huidi xiang

my playbench in the workground

the foreword

In mid-March 2020, as lockdown policies gradually were imposed around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, I was forced, along with millions of others worldwide, into isolation in my tiny apartment. Around the same time, on March 20th, the life simulation video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released for the Nintendo Switch game console.

In the game, the gamer assumes a human cartoon character who moves to a remote deserted island with the aim of transforming it into a "personal paradise" inhabited by both the gamer in their cartoon human guise and a group of anthropomorphic animal characters. In the game, day passes in real time, and seasons change with the calendar. The gamer can carry out various activities like gardening, bug catching, fishing, fossil hunting, among others; the gamer is also free to decorate their house and the island using items acquired from trading or crafting. The game also offers terraforming features that give the gamer capacities to further sculpt the island.

I entered this game as a video game newbie, searching for both a reprieve from anxiety and an alternative site for structural life and art-making. On May 17th, 2020, I landed on my very own "virtual island" for the first time and began my getaway adventure in the world of Animal Crossing. On May 21st, the fifth day I was in the game, I decided to start an Excel data table as a game log to document my game acts and activities in the game, primarily as a way of keeping track during a time when days had melted into a shapeless slurry. In this log, I recorded the time I spent in the game and all sorts of gaming activities, including non-player characters I interacted with, fish and insects I caught, fruits I picked, game currencies I earned and spent, trips I made to other gamers' islands, items I crafted or traded, gifts I received, etc.

Until today (March 26th, 2021), I have been in the game for more than 300 days and have never missed one single day since the day one. When looking back at my game log these days, I noticed that some patterns started to emerge, and I became curious about these patterns and about potential meanings, motivations, and implications hidden behind them.

[updated] In the end, I played the game for one whole year (365 days) without missing one single day. Thus, I have one whole year of my gaming data documented on the spreadsheet.

Primarily working as a sculptor in my studio practice, I started to create sculptural objects to help me explore and understand my gaming patterns and present my discoveries. In a way, I am using these objects to construct a system or a network that enables me to reiterate my gaming experience using my own artistic language and to contemplate the connections between my idiosyncratic narratives and the world beyond the game. I am also using these objects to help me better understand my role and position as an artist living and working in a world where we are all constantly navigating back and forth between digital and physical contexts.

a quick sneak peak of my game care log
from 05/21/2020 (the 5th day in the game) to 03/12/2021 (the 300th day in the game)


09/2022 updates:

my_game_care_log_ACNH: 05/21/2020 - 05/17/2021_24*170

in September 2022, i printed out the whole spreadsheet for the first time for the show.
The paper is 24 x 170 in. I consider this as the first iteration of me trying to bring this spreadsheet in the physical context. More to come.

me in my studio in ACNH and IRL

in the game, I named my island as “The Studio,” and I did treat my virtual island
both as my alternative studio as well as my studio work.

the installation

the wall text in Miller ICA

an installation view of my playbench in the workground in Rhinoceros 3D and in Miller ICA

my playbench in the workground is an installation I create for Friends Forever an exhibition featuring new work from the CMU School of Art MFA class of 2021. This installation consists of seven sculptures, and is presented on the third floor of Miller ICA.

I consider this installation also as part of the research system I am constructing to make sense of my gaming experience and my ethnographic research in the life simulation games. These objects presented here in this installation specifically focus on the complex interplay between play and labor through the lens of both the digital and physical tools I have been using in the game and in my real life. By reimagining and reinterpreting these tools, I am creating a personal ontology of the relationship between play and labor in my virtual and physical life and applying such ontology to help me better understand a more extensive social condition in which the boundaries between play and labor are increasingly blurred, resulting in an ever-exploitative logic in the late capitalism burnout culture. Through creating this body of work, I am also reflecting upon the labor in an artist studio and my participatation in the labor structure beyond the studio. 

a screenshot of my google search result for “animal crossing tools” on October 26th, 2020

This web page is primarily created to present some thoughts and the documentations of this installation I create in the physical space. At the same time, this web page is also part of the process of me navigating back and forth between digital and physical creative tool sets in both making and presenting these works. I consider this web page as part of my contemplatations on the meanings of constantly translating and retranslating these objects between their physical and digital existences.

the documentation

︎︎︎This bird chirping sound is part of the installation and is played on loop in the gallery while it is open. Before a viewer actually enter the gallery on the third floor, they can hear this sound in the elevator.

(click the play button to play. the sound will be automatically played on loop.)

︎︎︎This document is the exhibition handout. The viewer can take it while viewing the installation. It is printed on the both sides of one yellow US letter-size paper. 


︎︎︎some installation views︎︎︎

©Tom Little

©Tom Little


︎︎︎individual works︎︎︎



2021 |  3D printed general PLA, wood, MDF, wheels. 

To define a space or a system, someone needs to define an origin, an origin for what, who, when, where, why, and how. In my life, the origin is usually either predefined by others or defined by me arbitrarily. If I have a flexible origin point, can it free someone?

 O(0,0,0,0) on its way to the gallery


see shovel saw

2021 |  3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, wood pattern printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood, bolt, wheels.

The use of wood patterns printed on clear acetate and attached to the actual wood surfaces is inspired by the technology of 3D rendering and bitmapping. When digital rendering an image/object, I usually only bitmap the surfaces that are shown in the rendering camera frame. Other surfaces or volumes can be super raw or messy. Nobody is going to see them anyway. 

To attach these fake patterns on the wood, I design a kind of clip which is a fusion of the wood clip, the screw, and the game console. There are 3 designs used in this installation: the d-pad clip (yellow), the abxy-pad clip (pink), and the joystick clip.


i am sorry but the elephant slide slid.

2021 |  3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, wood pattern printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood,  duct tape.


neither the flower nor the bird admits their insatiability.

2021 |  3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, wood pattern printed on clear acetate, fence drawing printed on clear acetate, cement, duct tape, MDF, wood, wheels, motor, tube, water pump, glass dome, bird chirping sound.

The classic toy heat engine drinking bird is also called “insatiable birdie.” It indeed constantly requires watering like the flowers I grow in the video games. But we all know that neither the bird nor the flower is truly insatiable. The system is. This sculpture is also partially inspired by King-Size Homer (1995), the 7th episode of The Simpsons’ 7th season, in which Homer Simpson leaves his terminal with a drinking bird to press the Y key to indicate "yes" on the keyboard as a way to escape his job.


“then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff.”

2021 |  3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, door drawing printed on clear acetate, grid drawing printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood, tube, modified maneki-neko.

©Tom Little                                                                                                                               


11*door + 3*elevator =

2021 |  3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, duct tape, leaf drawing printed on clear acetate, flower drawing prined on clear acetate, grid drawing printed on paper, cardboard, cement, MDF, wood.

Before I made this group of sculptures, I realized that, in order to create these works in the woodshop, bring them to my studio, and eventually take them to this gallery, I need to make sure they are able to pass through 11 doors in various sizes and can be fit into 3 different elevators. Therefore, I made this cart as a tool that allows me to size my works and thus to move them smoothly through all these doors and elevators.


i’ve got a portable esc!

2021 |  3D printed general PLA, cement, foam.

One of my favorite tools from American cartoon animation Looney Tunes is the portable hole, which creates a “hole” through whatever solid surface it is placed against, enabling a character to reach through that surface. According to Looney Tunes, Professor Calvin Q. Calculus invented this tool in 1955 (The Hole Idea, 1955). I decided to create a more contemporary version of this hole.

some other digital perspectives

 the installation in the gallery day and night   ©Miller ICA

︎︎︎for more info and downloadable booklet, please visit: Miller ICA exhibition page
︎︎︎my playbench in the workground reported on GAMESCENES

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📌️all the visual materials shown on this page is created by Huidi Xiang, unless otherwise noted.