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'Animal Crossing' suddenly banned in China

Popular Nintendo game's China server taken down after players mock CCP leaders

Wong shares pro-democracy slogan in Animal Crossing. (Demosistō Video screenshot)

Wong shares pro-democracy slogan in Animal Crossing. (Demosistō Video screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China banned the popular social simulation video game "Animal Crossing" on Friday (April 10), as the game has become a platform for dissidents to openly vent their discontent with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The long-running Nintendo franchise just released its latest title — 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' — on March 20. In this game, players can immerse themselves in a world of anthropomorphic animal friends and casual farm life; its open-ended gameplay also allows players to showcase their creativity and customize their characters by uploading original images.

The secretary-general of Hong Kong pro-democracy party Demosistō, Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), is one such dedicated player; he has been using the game to advocate the ongoing pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong by creating satirical images. Some mock Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), while others depict scenes such as a funeral for CCP leader Xi Jinping (習近平).

'Animal Crossing' suddenly banned in China
Some gamers have been leveraging "Animal Crossing" to make political statements. (Twitter/Joshua Wong photo)

As similar images began proliferating on social media, Nintendo suddenly announced it would be taking down the game's China server on April 10 at 6 p.m., allegedly after being pressured by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several Chinese e-tailers, such as Jingdong and Taobao, also removed the game from their platforms.

This is not the first time the CCP has targeted video games for containing sensitive content. The authoritarian regime previously banned the Taiwanese computer game "Devotion" because of hidden messages comparing Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh and Chinese buns.

Once Chinese players could no longer meet their friends on their beloved virtual farmland, many bombarded Wong with insults and death threats, blaming their lost access on his politicization of the game. However, most players outside of China reckon the CCP is the real culprit that players should lash out at.

Studio Incendo, a Hong Kong nonprofit made of photographers from Hong Kong and Japan, also supported Wong and made a mocking video about Carrie Lam with the same game.

On Friday, Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) shared a post on Facebook saying Taiwan will never ban this game of "collecting twigs and planting radishes." He emphasized that democracy and freedom of speech were Taiwan's most essential values and that people are welcome to mock the government as they please through all kinds of channels.