Animal Crossing has become a phenomenon amongst casual and hardcore gamers. Some of the world’s most prolific gamers are from China, and they too want in on the Deserted Island lifestyle.
China has a very tight grip on what their citizens can play. In 2015, they allowed a version of the Switch into their country but required that Tencent became a local partner. This version of the Switch was limited to Chinese government approved games and no access to online features. Players have gone around this by buying the standard Switch through local importers and creating foreign accounts to access the online content. This was the only way to play Animal Crossing in the county.
With the recent Hong Kong Riots and the following civil unrest, these players have used Animal Crossing’s decoration features to make their statements heard. In Animal Crossing, you can design your own image and write word on the grass. These images are often of China’s leader Xi Jinping or of famous protesters. The words exclaim “Free Hong Kong” in both Chinese characters and English. Different versions of this display have been shared throughout Twitter and Instagram.
The Chinese government has taken swift action. Enforcing the ban on Animal Crossing and going after the retailers offering imported versions. Counter government officials are now using Animal Crossing as symbol of freedom:
“Animal Crossing is a place without political censorship, so it is a good place to continue our fight. Even lawmakers in Hong Kong are playing this game,” Activist Joshua Wong reported to Wired
China has one more option and that’s to completely shut down all access to the Switch. This would force the use of VPN’s to current owners and remove Nintendo from this massive market. They have not resorted to this yet, but it is still on the table.