I’m not much of a gamer. My parents never bought me a gaming system when I was a kid and to be honest, I wasn’t that interested. “Let’s play dolls!” I’d say to my friends when it was a choice between Barbies and Gameboys. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the rise of Animal Crossing: New Horizons this summer – and the vitiligo avatar that appeared in the game this summer.
Avatars allow for character customization in video games
Most video games offer some sort of character customization – a way to create your own avatar. In Animal Crossing, you can be anything from a badass adventurer to an adorable islander playing host to a variety of equally adorable animals. This trend spans beyond video games. Since 2018, Apple has allowed iPhone users to create emojis that look like users. Earlier this year, Facebook also added the option to create your own avatar.
I downloaded the mobile version of Animal Crossing – called Pocket Camp – this summer, and got to work living in a world where my only problem was how to decorate my virtual campsite. It’s part of the appeal of Animal Crossing – a simple, cute game where you can customize your world and help your in-game animal friends with never-ending tasks.
Animal Crossing’s vitiligo avatar allows me to authentically customize a character
As with most games, the first step was creating and customizing my alter ego. Here’s where I ran into trouble. I think of my most identifiable features as my braided hair, brown skin and vitiligo. Yet I only had the option to recreate one of those features. I knew mine would never quite look like me.
So when a mockup of an Animal Crossing character with vitiligo popped up in a Venus ad on my newsfeed last week, of course I had to click on it. Yes, Venus, the company that makes hair removal products. As part of their “my skin, my way” campaign, Venus commissioned graphic designer Nicole Cuddihy to create the Skinclusive Summer Line, a collection of 19 “skin representations” available in all of the skin tones offered in New Horizons. Venus also included a lookbook showcasing each representation along with the design code needed to recreate them in your own game and quick facts – called “skinsider knowledge” – about the condition.
It wasn’t only the visual that caught my attention, or the little summer-ready outfits each character wore – it was the wording surrounding each design and the fact that their imperfections had been made into a positive feature. Each outfit shows off their unique features, with names like Vitiligo Vibe (a bikini with sheer cover up showing off her spots), Fierce Freckles (an off the shoulder top leaving plenty of room for her freckles to be seen), Cesarean Chic (a crop top featuring a c-section scar) and En Vogue Eczema (a minidress with eczema on her legs).
After doing a bit of quick research, I saw that Fallout 4 made headlines a few years ago for its vitiligo avatar, but it was the only video game I could find that included the option to create a character with vitiligo as part of the built-in design. I hope in the future, we’ll see more and more avatars that include the option for vitiligo or give you customizable character design options, so I can create custom designs. Maybe we’ll even see vitiligo emojis.
Makalah Moore is a writer based in Massachusetts who has lived with vitiligo for sixteen years. In her free time she enjoys reading, photography and spending time with friends and family. Find her on instagram @the.moore.you.know.