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A theater full of Animal Crossing villagers. Image: Nintendo via YouTube

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Animal Crossing’s ‘kicking out ugly villagers’ phenomenon

No uglies allowed

When Jessica G. first met Cesar the cranky gorilla in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, his deep voice startled her. She’s used to playing with characters who have high-pitched voices, so she wasn’t expecting the ape, who is named after the famous emperor, to sound like that. But it wasn’t until he turned around that she truly started feeling uncomfortable.

“His whole orange butt is out and about,” she tells Polygon.

Or, as she put it to her friends in Discord, “I know a lot of them don’t wear pants but [you] can see his orange booty cheeks and I don’t like it!!!!!!”

Jessica has played previous Animal Crossing games, but had never considered getting rid of anyone because of the way they look. With Cesar, that’s changing — she hopes to move him out of her island one day. Partially, Jessica wants to keep a healthy mix of different personality types on her island. But it’s totally the butt thing, too.

And why not? While moving, exchanging, and finding new Animal Crossing characters has been possible throughout different iterations of the life simulator, New Horizons makes it easier than ever.

If you have amiibo cards or toys, you can scan them into New Horizons and use them to convince members of your populace to move out. The new Mystery Island feature, which allows you to explore areas that sometimes contain recruitable characters, has also encouraged a culture of “hunting” your favorite characters, rather than settling for whatever New Horizons throws your way.

“There are a limited range of animal species available in the game, and let’s face it, they are not all created equal,” says Animal Crossing devotee Tom S.

The changing nature of the series has also shifted the culture to become pickier about what characters fill up your town. New Horizon’s unprecedented level of customization, like terraforming, led Rebecca M. to think more about what else she could finesse within the game.

“Now that I can meticulously plan every inch of my island, crafting my own experience and expressing myself through city planning, I am a lot more bothered by seeing villagers who don’t match my vision,” Rebecca says.

The sentiment appears to be widespread among Animal Crossing fans. On TikTok, where the idyllic game has nearly two billion views, one common content format sees players recording their reactions when they go Mystery Island hopping. Screams of joy ensue when players find a cute character.

But the clips often show fans going from island to island, only finding “undesirables” that do not live up to their standards. Sometimes, when fans lay eyes on what they consider particularly “ugly” villagers, they’ll turn around and immediately hop back onto the sea plane.

More often than not, TikTok clips show people torturing villagers they think are ugly, in the hopes of getting them to move out. As of this writing, the fifth most-viewed TikToK under the Animal Crossing tag is about an “ugly” pink bear getting terrorized by a player.

If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that reaction videos will always exaggerate a little — it’s funnier that way. I spoke to a few dozen Animal Crossing players over email and social media, and fans say that their reasons for kicking out ugly villagers are more complicated than they might seem at first glance.

Grooming your populace

Many New Horizons aficionados say that they want to have a balanced island, which means finding a wide variety of animals who have the whole set of potential personality types.

Some island representatives try to build themed islands — like say, only food-inspired characters — and so anyone who doesn’t fit that mold is unwanted. Long-time players also develop favorites that they’ll want over the standard animals, whom they consider ugly or boring by comparison.

Animal Crossing’s character designs can sometimes be baffling, too. Some characters will have terrifying eyes or mouths that make you question why anyone would make a poor creature look like that — or sound like that. Hazel, an oft-cited “ugly” villager with a unibrow, doesn’t help her case when her favorite catchphrase is “uni-wow,” according to one Twitter user.

Sometimes, when players talk about a villager being “ugly,” they aren’t talking about an animal’s looks. They’re referring to the creature’s personality, which can sometimes clash with the existing populace — villagers can totally fight with one another.

“I find very few villagers ugly in isolation,” says player Warren W.

Many folks who reached out to Polygon about ugly villagers said that they disliked the jock-type personality, because they won’t want to turn on a video game, which is meant to be an escape, only to be reminded that they haven’t exercised lately.

Two villagers playing instruments in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon.

Some villagers just don’t manage to endear themselves to players.

When Trey Y. met Katt, a brown feline with visible fangs, he didn’t think she was the cutest villager — but he wanted to give her a chance. In an attempt to be neighborly, Trey started gifting Katt some items. But she hated everything he gave her, from clothes to furniture.

“There’s no pleasing this ugly soul,” he remarks. Trey swapped Katt for Freya, a snobby pink wolf. Ironically, despite being labeled as “snooty” by the game, Trey says Freya is kinder to him than Katt ever was. “She never hits me back saying the gift is some shit,” he says.

There’s definitely some nuance to all of this, but we can’t ignore one basic truth: Some villagers just aren’t well-designed. Mikhaila Leid, a cartoonist, notes that she considers some villagers ugly based on clashing or poor color palettes, like Gruff the green-faced goat. Sometimes, this can be remedied by giving characters a better wardrobe — Sprocket, a robotic ostrich, can be improved when you give him a yellow dress.

“Unfortunately, he never stays in dresses,” she says.

The game itself can get in the way of a glow-up. Many clothes weren’t crafted with wider characters in mind, so some fits look awful depending on who wears them. “I tried to give Muffy a dress as a gift and when she tried it on, it stretched and basically became a crop-top,” Tom S. added.

Gorillas often face this wardrobe malfunction, but there’s a bigger elephant in the room when it comes to this type of villager. Based on my conversations with players and posts on social media, gorillas and monkeys are by far some of the most disliked species within the series. Looking at the roster, the full simian cast is varied, some designs are good, some bad.

One of the biggest issues gorillas face is that they do not fit the image of an ideal villager, at least according to popular taste. Compare any gorilla to the list of most-wanted villagers on an Animal Crossing trading marketplace. The most beloved villagers tend to be small, pastel or light-colored, doe-eyed, and are often domesticated animals such as cats, dogs, and bunnies. You have to go back several pages on a “most wished-for” list to find any kind of ape. Gorillas like Violet, Boyd, Louie and Boone rank among the lowest.

That gorilla and monkey characters are so often labeled as “ugly” villagers raises some obvious concerns. Al the gorilla, for example, is a dark-furred, yellow-faced villager with exaggerated features. Al is “lazy” despite his track suit outfit and the fact that his fully upgraded house is a gym, something more suitable for the fitness-obsessed “jock” personalities in the game. Cartoon gorillas and monkeys have a problematic history in popular media, particularly in how they’re represented in animation and books for children.

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Animal Crossing Wiki

Some players I spoke to said that they were afraid of gorillas and monkeys in real life — so of course they don’t want a phobia running around in their video game.

What makes the trend of yeeting ugly villagers out of islands curious is that it clashes against the warm, cozy vibe of the series as a whole. New Horizons is a game that rewards you for putting a flower in your hair, for god’s sake. But when people talk about filling an island with “dreamies,” the discussion can sound ruthless and dystopian — more befitting of livestock than a community of friendly pals.

The mechanics involved with shifting around characters has always sounded this way, of course, but it’s visible now that the game has entered the mainstream and countless players are in the midst of their own culling. But even so, many players who spoke to Polygon admitted that they “felt bad” treating poor villagers as if they were ugly.

At the same time, some players argue that, charming and magical as Animal Crossing can be, the characters aren’t exactly deep. New Horizons fan Todd S. says says that he plays daily, often enough that he’s brushing up against the “shallowness” of the personality-based system in the game.

“The way each villager looks suggests a lot of who they are to fill in the gaps,” Todd S. suggests.

But my favorite justification for abolishing unsightly villagers is the simplest one, courtesy of New Horizons enthusiast Madeline S.

“Sometimes the vibes are bad,” they say.