News and Commentary

China Removes ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ After Players Display Hong Kong Protest Art
Office workers and protesters gather during a pro-democracy demonstration in a mall in the central district of Hong Kong on February 21, 2020.

Nintendo’s hit game “Animal Crossing: New Horizon” wasn’t technically available in China, but fans in the country were able to play it via a “gray market.” Now, however, local ecommerce platforms that were providing the game to players in China have removed it from their listing, and while no official reason for the disappearance has been given, Hong Kong gaming news outlet Abacus, along with fans of the game, suggest it has to do with protest art.

Abacus reported Friday that the Chinese fans of the game are blaming Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who back in late March tweeted images of protest art within Animal Crossing, with the caption “HKers are really creative!”

Wong linked to a Facebook page that included more images of people dressing in all black with black surgical masks and gas masks, as well as custom-displayed art panels of Chinese symbols and the words “Free Hong Kong.”

Abacus reported that Wong tweeted a Newsweek article that mentioned him saying Hong Kong protesters could use Animal Crossing as a means of protest during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The game has recently become a virtual space for Hong Kong protesters to meet without breaking the city’s social distancing rules during the Covid-19 pandemic. Screenshots of customized virtual islands that take aim at Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam have gone viral on Twitter,” Abacus reported. “Soon after Animal Crossing started disappearing from Chinese platforms, Wong, who is secretary-general of the local Demosisto party, tweeted that he received a flood of emails and Instagram messages from angry players.”

More from Abacus:

While some mainland players blame Wong for the takedown, it’s not clear that protest art in Animal Crossing is the reason for it. China has strict rules for game approvals, and only three Nintendo Switch games are approved for sale in China so far. Animal Crossing isn’t one of them.

But while Chinese gamers can only buy three Mario games from the mainland Nintendo eShop, official Chinese Switch consoles can still play physical game cards from abroad. So like many other games, Animal Crossing cards have been smuggled in by scalpers and sold on popular Chinese ecommerce sites such as Alibaba’s Taobao, often at much higher prices.

Searching on Taobao today, though, shows that listings for Animal Crossing: New Horizons are gone. Abacus reached out to Taobao and Tencent, Nintendo’s official partner for the Switch in China, and will update if we receive a response.

Abacus noted that it is part of the South China Morning Post, which is also owned by Alibaba.

This isn’t the first game that has been used to protest China’s treatment of Hong Kong. The Daily Wire reported in late December that online players of “Grand Theft Auto V” had begun dressing their players as Hong Kong protesters, wearing similar black clothing and gas masks. There was also a massive backlash against Blizzard Entertainment after it suspended professional Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for expressing support for Hong Kong protesters during a live interview following his latest match.