing revolves around just taking a space and making it your own, no questions asked, means that it can be an escape for queer folk. In a world that wants to marginalize us, virtual spaces like this are so important, places where we have as much agency as possible. Animal Crossing is perhaps the ultimate form of giving you agency in a space, but with one important distinction that separates it from the Minecrafts of the world: It’s premise is that it’s your home away from home, and it wants you to make it yours. And when you’re queer, anything you can make yours is beautiful and necessary.