Nintendo now houses two of the possibly most divisive characters in gaming: Pietro from Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Bayonetta. But, if Animal Crossing fans are anything to go by, the sheep might be the one to finally dethrone the queen.
Pietro is a smug sheep villager with a very specific aesthetic, and with much lower levels of warm popularity than the other most famous smug villager. His birthday is on April 19th — so close to 4/20, yet not quite. He is a walking rainbow and undoubtedly one of the most recognizable villagers in the series. There’s no mistaking it’s him when you see the abundance of saturated colors, the adorable heart sign that is drawn on his left eye, and his white-painted face. There is no uncertainty: there is only the feeling of being amused or unsettled.
I don’t quite know if I need to explain it, but in the case I do: Look at him. He’s a clown. He’s a clown before he’s a sheep. His catchphrase is “honk honk.” His identity as a sheep is only secondary to his proud, flaunting presentation as a clown. There is no point where the clown ends and the sheep begins; he is both at all times. I can’t say I have coulrophobia — the phobic fear of clowns — but, if I did, Pietro might make me feel on edge. Possibly at all times.
Pietro has been an immediate source of scorn for many since he was first introduced in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. “I’ve had him in my town forever and he creeps me out,” writes one user on Reddit six years ago in their thread begging for help on how to make Pietro leave. “All I can see is John Wayne Gacy walking through my town. I’ve tried to make him at least change his clothes so he doesn’t look like a clown, but no, he won’t do it!” One post is titled, “Take a hint, Pietro,” and features a screenshot of the player character yelling “Die, Abomination” to the clown sheep. “I have him in my New Leaf town and my friend is convinced he’s going to murder me and the other villagers in our sleep,” says a user in a Reddit thread about how scary Pietro is.
That scorn has not been forgotten in the eight years since. Players often allude him to Pennywise, the murderous clown from IT. Many are certain he has killed before and might kill again.
You can’t tell me that this man doesn’t have blood on his hands pic.twitter.com/kDL9lio5OG
— Big Red (@HufflepuffLord) April 3, 2020
While I didn’t even meet him in Animal Crossing: New Leaf since I didn’t play that entry very much, I wonder if I’d be as unsettled by him then as I am now. I know I’m not the only one, either, for I’ve seen an intense amount of hate for him on my timeline since the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Perhaps it’s the new visual details that make the animals look more realistic than ever; maybe it’s our vastly more engaged usage of social media than in 2012; maybe it’s our fear and anxiety regarding the world we live in, thus needing something on which to project those fears. Maybe it’s all of those reasons.
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But, if you go through those Reddit threads, you’ll soon notice a trend: there is an almost equal amount of appreciation for Pietro compared to the hate. The attacks he gets have produced an intense amount of defensive love, allowing him to rise as a sort of misjudged, underdog character who gives credibility to the classic phrase of, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The reasons that have made him unpopular to begin with are also what have made him ridiculously popular. And, as the saying goes: all publicity is good publicity.
“How can you not love Pietro,” asks a user on Reddit. The thread has over 250 upvotes and many comments by his fans, who believe he is hilarious, adorable, and the best villager in the series.
In response to a Vice article arguing that Pietro is the most terrifying villager in the series, a Tumblr user jumped to his defense, with many rallying around him in the notes.
He’s often called a baby, more so than I’ve seen with most villagers, likely due to how much vitriol he faces.
And honestly, I have to respect him for the following. Kitty is standing there angrily ranting about him, and he has the audacity to walk to her, stand near her to make sure his presence is known, and then sit in front of the tree next to her as if to taunt her. He simply does not give a fuck.
— cloudie @ acnh hours (@fluffysmolcloud) April 4, 2020
Regardless of whether you’re unsettled or charmed by him, he isn’t a clown at this moment; he’s just his smug self, undefeated and prospering even after years of bearing millions of people’s resentment.
Even Nintendo acknowledges him as a divisive symbol. “Some people think Pietro’s unique look is charming… but most are just creeped out by his whole deal,” reads his profile on Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
If I had to pick possibly the most divisive character in gaming before this, I would’ve chosen Bayonetta. She’s always been the source of discourse, especially in spaces of feminist criticism. She’s often both admired for her sexual agency, confidence, and capabilities, and criticized for being a character that panders to the male gaze through her games’ gratuitous camera angles and abundance of innuendos. I think both, and all critiques in between, have credibility and ultimately paint a bigger picture: that she is a complex woman in gaming with complicated presentations, motivations, and levels of agency.
And yet, I think Pietro might now just be the most divisive character in gaming of all time. There’s plenty of reason to think so. It’ll be his birthday soon — an event that seems like it will be a celebration just as much as it will be a cursed day. People are already dealing with one creepy animal in April; chances are they don’t want to deal with another.
But you know what? Maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Pietro is creepy, but he’s also cute, and I can respect that aesthetic and duality. It’s almost as if he is an embodiment of that duality, with the heart drawn on his left eye and a teardrop marked on his right eye. Goals, to be honest.
Pietro has gone through a lot because of the Animal Crossing fandom, but he’s still smiling and smug. The world is a little scarce on empathy as of late, so maybe we should embrace clowns such as him and reject the real clowns in our society — like Elon Musk.