“Am I playing a character, or am I being me?”

Hi everyone,

The question posed in class reminded me of a hot debate that happened last summer in one of my Facebook groups. The group consists of players, 25 years and older, who play the video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH)” (the group name: Animal Crossing for 25+).

For those of you who don’t know the game, ACNH lets you interact with different villagers (anthropomorphic animals) as you build and decorate a (once) deserted island to your liking. There are 400+ villagers, 10 of whom can live on your island at once. For the first six villagers, the game randomly assigns them (i.e., you don’t get to choose who comes onto your island). As the game progresses, villagers will tell you (the player) they want to leave the island, thereby making their spot vacant for other villagers to come onto the island.

Now, depending on perspective, there are some villagers who are visually attractive, and those who are not. Thus, if any of the villagers are visually unattractive, some players would want them to move out of their island ASAP. To do so, it was once rumoured that if you make a villager’s life “miserable” enough, they will ask to leave (this is now largely proven not true). The game was also designed so that if the player hits a villager 3 times, the villager would react in either a sad or angry manner. This supposedly reduced the villager’s interest in continuing to live on the island, and hence ask to leave (again, largely proven false). At the time though, many believed this to be true, and the Facebook group was filled with posts depicting players hitting villagers with a handheld net (see photo below, credit to Liam O’Malley).


When the wave of such posts started, there was also another wave of posts advocating for “kind play.” Hitting villagers, even in a game, was mean and cruel, and some even argued it showed “just how bad a person you really are inside.” To this, others argued that “it’s just a game,” and that such a way of playing is simply a way for people to relieve stress.

Now I throw it out to you:

If you engage in abusive behaviour in a game, are you being abusive? Or are you simply engaging in one way to play a game?

One response to ““Am I playing a character, or am I being me?””

  1. Lovneet Aujla

    Hi NY, interesting post! I played my fair share of New Horizons during the lockdown and beyond the turnip trade I had no clue there were facebook groups.

    I’d like to take your question and frame it in the context of online multiplayer. I’ve been an active player of Call of Duty (“COD”) since 2008 and the online play allows players to talk to one another via voice chat. These chats can, and often do, become arenas of discriminatory and abusive language. In fact, the Call of Duty community often romanticizes this aspect of the game as a “character builder” which I wholly disagree with and believe is a dangerous sentiment. I’m all for competitive trash talk, but lets just say COD lobbies take things too far… Abusive online lobbies have become a norm of the game and is something that is expected.

    To your question, online voice-chats form a part of the game. Quite often the game requires a form of communication when playing more strategic game-modes. However, when players abuse this system of the game I believe it encourages, or rather, grants a license to act in a way one would never in “reality.” To sum, engaging in abusive behaviour in a game, at least in a way that doesn’t affect the actual gameplay (i.e. voice-chats), is simply being abusive.

    As an aside, I will say that this same function let’s me kick-back and catch up with friends who have busy schedules. I guess if we want to introduce positive aspects to video-games we have to expect some negatives?