One of the strongest, most important things to find when one finds themselves an outsider is a found family. When we are left with nobody to rely on, when we find ourselves alone, reaching out for something to anchor us, it is a reprieve when we find that outreached hand, but what if we find that hand in a digital space? What if it’s in a
video game? In a game about society, and living together, and working together for the betterment of everybody? And that outreached hand you found, what if it was a talon, or a paw, or a wing? That’s right, I’m talking about Animal Crossing.
And I desperately needed a game like Animal Crossing, to remind me how significant a community is.
The first time I was attacked for being queer was in 2012. I made the mistake of trying to buy a guy a drink, which led to him getting defensive and angry. I left the bar a few minutes later, and as it turned out, so did he and a couple of his friends. I was tackled to the ground, beaten to the point of a cracked rib, a split lip, bruises up and down my side, and wound up
blocking a knife with the side of my wrist, leaving me with a nasty scar that I can still feel today.
This was in San Jose. This was in the Bay Area. This was in a place that prides itself on, well, pride. This was my hometown, but I knew it was not my home.
Being queer in any of its variations means living between spaces. Some are accepted at home, others are lucky to find safe places in other cities. Many of us are ostracized by society in one way or another, and just as it happens for anybody who finds themselves in a strange, scary place alone from the world they know, those on the fringes often find themselves grouping together to make the fear subside for just one night. That grouping together? It’s natural. It’s survival. It’s a respite from the pain of life, and as somebody who found themselves on the fringes by being beaten up and bleeding in a parking lot stairwell from people who decided that
they took offense to my being queer, I wish I had done it sooner.
Animal Crossing is beloved for its cute and colorful characters, it’s whimsy and fun, and it’s light and bouncy music. It’s no wonder it is beloved by people from all walks of life. I’ve seen grandparents play it, families drawn together over sending letters to one another, and people from across all of the gender spectrum enjoy it. Some like collecting fossils, some like seeing holiday events, some like designing their homes just as they want. However, I like it because it gives me a place to feel free to be me without fear of reprisal.
There is no violence in Animal Crossing, there is no fighting because people are of a different race, gender, creed or sexuality. There’s no fighting at all. It’s a game about being an appreciated and respected member of society, and not because you’re important, but because you are you. Just being yourself is enough for the denizens of your town, and sometimes, that’s all you want in life–to be liked simply for being yourself.
In the real world, I’ve made my peace with the past. I’m proud of who I am, but I’m still hesitant in a crowded environment. Even in a place that feels safe, even with people whom I trust and love, I’m aware that not everybody around me has my best interest in mind, and so I remain ever so slightly vigilant. My guard is up at all times because in this world, in this society,
it has to be.
But it’s not all bad. Year by year, things seem to be getting better, and the acceptance of the family is becoming more commonplace, but finding those close friends, finding a security network on whom you can rely, you can trust, you can love? Finding one’s true family? That’s a challenge that remains with each and every one of us every day.
But at the end of those days, there’s Animal Crossing, and we can escape from the harsh truth — just for a moment — and find solace in knowing that Isabelle and Blathers and Tom Nook appreciate us for being, well, us. It’s a game that allows the player to be a part of a found family. It allows them to feel safe. It allows them a place to call home.