If you’re one of the millions of people who play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, then you know that it provides one of the most wholesome gaming experiences of pretty much any video game ever. All you do is walk (or run) around your island, water flowers, catch fish and bugs, and basically just try to live a peaceful and lovely life with your animal friends. The closest thing Animal Crossing has to conflict is when you accidentally hit one of your neighbors with your bug net.
And yet, the game has been officially banned in China. As it turns out, the reason for the ban wasn’t so much the game itself, but more what people were doing within the game. Here’s what we know.
Why is ‘Animal Crossing’ banned in China?
News that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was banned in China first started making the rounds in April of 2020. The reason for the ban all comes down to two main features of the game: the ability to create custom graphics, and the ability to virtually meet up with other players.
Most of the custom designs you’ll come across in Animal Crossing: New Horizons are things like realistic-looking stone paths or unique outfits to dress your character in. However, democracy activists in Hong Kong had other ideas for the custom design feature in the game. They created banners with messages like “Free Hong Kong - Revolution Now,” as well as disparaging images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam.
You may already be aware of the protests that millions of Hong Kong residents participated in starting back in 2019. The protests continued well into early 2020 but dwindled after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not content to give up their cause, some activists began meeting for virtual protests within Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which happened to be released right as much of the world was going into lockdown mode.
China has a notoriously strict regulation system for video games. The Chinese government only recently approved the sale of Nintendo Switch, and only three games can legally be purchased for it (New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario Odyssey, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe).
Animal Crossing has never been officially released in China, but it had been widely available on the gray market from certain online marketplaces. That is no longer the case, as the Chinese government seems to have cracked down on these marketplaces and completely banned sales of the game.
Usually, games that are banned in China meet one of two criteria. They either contain content that is considered violent or offensive (even if that content is user-generated), or they are wildly popular and therefore catch the attention of the regulators. Animal Crossing: New Horizons obviously meets both criteria.
This wasn’t the first time Hong Kong protestors had made use of video games to further their cause. They used Pokémon Go to organize marches and signal where rallies were being held, and also dressed their characters in Grand Theft Auto V as protestors with gas masks, black clothing, and yellow hardhats. Something tells us that Animal Crossing won’t be the last game they use to their advantage, either.