At first glance, Leah Whitta’s island seems colorful and bright, with clusters of colorful flowers arranged between manicured wooden walkways. It’s only when you cross a quaint bridge and see all the headstones that you get the sense that anything is amiss.
“The graveyard is equal parts trophy and tribute,” Leah told Polygon over Twitter DMs.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game about settling down on an island, and you can customize your new home to have any number of attractions. Fans have created everything from cozy cafes and public parks to sprawling estates and carefully organized orchards. Over time, the adorable animal villagers can move out, and are replaced by new, friendly faces. While the game is mostly chipper, some fans like to curate a darker experience, which might explain why some players aren’t just letting villagers move out. They’re creating places to “mourn” the dearly departed.
Like anyone playing Animal Crossing, Leah had liked and disliked villagers. Those who didn’t pass muster were singled out, with Leah complaining to Isabelle over their behavior (a tactic that was later revealed to be ineffective), ignoring them, and using Amiibo cards. Once out, each and every one got a tombstone in the south-east corner of her island.
In Leah’s case, some of the villagers, like Chèvre the goat and Flo the penguin were lovable, but not worth keeping. Other stones mark a triumph over problematic villagers, like Benedict the chicken, who sometimes started arguments, or characters who had redundant personality types. Megan the bear, Leah says, had a “serial killer” vibe, and was entirely too interested in Leah’s sleeping habits. Notably — and perhaps controversially — one of the villagers that she forced out is Audie, a wolf who is allegedly named after a grandma who loves Animal Crossing.
“I get so much shit for this online due to [Audie’s] back story,” Leah admits, “but oh god she annoyed me so much.”
Leah’s efforts and frustrations — it took her days to muster up the nerve to hit Audie with a net — didn’t go unnoticed. While she insists that she was largely benevolent in her villager exchanges, her husband, Gary Whitta, couldn’t help but tease her. “My wife psychologically tortures her [Animal Crossing] neighbors until they leave her island then she erects a tombstone for them in an ever-growing graveyard,” Gary joked on Twitter.
But to Leah’s credit, her evicted visitors found good homes via Facebook groups or other family member’s islands. Now the only sign that they ever resided on the island is the graveyard. In this, Leah isn’t alone.
For fans who want to craft a horror aesthetic for their island, New Horizons provides plenty of tools. Gravestones, black roses, iron wrought fences, and even weeds are all valuable items for creating a nice, spooky environment. And all are getting put to good use by New Horizons devotees who erect graveyard for ex-villagers.
For some fans, the graveyard thing plays into their nostalgia for the early days of their village. Jen Takeda, another New Horizons player, started out with the goal of having a village of exclusively cats. As she played, she spotted a gravestone, and was surprised by such a dark item in a cheery game. Then, she was inspired to find a way to put it to use. As luck would have it, that’s around when Teddy, an ursine villager, asked if he should move. Jen said yes — she only wanted cats, after all, and Teddy clashed with that plan.
“It all kind of clicked from there to make the grave for him,” Jen said in a Twitter DM. “Guess I have a bit of a dark sense of humor, along with wanting a way to remember what my island was like,” she added. Thanks to a portrait, he’ll always be on her island to a degree, even as it becomes entirely feline-themed.
Based on Polygon’s conversations with players who build graveyards for departed villagers, the practice isn’t as creepy as it might seem — it’s actually sweet. Jofie, another New Horizons player, tells Polygon that graveyards provide a space to commemorate villagers who impacted her along the way. “I didn’t want to just forget them, since for a while they were an important part of my island experience,” she tells Polygon.
For fans like Jen, the graveyard isn’t just a place, it’s an experience. In a screenshot shared on social media, you can peek the cat-obsessed player dressed up in dramatic black clothes, as if she were attending a funeral.
“RIP Teddy, you were chill dude,” she wrote in the caption, which featured a simple drawing of Teddy gazing at her crying villager. “I just needed more cats.”