scary dark animal crossing new horizons theories
[Photo via Nintendo]

9 surprisingly dark ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ fan theories

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a friendly, relaxing video game that’s been all the rage since its initial release on the Nintendo Switch in March. From the adorable animal villagers to a quiet island getaway, a simulated life in Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes for the perfect virtual escape from 2020.

But leave die-hard Animal Crossing fans with a new game in a pandemic lockdown and they’re bound to discover some of its darker undertones. From extraterrestrial overlords to an obnoxious bunny’s secret identity, here are nine disturbing, unsettling and downright creepy Animal Crossing: New Horizons fan theories

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The game is set in purgatory

While ACNH may seem like a peaceful simulation game, one popular theory among fans suggests the game doesn’t simulate our life but rather our afterlife. As some fans see it, the deserted island getaway in New Horizons is actually the player’s first brief stop in the afterlife—purgatory. Animal Crossing: New Horizons begins with the player’s character boarding an airplane that takes them to their new island home. There’s no backstory whatsoever, and the player can’t refuse the offer, leading some fans to believe this transportation represents the character traveling from the physical world to the “waiting room” of the afterlife. 

Once on the island, players must help Tom Nook turn the deserted area into a sprawling paradise. This tedious and time-consuming project is meant to distract the player’s character from its own death because it hasn’t reached heaven yet. To pass the time, the charming villagers surround the character to talk to while they build bridges, plant gardens, craft furniture and much, much more. This could even explain the mundane repetitive tasks in the game such as recrafting broken tools and picking weeds every day.

Clowns haunt the villagers at night

When the player persuades a villager staying at their campsite to move onto their island in New Horizons, they may be caught off guard by an ominous comment. Once the villager accepts the player’s request to move, a current island villager will then move away. Occasionally, the campsite villager will say the other villager was already planning to leave due to the “night clowns.” Some fans believe this is referring to Wisp, the friendly ghost who occasionally appears on islands at night. However, Wisp is clearly a ghost, not a clown. Furthermore, on the nights Wisp does appear on a player’s island, villagers will note “a presence” to the player rather than a night clown. 

But the player never comes into contact with these so-called night clowns, nor do villagers ever elaborate on it. In fact, there’s no evidence of them on the island from the player’s perspective whatsoever. This leads fans to believe these night clowns are somehow only visible to animal villagers or that they’re specifically choosing to haunt them instead of the player. Either way, we’ll never really know what those villagers are seeing at night. 

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Isabelle’s alcohol use

Animal Crossing fans know Isabelle as the sweet, hard-working Shih Tzu that first debuted as the player’s secretary in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. But in New Horizons, Isabelle is carrying a heavier workload at Nook’s company, Nook Inc., overseeing the island’s appearance and branding, as well as conducting the daily announcements and summer firework shows.

So how does the adorable Shih Tzu cope with her intense workload? Some fans are pointing to a suspicious brown drink on her desk in New Horizons as a clue. Some fans in Japan claim the iced, brown drink on Isabelle’s desk to be barley tea, a popular drink in the country, whereas other fans interpret it as whiskey on the rocks. For those who believe the drink is alcoholic, this would only mean one thing—Isabelle may struggle with alcohol misuse. While this unknown drink appears on Isabelle’s desk every day in New Horizons, it’s not the first time she’s been seen with a questionable beverage. In the mobile app, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, players can craft “vacation juice,” which bears an uncanny resemblance to a tropical margarita. One viral tweet even shows Isabelle getting a little tipsy after drinking one. Though the mystery drink on her desk may never be identified, some fans still believe that one of the game’s most innocent characters relies on some Jack to get her through the stress of her job. Although, we do hope she finds a better coping mechanism for her stress. 

Blathers is a divine being

Players know Blathers as the friendly, academic owl and island museum director. However, his extensive knowledge of history and biology has some fans thinking his role in the game is much more prominent. Blathers is knowledgeable of every bug, fish, sea creature, fossil and work of art the player brings to him. He can identify and describe famous works of art spanning over thousands of decades and even has a replica of the dinosaur-killing meteor colliding with Earth. In the fossil section, players can find a room with a phylogenetic tree containing villager species in their anamorphic state in the game and their real-life counterparts. There’s also a spot on the tree showing a connection between humans in the Animal Crossing world and an Australopithecus skull.

All of this information displayed in the museum has fans wondering how Blathers can possibly have knowledge of Van Gogh paintings, Australopithecus remnants or the mass K-T extinction when those concepts don’t exist in the Animal Crossing world but rather our own world. While there’s much to be decoded, fans believe Blathers is somehow a divine being in the New Horizons world. His endless knowledge of artifacts that exist outside of the game serves this theory. In fact, some fans even use Blathers’ infamous hatred of bugs as a tie to his immortal state, referring to Leviticus 11:20 of The Old Testament: “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you.” Some players think this is just a coincidence, but it’s another clue hinting at Blathers’ true role in New Horizons.

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The secret identity of Zipper T. Bunny

While he’s not a fan favorite, there’s still a lot to discuss about the eccentric and sometimes obnoxious Bunny Day mascot, Zipper T. Bunny. Players can find him hopping and dancing around their island in early April, as he reminds them to collect as many eggs as they can to craft special Bunny Day DIY recipes

But love him or hate him, there’s something about Zipper T. Bunny that doesn’t sit right with fans, leading to the question of a secret identity. Many fans believe Zipper T. Bunny is someone else playing a character in a costume—and there’s a lot of evidence to back it up. Zipper T. Bunny clearly has a zipper on his back, and when viewed from behind, he’ll immediately turn around and warn the player not to “go snoopin’.” In some instances in New Horizons, he even gives players a “last warning.”

In one viral tweet, Zipper breaks character when the player walks out of range, letting out a long sigh. Animal villagers are even a bit wary around Zipper T. Bunny, even noting to players that they’re worried about his health or hope he finds a new job. Assuming that’s all true, the real mystery then lies in his true identity. Some fans theorize it could be Phyllis, the pelican who worked the night shift at the post office in New Leaf, or Tortimer, an elderly tortoise who reigns as mayor of the player’s town in all games, excluding New Leaf. Another theory believes he’s Hopkins, a rabbit villager, because they share a birthday and both have the lazy villager voice. 

New Horizons is under alien control

A disturbing message is broadcast every Saturday on all televisions in New Horizons. At precisely 3:33 a.m., an image of a small alien will appear as eerie background music begins to play. The alien will then speak in the villager-like gibberish while the screen occasionally flashes to an image of a UFO. At 3:34 a.m., the broadcast is over. 

While some fans believe the broadcast to be a reference to the friendly aliens in Dobutsu no Mori, the 2006 movie, others suspect their presence is a sign of their control over the island, pointing to the fact that the UFO that appears in the 3:33 a.m. broadcast is the same UFO players can craft via the UFO DIY recipe they receive from Celeste. An even more disturbing clue fans reference is the time 3:33 a.m., or 333—half the number of the beast. There’s even the mysterious disappearance of Gulliver, a special character that used to fly UFOs in previous Animal Crossing games—but that’s another theory in itself. Regardless, the truth behind how aliens are able to hack island televisions or their place in the Animal Crossing universe is still unsettled. 

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Stitches’ dark origins

The cute, lazy villager Stitches, who appears to be a child’s ragged and worn stuffed teddy bear, is a well-sought-after villager to many Animal Crossing players. On many villager ranking lists, he’s comfortably in the top 10. But some fans suspect Stitches’ cute appearance may have a disturbing backstory. From first glance, his name’s meaning is pretty obvious—he’s simply an old stitched-up teddy bear, right? Maybe not.

Some fans believe Stitches isn’t one teddy bear but multiple teddy bears stitched together, making him a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque villager. Stitches’ right ear, left arm and right leg appear to match with the lime green and orange palette. His left ear and right arm also match but are both blue. Clearly, these two sets of colors don’t match up to create one cohesive teddy bear. Additionally, Stitches’ left leg is orange—a slightly different hue than his light orange head and torso. What also has fans thinking is his catch phrase, “stuffin’,” a somewhat meta and disturbing reference to a teddy bear’s stuffing. Is this just a pun or a dark joke Stitches uses to hint at his own creation?

You, the player, are a child who ran away from home

New Horizons begins like any other Animal Crossing game—the player’s character journeys to a new town (or in this case, a new island) with no possessions, no money and no acquaintances. There’s absolutely no reference to the character’s life prior to the island getaway, except for one person. Once a month, the player will receive a letter in their mailbox from “Mom.” The letter will be accompanied with a present, such as an apron, plushie or candle—or in other words, wholehearted mom-like gifts. The letter itself is brief but is written in a heartfelt tone.

These two aspects of the game lead fans to theorize that players are actually playing as a child who’s ran away from home. The player sets out on a sudden journey by themselves with no belongings, then—in their new life—receives in-game letters from the character’s mother, who will even reference their life prior to their departure. Some fans see this as a mother desperately trying to get her child to return home. 

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Gulliver is a victim of alien abductions

Gulliver the seagull will occasionally wash ashore on players’ islands after falling off his ship at sea, or so he says. When talking to Gulliver, players will hear a wordy and sometimes far-fetched telling of his incident at sea. It’s then the player’s duty to dig up the five missing parts of Gulliver’s communicator that are buried somewhere along the island’s beaches. 

But looking deeper into Gulliver’s past, and his dialogue in New Horizons, fans have noticed Gulliver may not be falling overboard but is the victim of repeated alien abductions. Gulliver was first introduced as a sailor in the first Animal Crossing game, Animal Crossing. However, in the two later games, Wild World and City Folk, Gulliver is an astronaut that pilots a UFO. Yet, in New Horizons, Gulliver is back out at sea. When he wakes up on the shore, Gulliver can’t really remember where he is or what happened to him. Moreover, some fans encounter dialogue in the game where Gulliver briefly mentions not wanting to go back to space before he stops himself mid-sentence. 

All of these points, combined with the fact that Gulliver washing ashore unconscious is a regular experience in the game, leads some to believe he’s the victim of repeated alien abductions. Some fans even suspect Gulliver is tied to the aliens in the 3:33 a.m. broadcast, even suggesting he could be an alien himself.