Just months ago, the news was filled with images of masked protesters on the streets of Hong Kong being attacked by police. The protests started after a bill was announced in February 2019 that would allow people from Hong Kong to be extradited to China, but by June the protests had exploded into something much bigger, with people fighting for democracy more broadly.
8,000 protesters have been arrested since the start of the clashes, but the arrival of COVID-19 meant that the Hong Kong government could impose a lockdown that would put a pause on the protests. So instead, demonstrators are now taking their anger and frustration out in the Nintendo game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Yes, this might seem an unlikely outlet given the game’s cuteness and simplicity; you basically travel to a desert island, make friends with the animals, build homes, and go fishing or hunt for bugs. But people are turning their island utopias into spaces for self-expression, creating banners that read: “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now.” In another image, posted by WIRED, users can be seen whacking pictures of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.
“Animal Crossing is a place without political censorship so it is a good place to continue our fight,” says activist Joshua Wong, who was instrumental in the country’s 2014 Umbrella Movement. “Even lawmakers in Hong Kong are playing this game.” Wong says he plays it himself, and in a screenshot of his island, his avatar can be seen holding a hatchet in a garden with a black protest banner, as well as portraits of Carrie Lam and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on March 20 and has already shattered sales records in the UK, selling millions of copies worldwide, as people look for a way to escape to a virtual island in the midst of the pandemic.