AURORA, Colo. — A young woman in Aurora is asking the gaming company Nintendo to add more diversity to one of its most popular games, Animal Crossing by including options for Black gamers with curly hair, like hers,
Twenty-six-year-old Taniesha Bracken is a self-proclaimed gamer. Playing since she was 10, she said that by now she knows what she's looking for in a new favorite game.
"My favorite thing about video games is creating my avatar," Bracken said. "In the beginning that was really the only reason I'd play. I'd log on, create my little character and then be like, 'Okay, I'm done,'" she laughed.
Bracken found her most recent favorite during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders: a popular Nintendo game called Animal Crossing. The game isn't new, originally released in 2001, but it is still wildly popular. The newest version of the game released in late March sold more than 13.4 million copies in the first six weeks.
"With Animal Crossing, a huge part is creating your character, changing their clothes. You can even make your own clothing designs," Bracken said. "It just spoke to me when it came out. I was like, 'Yeah this is a good game.'"
"Create your own paradise," is how Nintendo describes it. "Explore, create, and customize," their website says.
But not everything in the game is totally customizable.
"She looks like me in everything but the hair," Bracken said about her Animal Crossing avatar.
Of all the things you can customize in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, an avatar's hair has limitations. There just aren't many diverse hair options for players to choose from; curly hair among the styles not available. For a Black woman with tight curls like herself, Bracken was disappointed.
"It's almost more sad than frustrating because literally everything on my island is me. I have a completely pink island. I have pink villagers, my house is all pink. Everything on my island says me."
Except for her hair, Bracken said.
"I changed my hair my whole life. If you see pictures of me all through middle school and high school my hair was always straight," she said. "Growing up, I was always taught, 'You need to straighten your hair to be professional. Brush it back so it's not unkempt, or not tame.'"
It took a while, but Bracken has since learned to love and care properly for her natural curls. Which is what made the absence of a curly hairstyle in Animal Crossing all the more disheartening.
So on a day back in late July, Bracken decided she would create the hairstyle she wanted in Animal Crossing herself.
"I went on my phone and I just kind of started doodling on the editing app and drew some curly hair. It was super cute," she said, "so I shared it to one of the big Animal Crossing Facebook groups that I'm in that has like 300,000, people in it."
Instantly, Bracken said, it received overwhelming support. People online began asking her if she planned to start a petition to get Nintendo's attention.
"I didn't feel like anyone would really care that much to start signing a petition," she said. "But I was like whatever, I'll start it and I'll share it in the group."
That's when she said she learned just how many people do care, and how many of them also feel the same way she does about the need for more ethnic representation in the game.
"I'm shocked still," Bracken laughed. "It's still weird that 45,000 people have seen the petition."
Several hours after Bracken's interview, her 'Create More Inclusive Hairstyles for Animal Crossing!' petition was closing in on 46,000 signatures.
"I've gotten so many comments from moms like, 'My daughter has really curly hair and she loves Animal Crossing but she gets sad every time she plays because she doesn't have an option that actually looks like her," Bracken said.
Especially for kids, Bracken wants to see their natural beauty not just included but celebrated across all gaming platforms. As it turns out, thousands of people agree.
"I feel like some people just don't even think about the issue because it doesn't affect them. I've gotten a lot of those comments too that are like, 'Wow, I never even realized that this was missing.' And I'm grateful for that too," Bracken said. "Because instead of them shutting it out, they’re so accepting even if it's not something that's going to directly affect them."
Bracken has reached out to Nintendo online but hasn't gotten a response and more than a dozen calls from 9NEWS went unanswered.
"I just really want Nintendo to realize that it's a super easy change to make. It's not going to negatively affect anybody so, why not just do it?" Bracken asked.
"Curly hair is so pretty. I love curly hair so much," she said. "And if kids are growing up playing this game, they might think something is wrong with them. They might think they need to straighten their hair to look like their character – when they should be making the character look like them."
To add your signature to Taniesha Bracken's Create More Inclusive Hairstyles for Animal Crossing Petition, click here.
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