Animal Crossing: New Horizons islands are exploding in a flurry of rainbows this month, as players celebrate Pride at home. Flags have been plastered on poles, noticeboards, and the ground itself. Villagers have been running around professing trans rights. Strategically bred and planted flowers are new expressions of celebration.
The dozens of customization options have all contributed in creative ways to Pride sweeping the game at the moment. The series has always allowed for expression (given New Leaf still has a bustling community, it’s no surprise people are using it to celebrate too), but New Horizons’ suite of easy editing and sharing tools have made it truly blow up this year. The flood of custom content is so popular that there are whole Twitter accounts dedicated to collecting and boosting all the clothes, flags, and other patterns.
It helps, as player Shayna Moon points out, that New Horizons made some steps towards making queer players feel accepted in the first place. “It’s so wonderful getting to see everyone play around with different gender expressions with the many clothing options,” she said. And of course, there are the villagers that everyone just knows are gay, like Marshall.
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Flowerbed flags are my favorite phenomenon. Though I’m biased by my own attempt. But most aren’t stopping at just one way of showing off their queer pride. One player, BiFuriousa, first told me they were making a flowery bi flag, but later told me they’d ended up with “a new rainbow flower arrangement…stalls with custom designs…my flag is a rainbow and I was so pleased the day a shirt in bi flag colors was in my shop. I’m giving villagers greetings like ‘happy pride’ too.”
People would likely have shaken up their islands this month regardless, but the lack of physical LGBTQ+ Pride events (and even gatherings between queer friends) has made New Horizons practically the go-to place for celebration. “I think it’s filling in a kind of ‘build your own visibility’ instinct for me,” BiFuriousa explained. “There’s something really healing about being seen and known, so I bring that with me to the game.”
They’ve toured their mother around the island with the help of their sister, who also owns the game.
“Sharing it like that is really letting me feel seen and accepted,” they added. “Who I am (at least in part) is literally right up front, so I hope everyone visiting the island can feel that acceptance too. It’s so peaceful and colourful there. It can’t replace Pride but it’s nice to claim a little space for my personal pride and community.”
Some players are using the combination of customizability and online visitors to throw something closer to a real parade. For example, Zach posted a short clip of one he attended on Reddit, a cluster of players with rainbow shirts and umbrellas cascading down a striped path.
“A group of my friends, some queer, some allies, have been playing a lot of New Horizons,” he said. The digital event also had the positive side effect of bringing together Zach’s friend group, who he said would have attended physical parades, but in separate states since they live apart.
Like Bifuriosa, me, and many others, he found a host of small ways to prepare the island for the gathering. Zach “changed the town flag, put down a path for a quick parade, made a rainbow field of flowers, and a friend brought themed umbrellas!” He added that the group leaned on “designs that we made and some from the community… I was impressed by how many pride designs people had available.”
But, of course, the first real-world Pride “event” was a riot. Black Lives Matter protests all over the world and a fresh wave of institutional and celebrity transphobia have centered the fact that we need to do more for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community than just decking ourselves out in rainbows — virtually or not.
Many streamers have been using New Horizons to raise money for these causes. That includes trans Twitch streamer Dominick Evans. They’ll be hosting a two-day broadcasted event where players can compete in various mini-games for prizes, all while raising money for the Trans Lifeline charity, which provides a hotline, micro-grants, and other material support for trans people.
They, too, describe the process as a natural extension of the customizability and social aspects of New Horizons. They and their girlfriend had already decorated their island with rainbow, bi, and trans flags from the beginning, “so it just seemed natural that when we decided to do an event that we do it for Pride.” After seeing how many friends “from all walks of life” had been enjoying the game, and realizing how many player-invented multiplayer games are possible, they decided to hold a contest with visitors to raise money and celebrate. The event now includes hide and seek, a drag show, a scavenger hunt, and much more.
As well as Pride, the event will be themed around Harry Potter. This is a very deliberate choice by Evans. It’s an act of reclamation following author JK Rowling’s repeated transphobia. On the event’s website, the organizers write that they initially considered changing the theme, but “as a trans individual…and speaking with many trans friends, I realize that for many of us Harry Potter has long been a fandom that has helped provide support, community, and love. In hosting a Harry Potter Pride event we can bring awareness to anti-trans antagonism and hatred, while also raising money for Trans support and services.”
Evans was planning a similar event last year, but ended up canceling thanks to the awful author. “JK always seems to be her most transphobic self during this month,” they noted. But as they continued to discuss it with their trans friends, they were struck by how important the series was to many growing up.
“I kept hearing over and over…that what they got from the books and what they got from the fan community really helped them come out and accept themselves,” they clarified.
As Rowling has doubled and tripled down, Evans has brought more trans people on board the stream to diversify the voices present. But they laid out that raising money was the real necessity.
“I’m also disabled so I wanted to find an organization that disabled trans people said was accessible to them,” they said. “After asking around I knew that Trans Lifeline was the [right choice].”
“I really wanted to emphasize that [trans people] deserve better than what [Rowling] is saying, and I want to celebrate a fandom that has been there for the trans community,” they concluded. “At the end of the day, [she] doesn’t own the community.”
Fandom has always expanded on the bones of the media it springs from. That has often meant giving LGBTQ+ people a space to create and celebrate their own representation and inclusivity — even where it’s sadly absent in the text. The explosion of Pride in New Horizons is a natural extension of that same drive. With just a few tools for making colorful patterns and the ability to visit one another, it can become a celebration that outstrips a pandemic, materially benefits those in need, and just plain brightens up everything around us.