Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ big winter update was the cause of much celebration in November, as the new hair options meant that some Black fans could more fully depict themselves in-game. But what was meant to be an inclusive addition to the life simulator has turned contentious, especially as non-Black fans have started to appropriate and whitewash the hair options.
The issue came to a head when an Animal Crossing player on social media made the mistake of calling the new puffs “space buns,” a cutesy moniker used to describe hair styles popularized by stars like Ariana Grande. While that post may be the most-discussed instance of the controversy, discussions about whether or not non-Black players could don the new hairstyles — or if they were exclusively Black hairstyles at all — started promptly after Nintendo revealed they existed in the first place. Now that the hair is widely available, the conversation has largely focused on what the new options truly are, and what fans should call it.
This apparent confusion over the hairstyles has prompted some fans to explain that while the puffs may look like buns, if you zoom in, you’ll note that the new dos are textured differently than the standard options. Some went even further, noting that Animal Crossing has actually already depicted something like space buns in games like Pocket Camp, and they do not look like the new puffs in New Horizons.
Racists calling the afro puffs space buns in animal crossing like we don’t already have space buns that look like totally different textured hair pic.twitter.com/AoNSRW8RnT
— madANXiETY | (129/300) (@MahouEcho) November 22, 2020
LISTEN UP!! If the Afro buns Nintendo recently added to ACNH were space buns they would NOT be textured. They would look like the bun on the left. This isn’t “gatekeeping” a hairstyle. It’s as simple as, WHITE PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TEXTURED HAIR. They are not the same. pic.twitter.com/fCkvrCSjq8
— Nesreen ☾ (@lilbittysherb) November 21, 2020
Part of what makes this a tired issue for some Black fans is that the series has taken a long time to acknowledge this segment of its user base. New Horizons as a whole is better than earlier iterations, which forced players who wanted to have a darker skin in-game to sun tan their characters for hours, if not wear masks, just to depict themselves in-game.
As critic Funké Joseph stated in Gamespot in June, “My villager can be me now, and I love that, but it took so damn long. It’s hard for me to even praise Nintendo for including it now when I, and so many others, needed it years ago. The bar for representation feels so dishearteningly low that companies are praised for including content that should have been there from [the] start; that we celebrate having our hair in a game as a ‘win,’ or having a black character that isn’t a stereotype as something innovative.”
Speaking to Polygon over Twitter regarding the space buns controversy, Joseph added, “It’s obviously a black hairstyle, something that people pushed hard to get in and the obvious trolls will say things like ‘space buns xP’ in a seemingly quirky way, but they know what they’re doing, who they’re erasing.”
On social media, reactionaries have taken this opportunity to buckle down on the issue, often posting pictures of white characters wearing the afro puffs as if in defiance. Opinions on that phenomenon differ; some Black players have proclaimed they have no issue whatsoever and don’t care what other fans wear in-game. The players Polygon spoke to for this story acknowledged that they can’t necessarily control what others will do. The potential problem is that, by calling them space buns, fans are erasing the context of a hard-won and long-overdue inclusion to the game.
“At least call them afro puffs if you must wear them,” says Animal Crossing fan Morgan, who has been enjoying the new update.
“So these people appropriated a hairstyle and renamed it so they could pretend it’s not a black style,” she continued in a Twitter message. Morgan told Polygon that since writing a tweet where she asked people to stop calling them space buns, she’s gotten harassed by users who point out that she has pronouns in her bio, among other things. This, in turn, has led Morgan to believe that it’s not really about Animal Crossing at all — some of the people arguing about the puffs may not even be players, but rather folks who bristle at the mere idea of racial inclusivity wherever it might appear.
This is just the latest battleground for observers who may not have any stakes in the larger Animal Crossing community. To wit, one moderator of the largest Animal Crossing community on the internet told Polygon that, in their forums, fans largely spoke of the issue respectfully, even if they disagreed with one another. Rather than becoming a firehose of harassment, discussions on the puffs faded away pretty quickly.
“I don’t like to give attention to users like that, though,” Joseph said of the space bun brigade. “I’m just happy these hairstyles are here for all my fam!!”