Nationwide lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic have stopped activists taking to the streets of Hong Kong to participate in the widespread pro-democracy protests that began last year. However, the protesters have since found an unlikely home on the Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The game has provided “a place without political censorship” where people can gather and create artwork, allowing a degree of self-expression from quarantine. However, it now appears that Chinese platforms are cracking down on the virtual space as well.
Since imagery of the virtual protests was shared, Animal Crossing listings have disappeared from Chinese e-commerce sites such as Taobao and Pinduoduo, according to a Reuters report (April 10).
While this doesn’t amount to an outright ban, for many people these sites are the only source of third-party consoles and games, which – unlike the licensed Chinese version of the Switch – have online capabilities, allowing them to visit and share visuals with other players.
At the same time, it doesn’t seem very likely that the change will do much to stop people getting their hands on Animal Crossing. On Taobao, sellers have been circumventing the apparent ban by directing buyers to listings without the name in the title, and it’s not too difficult to get around regional restrictions to access Nintendo’s online store.
If anything, the change may draw more attention to Animal Crossing (as if it’s not taken over the internet already) and the protests that are going on within the game.
Whether Chinese retailers or authorities take more extreme measures to crack down on the in-game activities, such as blocking users’ access to Nintendo’s online servers, remains to be seen.