- Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched for the Nintendo Switch on March 20th, 2020.
- New Horizons has been pulled from e-commerce sites in China amid in-game anti-government protests utilizing the game’s robust customization features.
- It is still possible to download the new Animal Crossing in China on an imported Switch.
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Few games have launched at a more appropriate time than Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch last month. Just as the true threat of the novel coronavirus outbreak became clear, Nintendo offered Switch owners a chance to (virtually) escape to a pristine, deserted island where they can build a house, relax on the beach, go fishing with their friends, and forget about the real world for at least a little while.
It’s hard to imagine something so patently gentle and harmless being banned for any reason, but that’s exactly what appears to have happened in China as Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong and many others have used the game’s robust customization tools to stage virtual protests on their personal islands.
Reuters reports that ever since Wong posted screenshots of his island on Twitter, which included imported images of government officials and a large banner reading “Free Hong Kong · Revolution Now,” Animal Crossing: New Horizons no longer appears in search results on gray market e-commerce platforms such as Pinduoduo and Alibaba’s Taobao. According to PingWest, orders to take down listings were sent out on Thursday night.
“Animal Crossing is a place without political censorship so it is a good place to continue our fight,” Wong told Wired in a recent interview. “Even lawmakers in Hong Kong are playing this game.”
Animal Crossing is Fast Becoming a New Way for Hong Kong Protesters to Fight for Democracy! The #Covid_19 pandemic has halted public demonstrations, so protesters are taking their cause to #AnimalCrossing.https://t.co/A599kjlYsV
(This is my island!) pic.twitter.com/vjBhzw1nUa
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) April 2, 2020
Nintendo partnered with Tencent to bring a licensed version of the Switch to China in 2019, but few games have been approved for that version of the console, which is why many people have taken to buying international versions of the Switch to play games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The consoles often come from gray market retailers like Pinduoduo and Taobao, PingWest explains, and they are still on sale despite the apparent ban.
It’s also worth noting, as industry analyst Daniel Ahmad explained on Twitter, that Taobao technically banned the sale of imported games on its platform in 2017, but this rule has not frequently been enforced.
This is certainly a notable development, but as PingWest notes, the online servers for the game are still accessible in China, and the game can be downloaded directly from the eShop on an important console. Thus, as Reuters says, it’s still unclear if pulling the game from online retailers was “a directive from China’s content regulator or a voluntary act by politically sensitive e-commerce platforms” that don’t want to deal with any potential blowback.