Audie the Fox loves her island. She's lived there for a while now and everybody seems perfectly pleasant, with the landscape a verdant paradise framed by golden beaches. The only thing she doesn't love is... the house. Not her house, but the other one, the one owned by The Representative. It's bigger than anyone else's and none of the villagers have been inside. None of them have been invited. She asked Cherry and Octavian about it—they've both been here longer than her, after all—and they glanced nervously at each other when she brought it up. The Representative doesn't let anyone in, they tell her. It's off-limits.
She pushes them a little more, despite knowing she shouldn't, sensing the fear in their voices. When they finally talk, it's quick and quiet, rushing out the truth: sometimes they can hear noises when he's at home, and even more noises when he isn't. He pays the Nooks money—too much money, if the rumours are true—to keep adding more rooms, demanding more storage space. And apparently the most recent project was a basement. A deep one.
That evening, when Audie asked Mr. Nook and Ms. Isabelle about the house, Nook flinched a little, glancing at his nephews as if to check they were still there, and Isabelle poured herself another full tumbler of whiskey, her paw shaking a little. None of us have been in there, she muttered, throwing back the whole drink in one go. And we know better than to ask questions around here.
The house, of course, is mine, and it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect: every room a different flavor of monstrous. Creating unique designs in Animal Crossing that push the limitations of what's allowed is a whole secondary challenge within the game, and gory or unnerving designs are a big subculture that's taken off as part of that.
I get it, frankly. I've never been very good with the cutesy side of Nintendo, which often comes across as insincere to me, but I'm also somebody who likes their games to be challenge-orientated. Fighting the engine and assets of Animal Crossing to create something ghoulish? Well, it's an extra layer of gameplay I can milk from New Horizons, trying to frame and combine the right furniture and wallpaper to make something grotesque.
For me, it started off innocently enough with a simple gimp sex dungeon. You know how it is, you're tinkering with paint swatches and suddenly you're surrounded by cold stone walls, flickering candles, a dog food bowl in the corner and me wandering around in a rabbit mascot costume, mumbling to myself. A typical Tuesday evening in what was later referred to as "The Bungeon."
Yet despite looking like a Playmobil version of Eyes Wide Shut, it was easily the most satisfying thing I'd done in the game, all because Animal Crossing had been trying to steer me away from that kind of design all along. Anybody can make a pastel-colored kitchen, but this was a challenge, and when a friend went into my house and immediately sputtered, "Joel, what the hell is this?!" I knew I'd been successful.
The rest of the house quickly followed suit. The sex dungeon changed into a more classic cult lair, followed swiftly by a serial killer's abattoir, a mad scientist's laboratory, a horrifying cosmic void, and a final room I simply called "True Evil." My initial plan when buying the game had been to recreate the Overlook Hotel from The Shining (I even called my island Overlook), presuming New Horizons wouldn't let me create anything really gruesome and trying to meet it halfway. But now that goal seemed too unambitious. Whole worlds of atrocity were opening up to me.
For those of you who want to recreate your own, the whole thing was a mix of careful planning and sudden, wild improvisation. I'd start with a broad theme—for instance, "Abandoned Asylum"—then check all the items I had in storage to see if I could build something on that theme (I never throw away or sell anything if I can avoid it). Some creative liberties were involved, but it's amazing how much an item can be recontextualised with a blood splatter decal and the lights turned down.
Which brings me to my second point: fighting the game mechanically is only half the pleasure; the other half is in fighting it tonally and aesthetically. Animal Crossing is a paradox, claiming you can build anything you want, but with numerous asterisks to the end of that statement. You can create anything! Provided it's cutesy and twee. Furniture and other goods are drip-fed to you in a manner that doesn't allow you to prioritize the ones you want, even. The possibilities are limitless, but with quite a lot of limits, actually. So no, Animal Crossing never says in writing that you can't make a sex dungeon, but it damn well implies it with the assets and choices that the game gives you. It means that breaking through those restrictions to make something utterly unacceptable has more accomplishment tied to it than any amount of pretty gardens.
Not everything needs to be Dead By Daylight, and obviously this is a game designed for kids, but I think it builds into a bigger lesson about rule-breaking in games. People naturally push against rules. We've all had the option to name Link in past Zelda games, only to type in something that'd make our grandmothers cry.
The inverse holds true as well. GTA Online offers all manner of deadly vehicles and superweapons, but right now the most fun is being had by spandex-clad gangs armed only with baseball bats. Some gamers just want to see how much they can fight the system they're in, whether that system is narrative or mechanical, and build a new kind of game off the back of that rebellion. If Nintendo made a Mad Max version of Animal Crossing, we'd all be trying to recreate the gentle tea parties of New Horizons.
It's why I don't let my horror extend outside of my own house. Beyond the front door of the mayor's home, Overlook is still just a quaint idyll with picturesque neighborhoods, sun-dappled orchards and babbling brooks, the villagers whiling away their endless Sundays with harmless little hobbies. It's innocent beyond measure. And yet in the middle of it all, dug in like a trapdoor spider, is my house-and it proves it doesn't have to be like that at all.