Sex workers are thriving on Animal Crossing

Unable to connect IRL thanks to lockdown, BDSM and kink enthusiasts are finding other ways to restore their community in Tom Nook's backyard.

by Daisy Schofield
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15 June 2020, 2:00pm

While many companies struggle to stay afloat and the threat of a post-pandemic recession looms, over on Animal Crossing: New Horizons -– the game du jour of our lockdown era -– business is booming. Everyone from interior designers, to hairdressers and art gallerists are all setting up virtual shop. Naturally, sex workers have also migrated to ACNH, because let's face it: even villagers are experiencing chaotic levels of quarantine horniness.

With Nintendo’s strict terms of service ruling out the possibility of kink chat, sex workers have been forced to get creative within ACNH’s limited confines. Fortunately, the in-game features lend themselves surprisingly well to ‘domming’, making it the preferred activity for both more traditional sex workers and bonafide dominatrixes looking to interact with clients.

‘Financial domination‘ (or findom) -- which often sees subs meeting up in-person with their domme for cash handovers -- has found its ACNH equivalent in the form of ‘bell’ meets (the in-game currency). Clients, or virtual ‘subs’, will also carry out various tasks for their dommes, from watering their plants, to tidying their homes, to showering them with gifts like furniture, rare flowers or clothing.

When it comes to humiliation -- one of domming's central tenets – Tia*, a 22-year-old London-based findomme currently furloughed from her retail job, said she’ll have her subs weed her virtual garden wearing nothing but a paper bag over their head. “I only view them as my ‘slaves’, which they love,” she says. “They don’t want me to acknowledge their hard work, they just want to be used.”

Punishments -- which include being spanked with a butterfly net -- might occur when a sub has been “bad” or simply at the dommes’ whim. Roxanne, a 22-year-old dominatrix and cosmetologist from Chicago, said that she’ll ruin her sub’s islands as punishment or when she needs to “let off some steam”, messing up their rocks or cutting down bamboo and trees. "It’s like having my own little rage island!” she says. It’s all consensual, Roxanne assures me, adding that one sub even mailed her an $82 ‘Bella’ plush doll from Etsy in exchange for her destroying their island. “My subs just want to make me smile,” she says. ”They’re so sweet!”

While some sex workers are more than satisfied with accumulating in-game spoils, for others, playing ACNH has become a lucrative business. Kiara, a dominatrix from Michigan, said that she charges clients $5 just to come to her island, and that one particularly loyal sub, nicknamed ‘Bell’, has so far shelled out $300 on her in the space of a few weeks.

“Bell did reimbursements for my online shopping as a means of findomme, and we used the in-game wheel for control games,” Kiara explains. “Each day I'd spin the wheel to determine if she was allowed to orgasm or not, and when she did orgasm without my permission, she’d have to pay $20”.

Prior to the pandemic, most of Kiara’s income as a findomme came from in-person cash meet-ups, which the risk of COVID-19 has now complicated. “Work’s been difficult,” Kiara admits, adding that since her partner got laid off at the start of lockdown, she’s been faced with the responsibility of supporting them both. “ACNH has scratched that itch of wanting to be close to my clients,” she explains, “but still keeping a safe distance, with the huge bonus of extra money.”

It’s a situation all too familiar for many sex workers who’ve been forced to shift their business online amid the spread of coronavirus. While adult platform OnlyFans -- which allows creators to sell straight to their consumers, akin to a “farmer’s marker for porn” -- has seen a 75% increase in signups, sex workers still face a relentless crackdown online. This is largely owed to Donald Trump’s SESTA/FOSTA law -- a bill intended to curb online sex trafficking -- which has shut sex workers out of platforms like Instagram, Patreon and Tumblr. It's pushed them to find new, inventive ways to sustain their relationships with clients, which is where ACNH -- a space you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find sex workers -- is providing a safe place for them to legally operate.

In addition to helping sex workers sustain relationships with existing customers during social distancing, ACNH is also introducing them to a wider clientele. Both Tia and Kiara say they’ve interacted with a number of clients experimenting with domming for the first time via ACNH, and Madeline, a domme from LA, says she's been encountering far more female subs than usual through the game.

Roxanne says she’s noticed a heightened interest in ‘sissification’ -- the practice of feminising a sub -- which sees male ACNH players dress their avatars in female clothing at the domme’s behest. “Video games give people lots of space and really important ways to explore their sexual and gender identities,” explains Bonnie Ruberg, an assistant professor of digital games and interactive media at the University of California, pointing to trans people who use video games to cope with gender dysphoria. “With ACNH, it’s warm, inviting, aesthetic could make domming less-intimidating to people who’ve never tried it before.”

Bonnie sees these types of interactions with sex workers over ACNH -- specifically the more altruistic acts of service -- as being potentially beneficial for players’ mental states. “Being a sub on the game and entrusting your safety to a domme could have the effect of being really calming, particularly at a time when things are really turbulent, and it’s hard to figure out what to do with our lives,” she says.

Roxanne would strongly agree, describing the ACNH community as “very wholesome". “I think it’s a great way to connect with someone in a kink way,” she says, “but also because of how hard times are right now, everyone needs some support and love.”

While this slightly more NSFW use of the game is likely to engender some moral panic, the fact that sex workers have somewhere to operate safely, and people starved of human connection can have some of their needs met, feels like one of the greatest gifts ACNH could offer our socially distanced times. And surely, BDSM -- in transforming pain and suffering into fantasies of consensual pleasure -- rightfully belongs on any utopian island paradise.

Tagged:
financial domination
sex work
Animal Crossing
animal crossing new horizons
acnh