“You definitely look more African American at night,” my eight-year-old daughter claimed, rocking back and forth, heal to toe, looking at the TV, mimicking the movements of my Animal Crossing character.
I didn’t start out Black. In fact, I started out with what I thought looked like a tan. I changed my look from tan to deathly pale after accepting a challenge from Label to dress “goth.” You know Label, the traveling Able sister that doesn’t live on your island. The one who comes to the town square periodically to give a clothing challenge. I like accepting her challenges; they make me think about attire differently. Figuring out how to go gothic is a perfect example. I went to my vanity mirror and changed my skin to the palest option, whiter than a summer cloud. I figured this would make my dark clothing pop. I changed my mouth to resemble that closest a frown and drooped the corners of my eyes to match. I dyed my hair black and gave it the messiest appearance I could before moving to my wardrobe closet. After answering yes to the prompt, should I change, I adorned every black piece of clothing I was gifted or purchased from Able Sisters. I chose a vampire top, black dress pants, black converse, and a black hard hat as an accessory. Label likes accessories. The whole time I’m trying to explain to my daughter what goth means.
“It stands for gothic. It’s like a dark look. People who choose to only wear black and sometimes color their eyes black. It’s hard to explain.”
“Why? Why do they only wear black?”
“I suspect they want to reflect their mood, but I really don’t know.”
With the black hat, I was ready for my assessment. Let’s see what Label has to say about my gothic attire. I’d never known her not to give a tailor ticket, but she did make suggestions for improvement once, and that was a fail to me. Not this time. This time she approved and learned a few things. I did too. I learned that I didn’t like having droopy eyes and a neutral mouth; I wanted my bright face returned. So, I headed back to the vanity mirror immediately following my time in town square with the hedgehog fashionista.
It was at the vanity mirror, specifically on the skin color screen, that my daughter told me to choose the darkest skin tone. Why not? I thought and skipped over the tans to the one dark chocolate. I changed my hair to a turquoise fluff, my eyes to circles with lashes, my line to a smile with the same oval nose. With my fresh face and new clothes, I left the house I built. As I threw a fishing rod over my shoulder and headed to the beach, I thought to myself, I don’t look like me. This got me thinking about why when I first designed my AC character, I had tried to make her resemble me as much as possible. I created her with my name and birthdate, so it seemed practical to make her appearance close to my own. My wife and daughter had done the same with their characters. Changing the Animal Crossing me offered a new perspective in which to view the game. It’s just a game, but then I wondered, is it? Is it just a game?
If life is measured by how time is spent, then nothing that takes time is just anything. If it’s anything that takes time which is everything to some degree, then all those seemingly insignificant justs add up. A game that leads to a thought that leads to the next thing we tell ourselves all these pieces eventually become parts of a whole self.
What I hate to admit, but will for the sake of growth, is that I’m adhering to the idea that Label represents. I’m forming outer layers to fit something illusive and intangible. Here’s the thing, my adherence to these layers is more like Velcro than glue. Making a pullback and moving away from another’s idea of me or even my current idea of myself is easier than I might have imagined. If I repeat “I’m the story I tell myself” while focusing my inner lens on positive imagery, a more loving self will exist. Some things I know that I can’t prove, and this is one: You are the story you tell yourself, and we are all characters in this timeframe, the hyphen between dates we call a life.
Each new thought is a chance to embrace the person I am trying to understand, the self I want to know, the self I am making room to grow into. I know the character I’m working with well enough now that I can appreciate her Black appearance on screen and understand that this perspective shift is a growth spurt brought on by my daughter’s statement: “You definitely look more African American at night.” Where the irony really hits home is that I’d never intentionally made my skin tone darker than a realistic “me” shade in my mind, and that comment from her occurred before I knew Label was in town square. In changing my character back to an original “me” look, I questioned the purpose of the look and therein grew the real transformation. When I questioned why I made a character in my image in the first place, the answers that came gave a lesson in self-understanding. I could flaunt a new me, a new look, any old time, especially if it makes me question the inner me and my real self-portrait.
Animal Crossing is a game. I’m aware that time spent playing games make up pieces of my life. When play invokes thoughts like these, I know it’s time well spent.