Players in the Animal Crossing and Splatoon communities took this weekend to voice their support for the ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd, by making art for their games, and spreading resources within their communities. While these statements and gestures encountered some opposition and controversy, they stood in stark contrast to other communities in the games industry where these issues are avoided or not even seen as a problem to be addressed.
(Story updated below)
If you log onto the Splatoon 2 lobby right now, almost every piece of player art that's sprayed on the surroundings or hovering about a players' head is related in some way to Black Lives Matter. The United States has erupted into protests in solidarity with the family of Minneapolis man George Floyd, who was murdered by police. Demonstrations have cropped up in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and dozens of other cities. Demonstrations in Iran, Palestine and Israel, and Tokyo also started over the weekend protesting their own instances of police brutality as well as standing in solidarity with Minnesotans.
This is how fandoms collectively decide on how they feel about things. For people who didn't grow up on Livejournal, it can be difficult to understand. There isn't a fandom council that gathers and decides what kind of speech or values are permissible in fandom spaces. The fans hash that out with each other, relying on reaching a broad consensus. That doesn't mean that dissenters are shunned—they just have to wander the world of their fandom knowing that their opinions aren't popular, and might be oppositional. Normally, ship wars are resolved this way, and not the value of black lives. It's still worth noting that when the Animal Crossing and Splatoon communities came together to reach a consensus on the issue, they sided with George Floyd and black lives. With some of the posts about the topic reaching over a thousand retweets on Twitter.
Splatoon and Animal Crossing players are trying to signal their solidarity in smaller, more online ways. These games are known for their wholesomeness and their cuteness, and not necessarily for their politics. But en masse, and in a decentralized effort with no clear leader, both communities have sprung to life in support of the protesters across the country. The gestures can range from small, like the Splatoon art or fan art of villagers from Animal Crossing saying "black lives matter," to bigger efforts, like warning other players about spaces that are censoring messages of support. Similar to Hong Kong protesters, Animal Crossing players have staged protests in-game.
After initially censoring speech related to the protests, an outcry from the community forced Nookazon, a resource for Animal Crossing players to trade items with each other, to make a statement in support of the protests.
(UPDATE: 6/3, 12:14pm—This story has been updated to more clearly reflected the circumstances of Nookazon's statement.)
Games like these are usually escapist fare, idyllic spaces where real-world problems don't intrude. It's for that reason why some Splatoon 2 players have objected to the Black Lives Matter Art in the game's lobby. "OK guys I get black lives matter! They really do!" one person wrote on Twitter. "But I thought about what people said… We shouldn’t really be posting that on Nintendo kids games. Like splatoon. I mean, we should think about who sees the posts."
But Splatoon and Animal Crossing are sandboxes for inclusive player-expression. In Animal Crossing it's the whole point of the game, and in Splatoon it's become the hallmark of how the community relates to the game and one another. That's why the idea that BLM or anti-racist expression shouldn't exist in these spaces is fundamentally untenable. Why would you object to a message of inclusivity, or tell people to think of the children, unless the idea of black people visibly taking part in gaming communities is the actual issue? When I want to escape into a fantasy, that fantasy has to be one where I feel welcome, where I don't fear racist abuse. In too many games, I don't feel free of that fear. Seeing a gamer tag that references Black Lives Matter can go a long way in making black players feel more welcome. I hope that more communities take this kind of stand, and tell other players that not wanting an explicit anti-racist message in their games is no longer an acceptable stance.