After Splatoon had been out for a few weeks, I went out to dinner with a friend. We had sushi, appropriately enough. They asked me what I had been up to and I told them I’d been playing a lot of Splatoon. I explained that it was an arena shooter that addressed many of the issues with the genre that had kept me away in recent years. Splatoon does not have a hint of jingoism, doesn’t have blood and violence, and the object of the game is not to earn the most frags, but rather to paint the largest area for your team. I also mentioned how much fun I’d been having collecting the various clothing and accessories in the game, which are not only stylish, but confer various bonuses in-game. My friend exclaimed, “That game sounds very femme!” I rejoined, “Well, except you can’t wear skirts or dresses.” They replied, “Ah, well.”
There is no logical reason for stat bonuses granted by gear in many games. Certainly in a fantasy world there is magical enchantment and in a science fiction world there are nano machines, but in a modern setting, why would what you tie your hair with affect your ability to punch things? In Splatoon, the connection between bonuses and equipment seems even more whimsical: use less ink because of your shoes; move faster because of your shirt; get your special faster because of a headband. Even given the conceit that Splatoon takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity is long extinct, the bonuses given by the clothing don’t make a whole lot of sense—and no matter what you choose, you’ll be okay, as the most important thing in the game is to stay fresh and go with a look that suits you.
For as long as I can recall, my clothing and performance has deeply affected how I felt about myself. For the longest time, this meant that I basically felt like garbage and had no connection whatsoever to my clothes. I bought Metallica shirts because I liked Metallica, and that’s as deep as it went. When I found out I was femme and that I was allowed to wear pretty things—that I could wear eyeshadow and lipstick and foundation—it’s when I could finally feel good about what I wore. I finally understood what was fun about going to the thrift store and finding something that you could make a deep connection with, something that really suited you.
In real life, I plan my outfits before going out, and when I put them on, I have memories about my previous experiences. A certain dress will be the one I wore when my friend said I love you. My bunny rabbit flats are often complimented for being cute—and cute is what I aim for, so I keep on wearing them. When a random dude on the street harasses me with some transphobic bullshit, wearing cute shoes, a cute dress, having freshly shaven legs, and knowing my makeup is at least half-decent all give me a fairly good armor score, so I can be bothered a lot less. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ll give a retort, especially if I’m alone. My instinct is—and I’m fairly certain I’m right on this—to get the fuck out of dodge without giving rando dudes any more reason to hassle me.
In Splatoon, the more you wear any given accessory, the more abilities you unlock. I’ve seen similar mechanics in other games, but never something that seems to so directly work as an analogue for the way I experience clothing as powerful items that gain in power with more use and care. Sure, you can use a snail shell as a shortcut, but can’t you say the same about sewing on a patch or adding rivets, bedazzling, or so on? Nobody in the Splatoon universe tells you how cute you look, but nothing needs be said. The game has a consistent aesthetic throughout the wardrobe, and although there are some questionable combinations, for the most part you can pick out anything and look totally fresh.
Often when I talk to people about being me in public, it can be uncomfortable. Physical threats and other forms of harassment happen more often than I’d like, and I would say they occur at unexpected times, but in all honesty one just learns to expect public harassment and instead it’s the positive interactions that become unexpected. There really is a choice presented to me where I can go stealth, be completely miserable in clothes that in no way suit me, and avoid the dangers of not passing in public, or worse, the dangers of passing from certain angles in public.
This is where Splatoon is different from my experience being femme. There is no voice chat. There is no real threat of bodily harm. Splatoon does not offer any consequence for being genderqueer or being a woman or having a skin tone other than white. I can be a kid or a squid now without that feeling of dread. Splatoon is one of the first games I’ve played where I’ve seen a lot of names and avatars that suggest players aren’t men because Nintendo has cleverly removed the negative consequences of playing as who you are or who you feel like. Enable voice chat? You gotta be squidding me!