Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have been pushed inside, like many of us around the world, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts everyday life. School, work, and other events have been moved online — including protests. Activists are using Nintendo’s new, idyllic life simulator Animal Crossing: New Horizons to support Hong Kong protesters’ five demands.
But on Friday morning, the game had disappeared from major Chinese online retailers Taobao and Pinduoduo, reports Reuters. Nintendo began selling the Switch in China in December 2019, but has not released New Horizons there; interested parties must purchase foreign versions of the game to play it. Only three games are officially available for the Switch in China: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Mario Odyssey.
It’s not immediately clear that New Horizons has been pulled because of the protests in-game, but the game’s removal comes after increased news coverage of the actions, popularized by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong. Reuters also reported there’s no indication whether the game was pulled as the result of “a directive from China’s content regulator or a voluntary act by politically sensitive e-commerce platforms.”
Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad wrote on Twitter Friday that despite not being officially available there, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is “extremely popular in China.” Players were able to purchase it from online retailers, small game shops that have imported it, and by changing the Nintendo eShop location.
The most popular video game under #COVID "Animal Crossing" developed by @Nintendo appears to be removed from sales in #China - probably due to its nearly unlimited freedom for players to create their virtual lives. It can't be searched on Chinese e-commerce platforms anymore. pic.twitter.com/jY6dYn04Yn— Phoebe Kong 江穎怡 (@phoebe_kongwy) April 10, 2020
This is how #hongkong ppl spend our time during coronavirus lockdown - villain hitting in #animalcrossing, the villain is #CarrieLam, the worst governor in #hongkong history.#AnimalCrossingNewHorizons#StandWithHK pic.twitter.com/K5AbOTl9tD— Studio Incendo (@studioincendo) April 1, 2020
Demonstrations inside Animal Crossing: New Horizons include a creative use of Nintendo’s customization options. Of course, players are donning medical and gas masks — symbols of the protest — and wearing all black. But others have created signage and artwork sharing the message “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now.” Others are using the game’s nets to bop Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who is widely unpopular within the pro-democracy movement.
Wong tweeted Friday that gamers in China are blaming him for New Horizons’ disappearance. Polygon has reached out to Wong for comment.
Protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing since the summer of 2019. Hongkongers are fighting for “universal suffrage” and an investigation into the Hong Kong police force, according to Vox. Last year, Hong Kong-based Hearthstone pro Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung used a postgame interview to express support for the movement, and was subsequently suspended and fined for the action. (Blizzard later reduced the punishment.) Angry with Blizzard, supporters began boycotting the company’s products and using Chinese Overwatch hero Mei as a symbol of the resistance. Demonstrators also appeared outside of BlizzCon 2019 to protest the suspension.
Similarly, a Taiwanese horror game, Devotion, was removed from Steam last year after players found a meme mocking Chinese president Xi Jinping in-game. The game has not returned to the platform, and it is currently playable only via bootlegged copies or at the Harvard-Yenching Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.