The wildly popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons reportedly disappeared off Chinese ecommerce platforms on Friday, seemingly after authorities caught wind that Hong Kong activists were organizing in-game protests.
For many under lockdown, the game has provided a means of escape, allowing users to customize private islands and visit each other. Outside designers quickly took this a step further by developing a tool called ACPatterns that lets users change pixels in the game into any image. There was never an official release for the game in China, so customers relied on “grey market” platforms to purchase the title — a common strategy in China when it comes to such gaming titles.
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While most users have posted memes, or fairly innocuous items such as works of classical art, others have politicized their islands and shared screenshots. One Weibo user displayed a massive spread of the Core Socialist Values.
And while Covid-19 quarantines have affected many forms of demonstration in Hong Kong, the virtual game has presented an ideal place to organize.
This isn’t the first time an online game has been used as a proxy for such protests. Last year in Grand Theft Auto, virtual Hong Kong protestors clashed with Chinese players dressed as riot police.
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Such issues have increasingly come to the fore as China’s dominance of the global gaming industry has grown. China has a booming esports sector and is home to the world’s biggest gaming company by a number of measures: Tencent. There’s also a vibrant indie game scene, where boutique developers are pushing out projects like Chinese Parents, a game that challenges users to raise a healthy and functioning kid in China, and ended up as a viral hit on Steam.
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