The train doesn’t stop by Bangtang anymore. Once a bustling metropolis, the island now resembles more of an unkempt graveyard. Dreams of industry wealth have been replaced with fog, rusted tin roofs, and broken-down windows.
At least, this is the story that Animal Crossing: New Horizons player forbiddenforest tells on Instagram, where she sometimes uploads evocative images of her island, which is partially inspired by cyberpunk movie Blade Runner. Rather than opting for popular aesthetics, like the cozy vibes of cottagecore islands or the dreamy air of fairycore towns, Bangtang relishes the decrepit haze of trashcore. It’s not a popular approach, to be sure, but it is a flexible one.
Narrative game designer Kevin Snow, for example, tells Polygon that his island, which includes a pit-like area that is quarantined and trashed, is meant as somewhat of an experiment.
“Animal Crossing has always included a ton of furniture themed around ugly industrial stuff, and no one ever uses it,” Snow said in a Twitter message. “So it’s like the quickest way to having an island that doesn’t look like anyone else’s.”
Snow buckles down on the concept of rejection by only embracing villagers who are considered “ugly” or undesirable by the Animal Crossing fandom, like Rodney.
Some fans say that creating worn-down islands is a fun challenge that keeps the game lively, as folks have to get creative to accomplish their vision. Twitter user YoFriendo, for instance, has an island that takes its desert aesthetic seriously. Resources for keeping things nice and tidy are scarce here, allowing sand and time to take their toll on the environment. It’s a cool idea in theory, but the trick was figuring out how to make things look ragged in a game that is designed to look cheery. This, YoFriendo noted, takes a lot of “planning” and “careful layering” to make things look natural. Also, plenty of custom textures.
“I love working within a theme or using a limited palette because it fosters creativity and resourcefulness,” YoFriendo said.
“What appears run down and abandoned is actually a reflection of life and resilience,” they continued. “In this way, my slum is a direct reflection of my creative process — [figuring] out how to thrive within limitations.”
Having a lived-in look adds a lot of texture to an Animal Crossing island, but there’s also an undeniable elephant in the room. After all, this is a video game where pine cones are worth actual money — why are some people embracing the look of poverty and need? While nobody interviewed by Polygon spoke to this directly, what’s clear by looking at the captions on Instagram accounts showcasing these digital shanty towns is that many people approach them as a storytelling prompt.
Snapshots of abandoned, trashed, and polluted islands are accompanied with involved stories about how the world got to that place. It is almost treated like lore, or an ongoing fiction project that followers can sometimes even visit, should the content creator provide a Dream Address. The point is to make the island seem plausible to onlookers.
“The smoke from the factories makes the atmosphere almost unbreathable and opaque,” reads the text describing the tableau uploaded by Animal Crossing player Zirael. “Yet it’s a common sight for the villagers of the walled city.”
Rather than building a dream world where nothing ever goes wrong, some Animal Crossing players seek to reflect the intricacies of real world in full — faults and all. A Japanese player called Taku, for example, cited the tightly-packed (and now demolished) Kowloon Walled City in China as one of his central inspirations for his island (seen at the top of this post). By studying that actual enclave, Taku was able to create an island that has more “height and density” than your average Animal Crossing locale.
The side effect of using even the messy and unwanted aspects of the real world as a muse for Animal Crossing is that you might start looking at your surroundings differently — or at least, more closely.
“That was probably the most unexpected benefit to all of this,” YoFriendo says. “Even though I was spending a lot of time in front of a screen, I was connecting more with my life again and finding inspiration everywhere.”