B1 Intermediate US 29 Folder Collection
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Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived at exactly the right moment.
Just when the world really needed a stress-free digital safe space in which to come together,
Nintendo delivered.
It's no surprise that the game has become a global phenomenon.
Except in China.
News reports this week claim that New Horizons has been banned in the Middle Kingdom after
supporters of Hong Kong independence began using the game to stage online protests.
As is often the case, the truth is a little more complicated than rumours might suggest.
For one thing, it's difficult to ban Animal Crossing: New Horizons in China, because the
game was never legally released in the region to begin with.
The Communist Party of China has always had a difficult relationship with gaming.
Amid concerns about video game addiction, it was illegal to sell any games console in
the country between the years of 2000 and 2014.
Except, it wasn't completely illegal.
China's laws are often flexible, especially if you've got enough money.
Nintendo was able to sell a version of the N64 in the region under a fabricated iQue
brand.
While China rescinded its ban on consoles in 2014, it still tightly controls which foreign
games are legally imported into the region.
Sometimes the government will put a hold on all approvals without explanation.
The Nintendo Switch officially launched in China in December, and at present there are
only a handful of first party games that are legally on sale in the country.
Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey have been released, but not The Legend of Zelda:
Breath of the Wild, and certainly not Luigi's Mansion.
Some fans speculate that these games will have a hard time getting approval for official
release because they're full of supernatural elements.
The Chinese government really, really doesn't like ghosts.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of many Nintendo games that has never been legally
sold in China…but that doesn't stop people from playing it.
After all, China's laws are flexible.
Many eager players have been importing the game from neighbouring Hong Kong.
As a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong has its own legal system, government, and
economy.
It also enjoys media freedom, so Nintendo releases games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons
in the region without limitations.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong isn't completely independent.
While it has partial democracy, its Chief Executives are selected by rulers in Beijing
– and they always choose someone who is friendly to the Communist Party.
To cut a very long story short, many HongKongers desire full independence, and protest regularly
against Chinese rule.
Last year, a controversial extradition law led to some of the most technologically advanced
protests in history.
Protestors organize themselves through social media apps, warning each other of approaching
police officers, forming into groups and then dispersing in an attempt to “be water”.
1Then came Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Hong Kong protestors are all tech savvy, so of course many of them are playing the game.
And, of course, they're recreating protests on their islands.
Many dress their villagers in black face masks and clothes that match their protest uniform.
They recreate protest slogans and signs in-game.
They visit each other's islands, protesting in a digital
One protestor, Li, who wishes to remain anonymous, said:
“Since the setting of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that players start their life
on a deserted island, we can decorate the island any way we like, and share the message
we want to tell the world.”
Perhaps the most famous in-game protest came from political leader Joshua Wong, who has
time in prison and been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in organizing pro-democracy
movements.
A viral photo of Joshua shows his island getaway, complete with an in-game sign reading “Free
Hong Kong”.
Speaking of New Horizons, he said: “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.”
Then, without a word of explanation, Hong Kong import copies of Animal Crossing disappeared
from online stores in China overnight.
While the game was never fully legal within the country, it just became a lot harder to
import it from across the border.
Of course, just because one import avenue has closed, it doesn't mean the game isn't
available to those who really want to get their hands on it.
The game isn't illegal contraband; it's simply not available on major online retailers.
Chinese citizens will still find a way to play Animal Crossing.
The moral of the story?
You can't stamp out free speech.
It seems that protesting in Animal Crossing might have actually worked.
Hong Kong's democracy advocates aren't going to be silenced any time soon.
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Why Animal Crossing Got Banned in China

29 Folder Collection
ally.chang published on April 29, 2020
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