Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a great way for those currently shut in to do very simple things they currently cannot, like catch fish and bugs and pay off their housing loans. It’s also a great way, apparently, to protest Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which has led to the game’s import into China to be banned.
Among the many uses of the game’s robust pattern and design creator has apparently been to stage protests inside the Animal Crossing universe for pro-democratic activists in Asia. While Hong Kong protests may feel like they happened decades ago in our current news continuum, it was less than a year ago that the NBA was embroiled in a scandal because pro-Democratic protests drew support from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on Twitter.
Coronavirus and its impact on the world has made that a less visible issue internationally, but the movement hasn’t been silenced in China. In fact, players who have imported copies of Animal Crossing have actually taken the protests in-game and shared them on social media.
Animal Crossing is Fast Becoming a New Way for Hong Kong Protesters to Fight for Democracy! The #Covid_19 pandemic has halted public demonstrations, so protesters are taking their cause to #AnimalCrossing.https://t.co/A599kjlYsV
(This is my island!) pic.twitter.com/vjBhzw1nUa
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) April 2, 2020
A quick search of Twitter can uncover a variety of protests that may not have context outside of Hong Kong, but are serious enough that the Chinese government has apparently taken steps to keep the game, not officially for sale in China, out of the country.
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) March 27, 2020
Activist Joshua Wong tweeted on Thursday that the game has disappeared from import sites, presumably as a result of the in-game protests and the ability for gamers to customize designs that could spread anti-government sentiment.
Oh no, Xi Jinping banned #AnimalCrossing in China (apparently because I play it), and these angry gamers are blaming me everywhere instead of blaming their own government lol pic.twitter.com/FdzObiFAyk
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) April 10, 2020
Though the game was never truly available in the country, this isn’t all that much of a surprise. But it’s still a fascinating look at how one of a game’s major strengths in many places — the ability to customize and replicate real life interests in the digital world — has made it essentially impossible to sell in others. If Nintendo ever sold it in China, much of the customization options that are a staple of gameplay would likely have to be removed.
As some have noted online, it’s still possible to get in China if you know where to go. But it’s clear the freedom to do pretty much anything in the game, while a feature in most places, is considered a bug in others.