“Animal Crossing” Islands Home to Adorable Animals and Hong Kong Activists

Politics Technology

The Nintendo Switch title Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a global smash hit in the coronavirus era, when gamers have plenty of time to enjoy it at home. In Hong Kong, though, its use as a protest platform by prodemocracy activists has brought it harsh attention from the Chinese authorities.

A Global Hit for Pandemic Times

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest outing in the popular Animal Crossing franchise, has been an enormous hit in Japan since its March 20 launch for Nintendo’s Switch gaming platform. Hitting the market just as schools closed and people took to their homes in large numbers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it proved an irresistible way for gamers to stay occupied while they stayed indoors, making it a smash hit in countries around the globe in addition to its home market of Japan.

The game is a real-time adventure that places the player on an uninhabited island, where he or she explores the land, gathering and making needed items, and interacting with animal characters or other players online or in person. In many markets, though, it has been in the news for more than just its charming gameplay.

In South Korea, the title was a booming success as soon as it launched, with some 2,500 eager shoppers lining up in Seoul for a change to buy a Switch console packaged with the game. The Switch itself is hard to find nowadays—partly because of its popularity as a way to pass time in an era of social distancing, and partly because so many gamers want to play the new Animal Crossing edition. Korean online shops are selling the scarce Switch for the equivalent of up to ¥70,000, around twice the ordinary retail price.

The Switch is also popular in China, a market notorious for its harsh restrictions on foreign gaming consoles and software. Pop-up retail shops specializing in the Nintendo offerings are a common sight in Chinese urban areas with heavy traffic, and while the new Animal Crossing game has yet to be localized and marketed to Chinese gamers, stuffed animal characters from the game and other related goods are a hit. Many are even importing foreign editions of the game to get to work on their virtual islands as soon as they can.

Beijing Frowning on the Game’s Other Uses

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, a localized version of the game has gone on sale. But some players are using it in ways going beyond the innocent fun of island exploration and customization.

Prodemocracy activist Joshua Wong had this to say about the game on his Twitter account:

His in-game island is decorated with a banner reading “Free Hong Kong—Revolution Now.” The popular game is providing yet another platform for Wong and his fellow activists to share their messages against Beijing’s influence over their territory.

China has moved swiftly to counter this usage of Animal Crossing. Major online retail websites in China have banned sales of foreign editions of the latest game. As Wong says in his tweet, “The #Covid_19 pandemic has halted public demonstrations, so protesters are taking their cause to #AnimalCrossing.” The coronavirus pandemic and the global gaming market have come together in an unexpected way to bring Chinese political issues to light in an all-new way.

(Originally published on FNN Prime News on April 20, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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