An ode to my dead and decaying Animal Crossing Island

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My island is a winter wasteland of weeds.

Steph Panecasio / CNET

When the lockdown first hit Australia in 2020, it seemed like every man and his dog had decided to pick up a Nintendo Switch and play Animal crossing. It wasn’t just the ‘in’ thing to do – it felt like it was the only thing we had to do. could do. We were stuck at home, but the islands became our way out.

Never having played the game before, I was transfixed. I wrote about how the island’s greenery crafts and villagers’ entertainment became the main source of my sanity in crazy times. I had arranged in-game meetings with my friends so they could come and see the latest developments on my island or the new furniture I had made. I meticulously wrote big swear words with the flower arrangements.


Roald the jock penguin was by far my favorite Animal Crossing villager.

Animal Crossing New Horizons

It was a respite for a while.

One of my friends was a master terraformer, whose entire island was covered from head to toe in flowers and strategically placed structures gathered over hundreds of hours of play. Going to visit him was a lesson in landscaping, seeing her visit me was a lesson in humility.

Meanwhile, other friends had filled their museums and art and everything. I tried great, but I only really cared about all the fish so my best friend Roald, a sports-mad penguin, could go and sit by the tanks by mid-afternoon.

And then somewhere around August / September of last year, we all kind of… stopped.

Australia was opening up again. We could see our friends in real time, not like an animated facsimile wearing a wetsuit and top hat. The games didn’t start, and after doing its job Animal Crossing slipped into the background of my subconscious.


There was a time when my partner and I happily digged all day on our islands.

Steph Panecasio / CNET

But then the confinement returned.

In June, cases in Australia started to rise again. Finding myself stuck with my in-laws for almost two months now, my Switch waved to me once more. “Come back to Animal Crossing,” he seemed to be saying. “Come visit Roald in the fish-filled corners of the museum, spend some time with us.”

So I started it. And I found what I can only really describe as a sanctuary until 2020.

My once relatively proud island was covered in weeds. The villagers, with whom I had spent centuries trying to befriend, were shocked to see my presence. “You haven’t been here for a year! they echoed. One of them was sick, so it felt like a double whammy of guilt. Illness was what got us all to enjoy Animal Crossing, it was wrong for the disease to find its place inside.

That, and the fact that they kept calling him “nose gunk.” No thanks!

I had forgotten all about my island setup, so for a while I wandered aimlessly, redirecting myself. A letter from Mom was not opened in my mailbox, along with a few from the bank and Tom Nook, who truly personified the persistent owner.

The buildings were still fine and the fruit trees were loaded, but there was still that vibe – the vibe of a place that had long been abandoned by the outside world. In a strange way though, it felt more like an island that was mine than ever before.

I realized pretty quickly that I was a totally different person than the Animal Crossing fan I had been last year.

These days, decadence holds my interest in a way that just doesn’t happen with the things that are flourishing. Everything flourishes? Alright, swagger, come back to 2014. Give me some mess, give me some mess, give me something to fix.

Due to my free space, I’m now all about zombies and decay.


In the photo: what I feel when I wake up in the morning.

Revealing games

Where last year I was dedicated to growing plants and making life easier, this year my obsession with video game lockdown has been flesh-eating monsters. A little different from Animal Crossing, I’ll grant you that, but I really got into it with all the rotting corpse vibe.

Instead of happily handing dumbbells or weird outfits to the villagers, I played Telltale’s Walking Dead games, searching for cans between gun shots and zombie faces. I’ve delved into the annals of pop culture for zombie content, from Evil Dead to The Last of Us – and even a bit of Plants vs. Zombies, which is a bit too revealing, if you ask me.

We are certainly in a very different headspace in 2021.

When I thought about it, it made sense. Last year seemed a lot lighter to me, maybe a little more naive. More energetic. This year, after nearly eighteen months of the pandemic, we are all feeling a little hardened. I feel less like a carefree anthropomorphized giraffe and much more like a tired, hungry zombie (although I promise you I’m looking for something to feed my brain, not to feed brains).

But I’m glad I thought back to my time at Animal Crossing now. It shows how far we’ve come in the last year, both for good and for bad. This in itself is proof that things can be rebuilt with a little work. And I’m sure when the world is a little less gloomy, I’ll go back and relax with Roald at the museum to watch the fish.

I might just wait until the urge to check dark corners for zombies wears off.

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