China is trying to ban people from playing the hugely popular Nintendo Switch game ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ because protesters are using the game to criticize President Xi Jinping and the government of Hong Kong.
The game, which was released last month, is a social simulation game where players live on an idyllic tropical island, befriend anthropomorphic animals, tend crops, and decorate their surroundings.
The game has been hugely popular during the coronavirus lockdown, and some protesters in Hong Kong have been using the ability to create your own world to conduct online protests while offline protests have been banned.
Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong democracy activist, was among the first to show how this could be done, posting a screenshot of his island, which he decorated with a banner saying: “Free Hong Kong, revolution now.”
“For lots of people around the world who play this game, they have to put their ideal life into the game, and for Hong Kongers, we have to put our protest movement and our protest sites inside the game,” Wong said last week.
But now Beijing appears to be trying to stop the sale of the game. Listings on ecommerce platforms Taobao and Pinduoduo have been removed since Friday morning, and sellers report they have been directed to no longer list the game. It is unclear if the decision was made by the platforms themselves, or at the direction of the Chinese government.
The game is not officially available in China as it has not been approved by the country’s gaming regulator.
But that hasn’t stopped people in China buying it and “the game has become extremely popular,” Daniel Ahmad, a video games analyst with Niko Partners, tweeted. “Even places like the Shanghai Fire department used Animal Crossing to create some in-game messages.” And the ban is unlikely to stop the game from being played in China, Ahmad said.
In fact, in response to the ban, more people in China have been posting images and videos from the game that poke fun at the Chinese and Hong Kong rulers.
One video shows six players on a beach hitting images of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam with butterfly nets.
But it was not just Hong Kong protestors who used the game features to highlight issues in China. Other citizens began posting criticism of President Xi Jinping.
Because of China’s strict controls over all types of media, the Switch only officially went on sale there in December, almost three years since it was first released. Only three games have so far been officially approved by the regulator in China, and if an official version of ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ is ever released in the country, it is likely to have significant restrictions on the ability to create in-game content.
Cover: Joshua Wong/Twitter