Hey Poptropicans, this is a guest post by HfEvra (Mess of a Being). Enjoy!
Greetings, fellow humanoid creatures with unrealistic proportions who lack ears and noses! This is HfEvra or Mess of a Being, and I’m here today with another guest post, this time about minority representation in Poptropica — particularly on ethnicity, gender, and sexuality.
As a Middle Eastern non-binary lesbian, seeing minority representation in current children’s media brings me immense joy and makes me hopeful that the kids of today will grow up to be tolerant, well-adjusted adults. But recently, I found myself thinking: What if Poptropica also had this sort of representation? And that’s what I’m here to talk about today.
Representation in Poptropica so far
Before talking about how more diversity can be implemented into the game, I wanna go over some instances of Poptropica’s existing attempts at diversity and inclusivity — both the successes and the failures.
The first thing that comes to my mind is the removal of the gender selector from the account creation screen, clearly meant to make the game inclusive for LGBT people who don’t fall into the gender binary of male or female.
Instead of a player’s choice of gender affecting whether or not their Poptropican has eyelashes, the player simply gets to choose whether or not they want eyelashes without having to go into the nitty-gritty of gender identity. In addition, it was also made so that both masculine and feminine clothing could be seen at the same time in the (now removed) New You building on Home Island.
In terms of representing persons of color (POC), however, Poptropica is a mixed bag. On one hand, we have C.J., the brilliant young girl scientist from Shrink Ray Island as well as Dr. Rachel Salerno, the courageous astronaut woman from Lunar Colony Island. On the other hand, we have Ringmaster Raven, the horribly mistreated and tragic villain from Monster Carnival Island. (Yes, it does seem that I am incapable of making anything that doesn’t end up referencing him.)
There is also the fact that Poptropica is guilty of whitewashing — the act of taking a character who isn’t white (or white-coded) and altering them to be white, or at the least, white-passing. Crusher from Super Power Island and DJ Saturday Nite from Zomberry Island, who were both dark-skinned when they were first introduced, had their skin tones lightened in subsequent appearances in the game years later — quite a problematic move considering that people of color are already lacking representation as is. Here’s the before-and-after of the DJ:
And as for Crusher…
That being said, there are ways that Poptropica could add diversity to the game and make things more inclusive without falling into problematic implications. Let’s discuss a few of those ways, shall we?
What else can be done?
In the PHB’s Q&A with Poptropica’s CEO from last November, it was mentioned that Poptropica doesn’t currently have any characters whose sexual orientation or gender identity plays an important part in the story, but that it is something that should be considered for future islands. However, there is actually more that can be done in regards to representation than having islands revolve around the minority identities in question.
(Some players read Hazel and Beatrice from Crisis Caverns as a couple. Had it been confirmed in the island itself, this could’ve been an interesting representation of not only gay and/or biracial couples, but also older LGBT couples, who don’t get as much representation as younger ones.)
One of the more subtle ways to establish a character as LGBT is to integrate it into their appearance or environment. Maybe a character could have a pride flag color scheme, or wear something like a pin that has the pride colors on it! Maybe we enter a character’s house as part of the story and we find a pride flag tapestry on the wall! Maybe the character has framed pictures of them alongside their same-sex parents! There’s practically an infinite amount of ways to add LGBT content to Poptropica without being in-your-face about it.
Of course, that isn’t to say that all LGBT content has to be shunted out of the frame by being restricted to subtle design choices and/or background characters. One aspect of representation to remember is that a character’s minority trait shouldn’t be their entire personality, but if the LGBT characters in the game are restricted exclusively to background characters, that’s not fully representative either.
Luckily, Poptropica islands have more moving parts than just “player” and “background NPCs” — they also have a ton of secondary characters who play a part in the islands’ stories! In the future, there could be an island where a sidekick character is explicitly shown to be gay, trans, etc. Perhaps they have a romantic partner of the same gender who’s mentioned or seen alongside them during the story, or perhaps they’re a non-binary person who uses gender neutral pronouns! It’s not a hard thing to add to the story — simply referring to the character in question with non-binary pronouns like “they/them” or “xe/xem” (hey look, those are my pronouns as well!) would help normalize non-conventional pronouns to the game’s audience of kids.
Since the Poptropica Creators advertised 2021 as “the year of stories,” perhaps their current priorities are the Dream Island contest winners, so we likely won’t be seeing this sort of representation anytime soon. But hey, a gay can hope!
The Poptropica Help Blog welcomes interesting Poptropica insights from anyone in the Poptropica community with thoughts to share. Interested in writing for the PHB? We’d love to hear from you! 📰✨